NDP MP Olivia Chow’s attempt to repeal an air screening regulation that could prevent trans Canadians from flying went down in defeat at the Commons transport committee Feb 9.
The committee voted six to five to reject Chow’s motion.
“If they don’t want to scrap those regulations, they could go to where Australia is with three categories,” Chow says, referring to the “indeterminate” gender category available on Australian passports. “There are many other alternatives. What the government is doing is just dumb.”
Chow argued that gender is secondary to one’s appearance matching one’s photo, especially when new technologies such as retinal scanning are becoming commonplace.
Liberal transport critic Denis Coderre insisted the vote be recorded.
“It was an issue of discrimination; it was not an issue of security. It has nothing to do with gender,” Coderre says. “It’s about the reality, and a person is a person, that’s it. We’re very disappointed, and we’ll keep up the fight.”
The NDP queer issues critic, Randall Garrison, joined the committee for the debate on the issue and argued that the regulations violate the right to mobility as guaranteed under the Charter. He also noted the plight of trans people who don’t wish to have gender reassignment surgery and thus can’t get medical certificates to prove their status, and who can’t get other identification changed.
“They’re taking a very hard line and demonstrating both that they don’t understand and they don’t care,” Garrison says.
Garrison suspects part of the government’s refusal to admit the possibility that the regulation may be flawed is because it was modelled after similar regulations in the US, which he noted are currently being challenged in court there.
Arguing for the Conservatives, Pierre Poilievre insisted the rules do not discriminate on the basis of “sexual orientation” and said there have been provisions in place since 2007 for passengers whose appearances may have altered.
Amanda Ryan, from Trans Pride Canada, says Poilievre doesn’t understand the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We have many of the same issues, but gender identity is certainly one unto itself,” Ryan says. “That just isn’t understood, and really the education factor is what needs to happen.”
Sophia Cassivi, president of Gender Mosaic, who was also present Thursday, says the regulations affect not only trans people, but anyone who may not conform to gender norms.
“What happens to a lady that has had chemo and lost all of her hair who decided to wear a pair of jeans and a shirt, a pair of work boots and no makeup?” Cassivi asks. “Will she be told at the airport that her gender identity doesn’t match her passport?”
What about trans people who don’t opt for sex reassignment surgery?
“I’m a cross-gender person; I don’t spend my entire life as a female,” Ryan says. “I spend 50 percent of my time as female, 50 percent of my time as male. Why should I have to dress male in order to get on a plane?
“The fact that I’m not dressed according to the male gender on my passport is in no way a security risk,” Ryan continues. “I shouldn’t be refused entry on a plane simply because of that. I am quite prepared to make sure that the security people know who I am according to my identity, including removing my wig, removing whatever is necessary to make sure that I am going to match that identity.”
Cassivi wonders why the Conservatives are being obstinate about wording in the rules that was likely inserted accidentally.
“There is definitely a reluctance to change and not being open to any modification whatsoever to recognize that there was a defect in there,” Cassivi says. “That is quite a situation that we’re dealing with right now for our community.”