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Government will accept trans tribunal ruling

Tribunal wraps up almost five years of hearings

With last week’s conclusion of submissions to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal investigating the withdrawal of funding for the Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS), lawyers, lobby groups, trans people and their supporters gathered at Queen’s Park calling again on the government to fund SRS.

Lawyers for the complainants – who say that the 1998 decision to delist SRS violated their human rights as trans people – expect the tribunal to come back in a few months with a ruling hopefully in their favour.

Judging by the rumblings from Premier Dalton McGuinty, the government seems prepared to accept a ruling in favour of Ontario transsexuals.

In the Ontario legislature last week, NDP Deputy Leader Marilyn Churley asked the premier: “If the tribunal rules in favour of reinstating funding, will you ensure that your government respects the ruling and reinstates the funding immediately after that ruling?”

McGuinty answered: “I want to be very, very direct to the member’s question: Yes.”

“They could relist surgery anyway, as the right thing to do,” says Susan Ursel, lawyer for three of the complainants, who points out that the tribunal could order the government to pay damages to her clients for the distress they’ve suffered by not having SRS funded.

The tribunal has six months to render a decision, after hearing submissions on and off for more than five years. Ursel says for the tribunal understood the urgency of the issue and that members intend to reach a decision “as fast as possible, giving proper justice to all evidence.”

Lead complainant Martine Stonehouse filed her complaint in March 2000. Three other subsequent complaints were grouped together with hers.

Stonehouse described her ordeal in a letter to McGuinty: “I have now fought this delisting over six and a half years through three governments, two political parties, a human rights case with failed mediation… and now the completion of a human rights tribunal.”

After the news conference, Stonehouse says the premier requested to meet with her and her supporters, telling them, to her recollection, “my sense is that you guys are going to win, and we are going to fund it.” He told her that she just needs “to hang in a little longer.”

George Smitherman, openly gay Minister Of Health And Long-term Care, who while in opposition promised to reinstate funding if elected, was absent throughout the proceedings.

When OHIP covered SRS, an average of six transsexuals a year were approved for surgery at an approximate annual cost of $150 000. It is estimated that the cost of the tribunal itself has been more than $1 million.