Transgender people could be banned from Canadian airplanes

By Bianca Pencz

Canada’s newest air travel regulations could ban transgender people from flying. It’s been one month since the blogosphere first found out, and now people are wondering — because there aren’t any reports of trans-citizens being turned away yet — why continue talking about it?

Others are wondering, where’s the uproar?

Recent changes in the Ministry of Transportation’s identity screening regulations include a clause that reads, “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.”

To restate, if a passenger has transitioned from one gender to the other, but has not acquired updated identification yet, or if a passenger merely diverts from gender norms through their appearance, the Ministry of Transportation thinks they should be banned from flying.

This and other clauses were added July 29 last year, but were first brought to light last month by blogger and politician Christin Milloy in a Jan. 30 post.
So are the regulations discriminatory? Transport Canada says no.

“The intent is merely to prevent a person from getting on board an aircraft using identification that doesn’t belong to them,” Transport Canada spokesperson Maryse Durette said in an e-mail. “The rules apply to all passengers regardless of race, culture or sexual orientation and [they were created] for security reasons.”

Of course, transgender citizens worry about discrimination based on gender identity, not race, culture or sexual orientation.

Critics say the regulations infringe on the right to mobility given to all Canadians through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Marie Little, chair of the national Trans Alliance Society, is one such critic.

“The idea that it does something for security is pretty silly,” she said. “If security thinks you’re carrying a bomb, it doesn’t matter what gender you are.”

Little said the logistical problems of the regulation show Minister of Transportation Denis Lebel’s  ignorance on trans issues. (Lebel did not respond to interview requests.)
If transgender citizens wanted to comply with the new regulations, they would need to update their ID. However, bureaucratic obstacles make this difficult.

“If you’re in B.C. and you’re transgendered and you get approval for surgery, you fly to Montreal. But you can’t change your passport until after you get the surgery,” said Little. “Many transgendered people in B.C. have changed their driver’s licenses. So, they’ll have two pieces of ID that contradict one another. That’s yet another problem.”

There are also transgender individuals who do not wish to ever have surgery, for financial reasons, safety issues or otherwise.

Ultimately, Transport Canada says trans Canadians need not have concerns.

“There have been no reported incidents of transgendered persons being denied boarding since these specific requirements were clarified,” said Durette in her e-mail. But Little doesn’t take comfort in this information, citing the fear many transgendered Canadians now have going to the airport. After all, ‘no reported incidents’ does not mean ‘no incidents.’

“If nobody has been turned away yet, that’s because they haven’t been enforcing it yet,” she said. “The people who’ve not been enforcing are in violation of the regulations, and sooner or later the clerk is going to be a prejudiced person. And in that case, they can really inconvenience transgendered people.”

NDP MP Olivia Chow’s attempt to rescind the regulation changes at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transportation on Feb. 9 was rejected in a 6-5 vote.
Since then, and until further moves are made, this issue is still up in the air.


Maryse Durette, spokesperson:

“In 2007, the Identity Screening Regulations were implemented to support the Passenger Protect Program whtich is Canada’s no-fly program.

Under the Identity Screening Regulations, air carriers are required to verify (at the boarding gate), that a passenger’s name on his or her identity document, is the same name that appears on the passenger’s boarding pass.

As the Identity Screening Regulations did not explicitly require that the air carriers compare and verify the physical identity of the passenger against their travel document, they were amended in 2010 following a security incident where a woman wearing a veil allegedly boarded a flight without her face being checked against her identification.

To further protect the security of travellers, Transport Canada amended regulations so that air carriers must screen each passenger by matching the face, date of birth, and gender with that on their identification, otherwise boarding is not allowed.

As age, gender, or facial characteristics could vary from that on the passenger’s identification for a number of reasons, airlines have discretion to resolve any apparent discrepancies when comparing passengers with their identification.”


Marie Little, Chair of Trans Alliance Society:

“What the minister has been saying in the press is if you have a medical letter, you’ll be fine. But it doesn’t apply to not appearing to be the gender or age, just your picture.

He’s never bothered to read the thing because he kept saying 2010, not 2011. Many women dye their hair to get rid of the grey, or take botox. If they do that, do they look 70 years-old anymore? Maybe not….

If they do decide to enforce it, what do you think they’ll do to the Australians who have an ‘X’ on their passport?

The medical certificate doesn’t apply to the gender or age one, so that’s not a defense.

People need to keep talking to the media, and MPs and Transport Canada. The idea of applying for an ‘X’ has some merit too. Anything that people can think of.”


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