Canada's prison service has abruptly reversed course on its new policy for transgender inmates, one day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to promote equality for all trans Canadians, including those behind bars.
Correctional Service Canada spokesman Jean-Paul Surette said trans inmates will now be considered for placement in prisons based on their gender identity rather than their genitalia.
"We are currently assessing — on a case-by-case basis — individual inmates' placement and accommodation requests to ensure the most appropriate measures are taken to respect the dignity, rights and security of all inmates under our custody," he told CBC News in an email.
That is a sharp departure from CSC's revised policy directive on trans inmates that was released on Monday, which confirmed a previous rule that based placement on birth sex rather than gender identity.
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"Pre-operative male to female offenders with gender dysphoria will be held in men's institutions and pre-operative female to male offenders with gender dysphoria will be held in women's institutions," the Jan. 9 policy reads.
The change in course comes after Trudeau, during a town hall meeting in Kingston, Ont., made an off-the-cuff promise to ensure transgender inmates can serve their sentences in institutions based on their gender identity.
The pledge came in response to a question from a transgender woman and advocate who described Canada's current placement policy as "torture."
Trudeau said the issue hadn't been on his radar, but would act now that it is.
"I will make sure we look at it and we address it and we do right in recognizing that trans rights are human rights and we need to make sure we are defending everyone's dignity and rights in every way we can," he said.
CSC does not track the number of trans inmates.
Policy review underway
Surette said the entire policy will remain under review to ensure it is consistent with the principles of Bill C-16, which would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression in the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.
That bill is making its way through Parliament.
"As part of that review, we are undertaking stakeholder consultation, including with inmates and with the LGBTQ2 advocates, to identify possible changes to the policy," Surette said.
The Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada and human rights advocates have raised concerns about gender-sensitive procedures such as strip searches, pat-downs or urine analysis by members of the opposite sex, and also about about exploitation, harassment, intimidation and sexual violence perpetrated against trans inmates.
New sex reassignment surgery rules
Among the changes in the revised policy is one that makes it easier for transgender inmates to get sex reassignment surgery.
Under the new rules, an offender will be eligible if they have lived in in an identity-congruent gender role for 12 continuous months and it is recommended by a specialist physician. Under the previous policy, the individual was required to have lived 12 months in the gender role in the community prior to incarceration.
Other elements of CSC's revised transgender policy:
- CSC will pay the cost of sex reassignment surgery.
- Transgender offenders will be permitted to wear clothing appropriate to their self-identified gender.
- CSC will proceed without delay to determine the timing of the surgery, taking into account operational considerations and the offender's release date.
- The same health professional specialist who provided care to the offender throughout the gender transition prior to his/her incarceration will be retained, unless the offender and CSC agree to a different choice.
- The head of the institution will ensure that staff who have regular contact with transgender offenders have the necessary knowledge to effectively respond to their needs.