A transgender woman arrested in Cornwall last month was housed with men at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre before being transferred to the women's section, according to a group that advocates for women in the justice system.
The Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa said Friday it plans to file a complaint with Ontario's ombudsman and a human rights complaint on the inmate's behalf over how police and workers at the jail handled her detention.
Katlynn Griffith of Cornwall was arrested on Feb. 15 on a domestic assault charge and sent to the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre on Innes Road.
Griffith, who is in her late 20s, has male anatomy but identifies as female.
She was placed in a holding cell with four men, said Bryonie Baxter, the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa.
Shared cell with 2 men
Baxter said Griffith was concerned about her safety and asked to be put into protective custody.
Guards moved her to the protective custody section and placed her in a cell with two accused male sex offenders, Baxter said.
She was in the cell overnight and into the next day before she was transferred to the women's section of the jail.
Baxter said while in custody, Griffith was subjected to homophobic slurs from inmates and requests to perform sexual acts and was allegedly referred to as 'it' by guards.
Jail sought clarity from province
The incident came to light two weeks later when the union for Ontario jail guards asked the province for an update to policies regarding transgender prisoners, but at the time, it wasn't clear that Griffith had spent time in the men's section of the jail.
Denis Collin, the local president of OPSEU at the detention centre, said Friday his understanding was that the inmate was placed with men but only for "a very short period of time" and as soon as management learned about her case she was moved to the women's section.
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services said it handles the sexual identity of its inmates "on a case-by-case basis."
In a statement to CBC News last week, the ministry said transgender inmates "bring a unique set of circumstances when coming into the provincial correctional system."
Individuals may self-identify as transgender or authorities may notify the jail the inmate is transgender during the screening process, the ministry policy states. Correctional officers take self-identification into account "along with objective evidence such as medical evidence or other physical attributes" to determine where the inmate should be placed.
The policy "allows for discretion in recognizing the needs of the individual and the other inmates in the institution."
Policy needs to change, says advocate
Earlier this month, a transgender person who identified as female, but had male anatomy, was housed with the male population in a Toronto jail. The inmate’s passport indicated the prisoner was female, and the decision to house her with men led to an outcry online. Subsequently, the transgender woman was moved to a women’s jail.
Baxter said Griffith's situation may have been confusing for both her and the jail guards, as she had been in custody there in 2013 when she did not identify as a transgender woman.
But Baxter said these cases show the provincial policy needs work.
"If these individual cases keep coming up, it's indicative that the policy isn't enough, it is not working as they have indicated it would," said Baxter.
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services said in a statement Friday it is undertaking a review of its policy on transgender inmates in provincial custody and will be consulting with all stakeholders.