News
3 min

Trans woman fights Passport Canada over gender change refusal

Shadmith Lynda Manzo says she was asked for proof of surgery

Shadmith Manzo alleges that she was mistreated by Passport Canada. Credit: Courtesy of Shadmith Manzo

A trans activist is organizing a protest April 17 outside a Passport Canada office against what she calls “oppressive and marginalizing attitudes” at the public service.

Shadmith Lynda Manzo has presented as female for almost 20 years and has used a changed named for a decade. Manzo was refused a change of her passport’s gender identification April 7 at the Scarborough branch of Passport Canada.

“I never imagined anything like this,” Manzo tells Xtra. “I went home and broke down crying.”

Manzo, who has upcoming travel plans, says she arrived at the passport office with a doctor’s note detailing her change in gender identity, as well as a female Ontario health card.

Manzo had looked up the Canadian Passport Order, which states in section 8.4(2) that “where an application for a passport indicates that a change of sex of the applicant has taken place, the applicant may be requested to submit a certificate from a medical practitioner to substantiate the statement.”

She claims the attendant told her only two documents could sufficiently prove her female gender: a changed birth certificate or an updated citizenship card. Manzo emigrated from Mexico in 1994 after a string of violent deaths of transgender people, and only certain districts within Mexico allow changes to birth certificates. A citizenship card can take up to 10 months to replace.

Manzo says she asked the office’s supervisor why a doctor’s note and OHIP card are not sufficient. “She said, ‘Well, anybody can walk into a doctor’s office with a fake mustache and claim they’re a guy and get a doctor’s note,’” Manzo claims.

Passport Canada told Xtra in an email that it cannot comment on specific cases because of federal privacy laws. An agency spokesperson noted that, in general, a health card proves residency but not citizenship, which can be proved only with birth certificates or immigration documents.

Manzo says the supervisor asked her to supply a proof of sex-reassignment surgery (SRS). Manzo says she replied that SRS is not specified in the passport order. She also pointed out that Ontario doesn’t require SRS as of April 2012 to change the gender status of an Ontario birth certificate, which failed to persuade the supervisor.

Manzo claims the supervisor also told her that she had denied another transgender person a passport change even though that person had a doctor’s note that indicated the person was undergoing hormone therapy and a full-time lifestyle in their self-identified gender.

A spokesperson for Passport Canada told Xtra in an email that “an applicant who has undergone sex reassignment surgery should apply for a new Canadian passport to reflect his or her identity,” including “medical documentation to confirm that he or she has undergone a change of sex and the surgery is complete, along with the other standard application requirements.”

Manzo says that speaks to the wider problem of arbitrary rules for trans people.

“Our government and institutions apply criteria based on fear and prejudice or hate,” says Manzo, who leads a support group for transitioning people at the 519 Church Street Community Centre. She says she’s heard from trans people who were put in dangerous situations when travelling with passport inconsistencies.

“People in China have been strip searched by customs officials at the airport when their passport doesn’t match their gender. People at the American border have been questioned for hours,” she says. “Why put me at this risk when they have all this information?”

Manzo says she was emotional at first but decided after a few days to take action.

“Something tells me inside that someone has to do something, and maybe that person is me.”

Manzo is calling on trans people and supporters to join her at an April 17 protest from noon to 2pm outside the Scarborough passport office at 200 Town Centre Court. A Facebook event titled Friends Unite for Shadmith is coordinating the protest.