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BC: Bill 17 would make it easier to change gender on documentation

Those wishing to amend birth certificates won’t be required to prove they had surgery

BC Attorney-General Suzanne Anton introduced the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, also known as Bill 17, in the legislature March 10. The measure includes a proposed amendment to allow people to change the gender designation on their birth certificates without first undergoing surgery. Credit: Janet Rerecich

The BC government introduced legislation March 10 that includes a proposed amendment to allow people, including minors, to change the gender designation on their birth certificates without having to prove they have undergone surgery.

Minors must go through the extra step of getting the consent of their parents or guardians, the amendment states.

Attorney-General Suzanne Anton introduced the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, also known as Bill 17, in the legislature. The amendments proposed in the bill will affect several provincial statutes, including the Vital Statistics Act.

According to a statement on the justice ministry’s website, amendments will “modernize the Vital Statistics Act and change the approach to providing identity-related services for those who wish to change their sex designation on a birth certificate.”

The section of the bill entitled “Amendment to Sex Designation” says persons seeking to change their gender markers on their birth certificates must make a request by application to the registrar general and declare that they have assumed, identify with and intend to “maintain the gender identity that corresponds with the desired sex designation.”

Applicants must also provide a statement from a BC medical practitioner or registered psychologist that the listed gender designation on their birth certificate does not accord with their gender identity.

If applicants live outside BC, a health professional from another province or territory with equivalent qualifications can issue the statement.

Once satisfied that an application has been made “in good faith,” and a prescribed fee paid, the registrar general must amend the applicant’s birth documentation, the amendment states.

“From what I read of that, it’s saying you don’t need the surgery; you have to be clear that that’s who you are,” Vancouver West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert told Xtra.

“This is such a common-sense change to reflect the reality of British Columbians,” he says, pointing to the example of Ontario, where the Human Rights Tribunal in 2012 struck down a rule that required trans people to undergo surgery in order to change the sex category on their birth certificates. The Ontario government was given 180 days to edit its procedures. The changes went online Oct 5, 2012, three days shy of the deadline.

Chandra Herbert says the BC proposal “feels pretty positive,” but he expressed surprise about the inclusion of the gender designation amendment.

In a Dec 19 letter to Health Minister Terry Lake, Chandra Herbert called for the removal of gender identifiers from British Columbia birth certificates but received a reply dated Feb 27 that said the government was not contemplating such a change.

“Although the Ministry of Health has not undertaken an exhaustive study to determine the impact this change would make, at minimum there are national and international standards that BC must comply with,” Lake says in his reply. “A change of this magnitude would have a significant impact on other government organizations that rely on birth certificates as verification of gender.”

Chandra Herbert had also asked the minister about the status of the province’s new gender policy, specifically whether the government would still require people to undergo surgery before they could change their gender designation on their BC Services Card.

The minister indicated that while there is a new policy being developed, he could not provide details or an implementation date.

Even with the introduction of the proposed amendment, Chandra Herbert says he would still like to see the province’s human rights code amended to include protections based on gender identity.

“I’ll keep making the case; this [proposal] doesn’t change that,” he says. “It just shows me that advocacy can get results.”