Transgender community upset by driver's licence 'stunt'

Some in the transgender community say an Alberta man who changed the gender on his driver's licence to pay a lower rate for car insurance is hurting those who struggle with identity issues.

'I think it cheapens the whole process. It sort of casts doubt on everybody else’s motives'

Redacted birth certificates of an Alberta man who changed his gender for cheaper car insurance. The circles in red show that the certificate on the left reads 'male' while the newer one on the right reads 'female.' (Submitted)

Some in the transgender community say an Alberta man who changed the gender on his driver's licence to pay a lower rate for car insurance is hurting those who struggle with identity issues. And a government MLA called it a criminal act.

The 24-year-old man — referred to as David by CBC News to protect his identity — legally changed his birth certificate and licence from male to female to save about $1,000 a year on vehicle insurance.

The man said he was given a quote of about $4,500 a year to insure a new car, but the rate for a female driver was about $3,400 — an $1,100 difference.

Calgary NDP MLA Stephanie McLean tweeted after the CBC's initial story was published, saying the man's actions amount to perjury and could have serious legal consequences. 

Marie Little, a former chair of the Trans Alliance Society, said the man's actions are like a slap in the face.

"I think it cheapens the whole process. It sort of casts doubt on everybody else's motives for making those changes," she said. "I think it gives ammunition to people who want to take rights away from trans people."

Under the rules in place at the time David made the change, Albertans needed to produce a doctor's note to switch the gender marker on their personal documents. In June, the government scrapped the doctor's note requirement for adults, allowing them to declare their marker as M, F or X, for those who don't fit into a strictly male or female binary.

David says he didn't mean any disrespect to the trans community, he just wanted a better rate on insurance.

But that means little to Marni Panas, who is a trans woman.

'He lied'

"Whether he says, 'I didn't mean to do harm to the trans community,' is irrelevant because the impact is very real to a community that is already quite vulnerable," she said.

"And he lied, so that really speaks to this person's integrity. I certainly would question this person's motives. It ends up being a big stunt."

Calgary lawyer Christine Viney says anyone who changes their gender on paper to save on car insurance could run into trouble when they make a claim.

"If someone looking for car insurance knowingly misrepresents a fact they need to share in that application, then that's a misrepresentation. And the effect of that is that a claim by the insured can be invalid under the policy," she said.

Panas said David could also face other unexpected difficulties in the future.

"It will be interesting to see the next time he goes to apply for a passport, when they need that type of documentation," she said. "There might be other reasons that he might have to provide a birth certificate somewhere down the road, or have to prove something, then that's going to be a problem."

Gender markers 'irrelevant'

No gender marker should be on government-issued ID, said Panas.

"They serve no purpose," she said. "They're irrelevant."

Service Minister Brian Malkinson said in a statement his office has no evidence of people changing their gender marker solely for cheaper car insurance, and anyone who would "is making a mockery out of something that can have a real, profound impact on people's lives."

"For most people who explore the option of changing their gender marker, it is about something a lot more important than car insurance," read the statement.

"It's about having the freedom to live their lives as the person they really are. Having a system that empowers people to change their gender marker is about respecting, protecting and advancing human rights.

"Our goal is for Alberta to be a modern and inclusive province — one where people aren't punished by a system that makes it difficult for them to express their own gender identity."