5 min

Trans woman denied entry into Canada

Border guards accused her of lying, drug smuggling and working illegally, woman alleges

Credit: Courtesy of Domaine Javier

A Riverside, California, woman says Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers pulled her aside and ultimately denied her entry Oct 22 because she is transgender.

Domaine Javier says the first officer at Vancouver International Airport gave her a “weirded look” after checking her passport.

“The picture in my passport is me, but it doesn’t look like me anymore,” Javier explains, noting that the passport still describes her as male. But, she says, the officer didn’t overtly ask any questions about her gender identity.

Javier told the officer that she was taking a break from work and had come to Vancouver on vacation after a friend bought her a plane ticket and that she would do casting calls for a show while here.

Javier says the officer wrote a number on a card and told her to “go ahead.” Another officer checked the card and directed her to a room where people were having their luggage checked. A third officer then asked to see her passport and boarding pass.

“They checked my stuff, and then they borrowed my ID, and then she was like, ‘Oh, you’re a transgender?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ She’s like, ‘Oh, no problem, we see these people a lot of times. We deal with them all the time in here.’”

Javier says the officer then took her passport, boarding pass, online ticket and cellphone.

A half-hour later the officer returned and again questioned Javier, who says she repeated her reasons for coming to Vancouver. Then the officer questioned her about three bottles of medication in her purse, one of which was unlabelled and contained Vicodin, Javier says.

“They were like, ‘You’re trying to smuggle controlled drugs into the country,’” Javier says.

At that point, another officer passing by saw the bottles, came into the room and began questioning her in a “rude and disrespectful” manner, she alleges.

“Every time he would ask me questions, the first word I would try to answer, he would raise his hand and be like, ‘Stop, I’m still talking.’”

Javier says that officer continued to accuse her of bringing controlled substances into the country, asking her if she got the medication on the streets. She says she told him she had prescriptions for the medication, which was for a back injury she sustained at work.

He eventually walked away, and the other officers took away the medication, saying they would keep the unlabelled bottle, Javier says.

Then they gave her “a last chance” to reveal why she was in Canada. Javier again explained that she was going to some casting calls and mentioned that she had auditioned for a web-based series. That’s when they told her she would need a work permit.

“So all the way from seeing my face and my gender don’t match from my passport, it escalated to me lying, and it escalated to the medicines in my purse, and then escalated to this now — that I don’t have a work permit,” Javier says. “It was like they were trying to dig [for] a reason for me to not be able to get in. And now they found a reason, that I don’t have a work permit and I was lying.”

Javier says they told her she could reenter Canada once she had the proper permit and put her on a plane back to California about four hours after she arrived in Vancouver.

Javier’s friend Amy Fox says the CBSA paged her while she was waiting for Javier at the airport.

“They asked me a bunch of questions, and I just explained that we’re shooting a web video and she’s going to be in Canada for eight days; she’s going to be on set for three, and I was giving her a little money for lost wages for missing her job,” Fox tells Xtra.

She says she was under the impression that Javier wouldn’t need a work permit based on information she gleaned from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).

“Web video doesn’t qualify for the import tax credit,” she says, adding that the Canadian government doesn’t subsidize the shooting of web videos.

There was “no real reason” to single Javier out, Fox says. “From what I could gather from the CIC website, she should have been allowed into the country.”

According to the CIC website, foreign artists can work in Canada without a permit if they are performing for a limited period of time; will not be performing in a bar or restaurant; are not entering into an employment relationship with the Canadian group that has contracted for their services; and are not performing for the production of a movie, television or radio broadcast.

A spokesperson for CIC could not confirm up to press time if someone performing in a web video would require a work permit.

CIC also lists examples of artists who can come to Canada without a work permit, including “guest artists within a Canadian performance group for a time-limited engagement, and persons doing guest spots on Canadian TV and radio broadcasts.”

“She’s an American citizen, and as far as I understand, they pulled her over while letting other people through and asked her a large number of questions, and the only ‘unusual’ thing is that her passport has a sex marker that doesn’t look like her gender identity,” Fox claims.

“Passport photos are visual references that depict your true likeness. If a passport photo does not resemble the traveller, a traveller will be asked further questions at the border to confirm their identity,” a CBSA spokesperson tells Xtra in a Nov 1 email.

“If it’s unclear for any reason — because of the photo, because of what’s in the passport — that’s where [officers] can ask further questions to confirm identity,” the spokesperson says.

“This is occurring within the context [where] there are rules in place now which have been re-emphasized by the current federal government that it’s suspicious when somebody travels with the wrong gender marker,” Fox says.

In January, Xtra reported that the federal Ministry of Transport, as part of its passenger-protection program, had introduced changes to the identity screening regulations that state that an air carrier “shall not transport a passenger if the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents.”

With Javier back in the US, Fox says, the web project, called The Switch, a magical-realist transgender sitcom, has been put on hold until December.

Javier made headlines last year after she was expelled from California Baptist University for appearing on the MTV reality show True Life, where she revealed she was biologically male.

An October 2001 Riverside Press-Institute report says the university wrote to Javier saying she was expelled for “committing or attempting to engage in fraud, or concealing identity,” and also for “presenting false or misleading information in university judicial processes,” the report states.

Javier told the Press-Institute she has identified as female since she was a toddler and checked “female” on the online application form.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” she says. “They said, ‘On your application form you put ‘female.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s how I see myself.’”

Javier’s expulsion was finalized a week before she was to begin a nursing program at the university.