Cynthia Cousens, a Quebec woman who says she was discharged from the Hull hospital last October because she used to be a man, has taken her complaint to the Quebec Human Rights Commission.
She says she made this decision after receiving a “cold” and “unsatisfactory” response from the hospital that proved she “obviously can’t rely on their complaint process.”
“They wrote that there is nothing in their records that says I was disrespected,” says Cousens. “So basically, if it wasn’t written down it didn’t happen.”
According to her, the hospital’s response letter, dated Mar 8, denies that she was discriminated against or badly treated. It also fails to explain why she was suddenly discharged and told to finish her treatment elsewhere.
“There wasn’t even an apology,” says Cousens, who volunteers as chair of the Ottawa Police Service’s liaison committee to the queer community. “As a former police officer, I don’t call this an investigation. It’s a joke. I don’t even think they talked to or questioned anyone, or that they contacted any of the patients who witnessed what happened.”
Cousens says she was heavily sedated on morphine, undiagnosed and in critical condition when the staff at the Centre Hospitalier Des Vallées De L’Outaouais Hull forced her to leave. This happened on her third day in emergency care, she says, after discussing her medical history with an attending physician and revealing that she had gender-reassignment surgery (GRS) in 2001.
Cousens claims she was also physically abused by staff, denied meals and taunted openly in front of other patients and staff over her sex status on her second and third days at the hospital.
As a result of her sudden discharge, Cousens says she was forced to go out of province and pay for health care on credit cards. She had to finish her tests and treatment at the Ottawa Hospital where she was finally diagnosed with a viral infection within her chest wall and an inflamed lung – a consequence of a contaminated water supply at the Canadian Forces base where she worked last summer.
She says she was further “humiliated” at a Jan 25 meeting with the physician who allegedly refused to treat her and a mediating doctor hired by the hospital to facilitate the complaint. Cousens’ spouse, Sylvia Durand, also a trans woman, accompanied her for moral support.
The meeting was arranged by the hospital to reach consensus and resolve the issue, but according to Cousens, it was a “total disaster.”
The attending physician “was really ignorant. He just wanted to get it over with. He continued to call me ‘him,’ ‘he’s’ and ‘man.’ It was like slapping me in the face three or four times during the meeting. He also accused me of not being sick at all.”
The mediating doctor “didn’t say or do anything to stop it. Afterwards, he told me that if I had run out of the room and cried he would have thought it was childish, which I thought was a very male thing to say. It showed me he didn’t really understand what it’s like for us (Cousens and Durand) to sit there and deal with this.”
Jeannette LeBlanc, communications officer for the Hull hospital, says none of the staff, including her, are allowed to comment on Cousens’ complaint as it is a private matter.
“We don’t discuss these things in the press,” she says. “I realize it’s been public for Ms Cousens, but on our side it’s not because we have to protect our people. We cannot talk about a case that might go to the courts.”
Taking her complaint to the courts is exactly what Cousens hopes to do. She is now pursuing what she calls a “two-pronged reaction,” filing a complaint with the commission and continuing her complaint against the hospital with the aid of the Centre D’Assistance Et D’Accompagnement Aux Plaintes.
Cousens’ complaint to the commission is two-fold. The first is against the attending physician for allegedly “withholding medical care/diagnosis, refusing treatment,” and the “refusal to recognize sex of patient.” The second complaint is against the mediating doctor with the charges of “failing to prevent/stop discrimination in progress” and “siding with [the attending physician] on two occasions.”
On the complaint form, Cousens also lists five things that she hopes to achieve from the complaint:
“1. That no other pre-operative/ post-operative transsexual experience the hatred and difficulties I experienced;
“2. That proper sensitivity training of GLBT social issues be given to all staff, management and personnel;
“3. A formal, written apology for the [emergency room] treatment denied to me, and for the harassment I faced during mediation;
“4. Hospital administrators hire a GLBT-sensitive mediator;
“5. Financial compensation for injury, hurt feelings, mental anguish, plus costs associated to credit card payments for health care treatment [including] interest.”
Ginette L’Heureux, spokes-person for the commission, says she cannot comment on the Cousens case due to client confidentiality law and potential damage to the case.
She did, however, confirm that the commission has received Cousens’ complaint form and that an investigation has been launched.
L’Heureux says they are currently verifying whether the discrimination Cousens alleges violates Article 10 of the Quebec Charter Of Human Rights And Freedoms.
Article 10 specifies that, “Every person has a right to full and equal recognition or exercise of his human rights and freedoms, without distinction, exclusion or preference based on race, colour, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status…. Discrimination exists where such a distinction, exclusion or preference has the effect of nullifying or impairing such right.”
L’Heureux says if the alleged discrimination does in fact violate Article 10, the investigation will go into the next stage of collecting necessary information and evidence to proceed with the case. If there are sufficient grounds to lay charges, the investigators prepare the case and it goes forward.
L’Heureux says the commission ideally tries to resolve complaints without a tribunal, a court-style assembly including one or more judges. But this is not always possible, she says, because of the severity of the charges or the inability of the parties to reach a solution. L’Heureux says the judge decides whether the tribunal will be open to the public.
Cousens says she hopes her complaint goes to the tribunal as there are “inherited problems in the Quebec health system against GLBT people” that she would like to see eradicated. She says the legal system is lagging behind in trans issues, forcing trans people to jump through hoops for their rights just like the gay community did years ago, and still, on occasion, has to do.
“My complaint is going in under ‘sex,’ which makes my case stronger because I’ve already had GRS,” says Cousens. “The fact that [the attending physician] called me ‘man’ and ‘Mr’ during the meeting is particularly discriminatory because I am by law recognized as a female. If I was a pre-operative transsexual, then his comments or references to me as a man might have a (legal) leg to stand on.
“Doctors cannot play with patient’s lives based on their personal views. [The attending physician] violated his Hippocratic oath and practice as a doctor by doing what he did to me.”
Cousens says of all the things on her list of demands, her ultimate goal is to make sure this never happens to another trans person.
“At the end of my career as a police officer, I chose to do something I had to do which was medical, and often misunderstood. Why was I then cast into the social garbage pit over this? Why can’t doctors and nurses at the Hull hospital respect what I went through with other professional doctors, psychiatrists, surgeons and deeply caring nursing staff at the clinic and recovery residence? Why did I get treated the way I did, when all I had done was nothing different that any other person would do over a medical condition?”