A British trans woman has launched two human rights complaints after being detained in an Ontario men’s correctional facility earlier this year.
Comedian Avery Edison was detained on arrival in Toronto on Feb 10 because of a previous visa violation.
Even though her passport identifies her as female, she was sent to Maplehurst Correctional Complex, which is a men’s facility in Milton. Edison and her partner, Romy Sugden, posted frequent updates on Twitter during Edison’s ordeal, sparking international outrage.
“What happened to Avery was outrageous, but it’s actually kind of typical of things that happen in correctional facilities across Canada to many trans people,” says Robert Leckey, president of the LGBT advocacy group Egale Canada. “We would hope that there’s a meaningful remedy for her but also hope that this raises the awareness and increases the education of the officials who are running correctional facilities everywhere.”
On July 2, Edison filed human rights complaints with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Jonathan Schachter, a lawyer with Dewart Gleason LLP, the firm that is representing her, spoke to Xtra about Edison’s experiences.
“We know that at all stages there appeared to be some confusion about how to deal with her,” Schachter says. “This is a case that got attention because she was communicating about her experience as it unfolded over Twitter, but she’s not alone. It’s all too common in other provinces and in Ontario.”
Despite her self-identification as female and her passport stating that she is female, a Canada Border Services Agency supervisor allegedly told Edison she was being sent to Maplehurst according to the agency’s policy, because she hadn’t yet undergone sex reassignment surgery.
“I think that [correctional facilities] have not yet come to terms with gender diversity,” Schachter says. “This is an issue that’s going to keep coming up unless they do come to terms with it.”
Edison’s complaint with the Ontario tribunal calls on the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to update its policy regarding trans people in residential facilities. A trans person’s self-identification and their need for safety have to be guiding principles when it comes to deciding where they will be placed, the complaint argues.
The complaint also says placement decisions should not be based on whether a trans person has undergone sex reassignment surgery.
Edison describes being misgendered and incarcerated as a “humiliating and terrifying” experience that triggered depression and anxiety. She wants the ministry to provide training programs on LGBT issues to frontline staff and managers.
Edison also argues in her complaint that simply segregating trans inmates is not a long-term solution. Segregation should be used only as a short-term option implemented for safety reasons, she says.
“We’ve asked for ongoing, periodic reviews of the policies,” Schachter says. “We’ve asked for statistics about transgender populations in detention to be made public. Policies about LGBTQ issues should be posted. It’s crazy that it’s difficult to find out this type of information.”