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Photo: fomu

The 6-month-old screening rule was recently uncovered by a transgender activist.

IF YOU FLY, you know the drill: Empty your pockets, remove your laptop from your hand luggage, have your passport open to the picture page — and be ready to produce a letter from your healthcare provider explaining any discrepancy between your perceived sex and the sex on your ID.

As absurd as it sounds, this is the current situation facing anybody who wants to board a plane in Canada — a regulation that was quietly changed back in July 2011 and went unnoticed until transgender activist Christin Milloy blogged about it on January 30.

The rule in question is item 5.2 (c) of the Identity Screening Regulations, which states:

5.2 (1) An air carrier shall not transport a passenger if …(c) the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents…

Like the United States, Canada has a program in place to try and identify security threats. The Identity Screening Regulations, along with a “Specified Person List,” make up the federal government’s Passenger Protect initiative — Canada’s “no-fly list.”

These regulations don’t have to go through the reading and voting process in the House and Senate because they’re not legislation, and back in July 2011 the Minister of Transportation unilaterally made some changes to the rules, including the addition of section 5.2 (c).

Not only is the regulation discriminatory (and unnecessary — in what way is sex or gender related to aviation security?) but also, for many trans people, such as non-operative and pre-operative folks, the regulation is impossible to satisfy. In Canada, the government requires proof that a sex reassignment surgery (SRS) has taken place or will take place within one year in order to change the sex designation on a passport.

Currently, transgender people do not enjoy federal protections under the Human Rights Act. Bill C-389, which would have enshrined protections for trans people, passed in Parliament and the House of Commons, but stopped in the Senate when the last election was called.

As published in Canadian gay and lesbian newspaper Xtra, Transport Canada issued a statement with the following instructions for passengers who fail the screening

Any passenger whose physical appearance does not correspond to their identification can continue to board an airplane by supplying a letter from a heath care professional explaining the discrepancy.

You probably don’t have such a letter, but you might need one. The regulation affects all passengers, and that means that your haircut or clothes or choice of luggage or gait — or any other social marker, intentional or not — could cause an airport screening officer to deny you boarding.

The regulation has been criticized by politicians including Liberal MP Justin Trudeau and NDP MP Dany Morin, and by Susan Gapka, the chair of the Trans Lobby Group, but as of this writing the Minister of Transport Denis Lebel has failed to respond.

Human Rights


About The Author

Keph Senett

Keph Senett is a Canadian writer who's currently in transit. She’s a blogger who writes about travel, soccer/football, human rights, LGBT and gender issues, world politics, community, culture and her own folly.

  • ms saeki

    how ridiculous!

  • Willflyforfoodblog

    I have actually had two such passengers on the aircraft. Didn’t bother me any but I can see where there could be a security concern and notation from a Physician would help understand the situation. BEFORE you judge, I am a flight attendant with a seriously intense background check and yet because of a knee replacement, I am IN UNIFORM scrutinized! So, unfortunately there is a fine line between what one would consider normal and what others would take advantage of if you know what I mean. As long as it’s done with respect and within reasonable measures then…oh, who knows anymore?! It’s not a glamorous thing anymore unfortunately and things like this didn’t necessarily occur either. With freedom comes scrutiny when that freedom becomes a threat.

  • jlr

    i think this law or act or whatever you want to call it was set up to prevent people (mainly terrorists) from using fake or other individuals ID’s, it may seem harsh or unfair but in reality it is for safety of everyone….

    Say  my passport says i am ‘Female’ but I am dressed in traditionally male clothing, with a male hair cut and maybe even facial hair doesnt that look suspicious? Or my passport says i am ‘Male’ yet I have traditionally a females hair style, im wearing a skirt and have nails… again suspicious. 

    of course this process may not be 100% right but its not absurd

    • jlr

      and is there even a case of someone being denied boarding?  I cannot find any evidence of any transgendered individuals who were refused boarding

    • Guest

      What if you are a female whos passport/ID picture looks exactly like them and they are female with a male look or vise versa.  I really do not understand.  In US if you considerably change your look from your previous photo you are supposed to get a new ID.  So if a person does this and their picture looks like them, how is this an issue?  Maybe it is not as easy to get a new picture in Canada, I dont know.

  • mique

    this may sound discriminatory or even ridiculous but consider who and what can be hidden under a ‘female’-looking hijab or other islamic dress.

  • Conni Biesalski

    Thank you for raising awareness. I am speechless to say the least. I can’t believe this crazy discrimination taking placke in the 21st century. Wake up people!!!

  • Molly Nurse

    This is crazy. I understand how massive an issue terrorism is, and of course I am glad that airport security is tighter now, I just think that this might be taking it too far. 
    What exactly do they think someone is going to smuggle in that won’t be picked up on the scanners, and why would a terrorist send a man dressed as woman or woman dressed as man when they could simply send a woman or a man. 

    Not even getting onto transgender people, what about people who just dress slightly ambiguously. How does a person decide whether someone looks the correct gender or not. I don’t even understand how this got added into regulations. Surely you should just make sure they look like their passport photo and use common sense? 

  • Martin De Thier

    Everyone who flies understands security. The 3rd sex understands it more than the others. Come on Canada, operate your security checks with a bit of humality…… if you really suspect there is a sheep in wolf’s clothing, take to private room & search. 

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