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.