Manitoba

Gender-neutral birth certificates get hearing at Manitoba Human Rights tribunal

The Manitoba Human Rights Adjudication Panel will hear a complaint this week that may open the door for Manitobans who don’t identify as either male or female to express that on their birth certificates.

‘Violates their rights to equal treatment,’ lawyer says of pan-gender client

Some trans non-binary people who don't identify as either male or female find questionnaires like this triggering. (Lyza Sale/CBC)

The Manitoba Human Rights Adjudication Panel will hear a complaint this week that may open the door for Manitobans who don't identify as either male or female to express that on their birth certificates.

The complainant, identified only as "T.A.," filed their complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission in 2015.

T.A. is pan-gender, which means they don't identify as either male or female and go by the pronouns "they" or "them" instead of "he" or "she."

T.A. and their lawyer, Susan Ursel, say by being forced to put only male or female on their birth certificate, the Government of Manitoba, the Vital Statistics Agency and Manitoba Justice are breaching the province's Human Rights Code.

A non-binary Winnipegger is tired of not being able to identify themselves properly on ID in Manitoba. 0:59

"A birth certificate proves that you were born, and that's important," said Ursel, a lawyer from the Toronto-based law firm Ursel Phillips Fellows Hopkinson.

"But our client would argue, and we intend to argue, that to confine people to choosing male or female, or 'M' or F,' violates their rights to equal treatment."

High-profile lawyer

Ursel has a CV chock-full of high-profile human rights cases, and is travelling to Winnipeg from Toronto for the hearing.

She's represented the likes of Occupy Toronto and taken on a number of LGBTQ-related cases. She won her first case before a Human Rights Board in 1991, when she challenged the Mayor of Hamilton's refusal to proclaim Gay Pride Week in the city.

Ursel told CBC News that the legal argument in this case centres around Section 13 of the Human Rights Code, which states, "No person shall discriminate with respect to any service, accommodation, facility, good, right, licence, benefit, program or privilege available or accessible to the public or to a section of the public."

The code specifically protects gender identity and sexual orientation against discrimination.

Ideally, Ursel would like to see the requirement to put either "M" or "F" on documents like birth certificates abolished altogether, but would also be open to having other letters or symbols that signify a non-binary gender identity.

'There's a lot of growth that has to happen'

Winnipegger Shandi Strong is among a group of transgender advocates in Manitoba who have taken a political route in an attempt to abolish the male-female binary on provincial IDs.

With support from the transgender community, the Manitoba NDP re-introduced an opposition bill in March that would add a third "X" option to provincially issued IDs.

That bill has yet to make it past first reading.

Strong, who ran unsuccessfully for the Manitoba Liberal Party in the last provincial election, doesn't think the issue is a priority for the current provincial government.

Winnipeg transgender activist Shandi Strong is hopeful the T.A.'s complaint is successful and helps move the provincial government to change. (Travis Golby/CBC)

She hopes that will change if the human rights complaint is successful.

"A lot of people develop huge amounts of anxiety trying to fit themselves into a little pink or a little blue box," said Strong, who transitioned from male to female eight years ago.

"Having that on a piece of ID, kind of validates the person and helps them realize that other people understand … it gives them some strength and some support.

"There's a lot of growth that has to happen with society [so there's] an understanding that people are different."

The public hearing will take place from April 1 to 4 in Winnipeg.

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With files from Shane Gibson