3 min

Avery Edison moved to women’s facility

British trans woman was detained on entering Canada on Feb 10

Trans British comedian Avery Edison was denied entry into Canada and detained in a male-only prison facility after landing at Pearson International Airport Feb 10. Credit: Twitter photo

UPDATE: Avery Edison has been moved to a women’s centre, the CBC is reporting. 

Edison has been moved from the Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton to the Vanier Centre for Women, the report states

Feb 11 – 8pm: Avery Edison still in maximum security men’s facility

Twenty-four hours after she was detained at Pearson International Airport because of a prior visa violation, British trans woman Avery Edison remains in custody in a medium/maximum-security men’s correctional institution despite holding a passport that clearly states she is female.

Edison’s girlfriend, Romy Sugden, was finally able to see her Feb 11 for a 20-minute visit through a glass wall at Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton.

“She’s doing remarkably well under the circumstances,” Sugden says. “She’s scared, she’s upset, she got very little info, she was handcuffed, full prisoner regalia and orange jumpsuit. She’s kept in solitary, obviously, for her protection.”

Sugden says she’s hoping that Edison will be transferred to the neighbouring Vanier Centre for Women if she’s going to be detained longer.

“Everybody she’s spoken to at Maplehurst is confused why she’s there. Not only the gender issue, but a medium/maximum-security prison is an odd facility for someone who just let her visa lapse,” Sugden says. “Not to mention that there was always the option she could be turned over to my custody. They even mentioned that that was a possibility for her, but they ruled that out, and I haven’t been given any information why.”

Edison’s case spread like wildfire on social media and to the press on Feb 11, thanks to deep connections she made when she lived in Toronto as a student and working comedian. By end of day, politicians and bureaucrats were rushing to address the situation, although no change has been made in her status.

“The ministry is currently reviewing the situation and having discussions with the Canadian Border Services Agency regarding the status of the individual,” says Greg Flood, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services in a statement. “Classification recommendations and decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and are based on factual information and objective criteria."

Linda Williamson, a spokesperson for the Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario, says the office is also looking into the case.

MPP Cheri DiNovo, the NDP’s women’s issues critic, released a statement of concern for Edison. “I am concerned to hear that Avery Edison, a transgender woman detained over a student visa issue, is being housed in a men’s facility where her health and safety are at risk,” she says. “The passing of ‘Toby’s Law’ entrenched gender identity protections in the Ontario Human Rights Code, and immigration staff and everyone else involved in this detention should be trained in how to treat transgendered people with dignity and respect.”

Federal NDP LGBT critic Randall Garrison tweeted a message of support Tuesday evening also.

“Just asked Public Safety Min directly for transfer now of Avery Edison & review of CBSA detention policies re trans people,” he says.

Edison’s case highlights the vexatious position trans people can find themselves in while dealing with the government in Canada. Immigration and border services are controlled by the federal government, but provinces are in charge of detention facilities. Ontario’s Human Rights Code, which applies to provincial prisons, includes explicit protections for “gender identity” and “gender expression.” But the federal Human Rights Act, which applies to immigration and border controls, includes protections for trans people only under the category of “sex.”

Nevertheless, it remains up to various government agencies to determine how to accommodate trans people in the absence of guidelines or specific court decisions, and trans people must take their complaints to the relevant human rights tribunal to get justice.

“Considering my relationship with Avery, I thought I was fairly well versed in the state of trans rights,” Sugden says. “What I’ve been told is that if she’d had gender reassignment surgery, she’d be in a women’s facility . . . if you haven’t, it’s a decided on a case-by case basis . . . I think it’s horrifying that ultimately a person’s gender is determined solely by genitalia. I thought the laws in Ontario were a lot more progressive than that.”

Edison and Sugden have retained a lawyer with the hope of getting Edison released as soon as possible, but her case remains up in the air. Sugden says Edison should have a hearing within 48 hours of being detained, but after that it could go to an additional hearing up to week later and another hearing up to a month after that.

Sugden says Edison hopes her experience will bring attention to the issue.