BC lawmakers voted in favour of legislation April 29 that makes it easier for people to change the gender marker on their birth certificates without having to prove they have undergone surgery.

Minors will have to get the consent of their parents or guardians before they can amend their documents.

Four MLAs — all from the ruling Liberal party — voted against the measure first introduced in March by Attorney General Suzanne Anton as part of the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, also known as Bill 17 [7].

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.

Vancouver West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert welcomed the legislation’s passage, calling it “a good day.”

“To get this far, I am pleased,” he adds. Still, he says, the legislation comes up short in some areas.

He says it doesn’t adequately cover intersex people, noting that it is often not clear what gender or sex would be included on their birth certificates. “That can create discrimination right from the beginning because maybe the doctor marks down male when really they’re a female. Maybe it’s not clear at all, and as some people do, they say they are genderqueer and they don’t fit in that binary,” he says.

Chandra Herbert points to Germany [8], where parents of newborns have the option of leaving the gender field on birth certificates blank.

During debate in the legislature, Health Minister Terry Lake argued that documentation like drivers’ licences and other forms of identification require an M or F designation. “Without that, BC documentation would not be internationally recognized as legitimately issued documentation.”

Chandra Herbert countered that international standards can also be discriminatory, and they are being forced to change.

He also questioned why minors had to take the extra step of obtaining adult consent, noting that there are situations in which parents and guardians may disagree about supporting their children’s request for a change to documentation.

Lake admitted that this was an issue that “we wrestled with” but pointed to a provision in the bill that allows the minister to grant a minor’s request for a change to the gender designation on a birth certificate once a medical practitioner or registered psychologist makes a “compelling argument.”

Chandra Herbert acknowledges that the issue is a tough one, pointing out that young people often have a good understanding of who they are from a very early age, but respecting their agency within the current legal system is tough.

“We’ve seen many cases where people end up on the streets because their families are not supportive, and in these cases, the young person is going to have to appeal to the minister to basically allow them to be who they are on their ID, even if their family is transphobic.” He says this is why better social supports are needed in schools and across the province, with groups like GAB Youth Services and others.

Chandra Herbert says he’d still like to see gender identity and expression added to the BC Human Rights Code. He says he’s been pressing the issue with the provincial government but has so far received no indication of movement on that issue.

In Alberta, a judge ruled that a law requiring people to have surgery [9] before they can change the gender designation on their birth certificates violates trans people’s rights and should no longer be enforced.

The ruling follows an announcement by Premier Dave Hancock that the surgery requirement will be taken out of the Vital Statistics Act, but no time frame for its removal has been given.

Meanwhile, Manitoba’s government has also signalled that it will make changes to the Vital Statistics Act, saying it wants to drop the surgery requirement for people who want to change their gender designation on official documents.

In 2012, Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal also struck down a rule that required trans people to undergo surgery in order to change the sex category on their birth certificates. 

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