Manitoba to allow non-binary option on birth certificates in response to human rights ruling

The Manitoba government says it has introduced policy changes that will make birth certificates more inclusive in response to a human rights ruling.

Finance Minister Scott Fielding says policy change prompted by human rights ruling

Manitoba will now include a non-binary option, in addition to male and female, for people applying for change of sex designation on birth certificates. (Meagan Fiddler/CBC)

Manitobans will soon have the option to select a non-binary sex designation on birth certificates.

On Monday afternoon, the Progressive Conservative government said it has introduced policy changes to make birth documents more inclusive, in response to a human rights decision that ruled against the province in late 2019.

In a news release, Manitoba Finance Minister Scott Fielding made the announcement to allow a third non-binary option — in addition to male and female — when applying for a change of sex designation under the Vital Statistics Act.

"In response to a ruling from the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, the Vital Statistics Agency is implementing policy changes to be more inclusive to Manitobans," Fielding said.

The ruling in November 2019, which stemmed from a 2015 complaint, found the province discriminated against a transgender person when it refused to allow a sex designation that was not male or female on a birth certificate.

In November, an independent human rights adjudicator ruled the Manitoba government had 180 days to allow non-binary people to make sex designations on birth certificates, such as marking an "X" instead of male or female.

In a decision dated Nov. 4, adjudicator Dan Manning ordered the government to pay $50,000 in damages to T.A., a transgender person who identifies as pangender. T.A. filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission in 2015.

"I am of the view that the policy of the respondent constitutes systemic direct discrimination," Manning said at the time.

T.A., who does not identify as either male or female and uses the pronoun they, tried to change the sex designation on their birth certificate in 2012 but Manitoba's Vital Statistics Agency denied that request. A publication ban protects T.A.'s identity.

Advocate sees move as step forward

A transgender advocate in Winnipeg who has been involved in the human rights battle told CBC Up to Speed host Ismaila Alfa that they are feeling pleased and relieved about the news.

"I'm super excited to have I.D. for the first time in my life that will accurately reflect my identity to anyone who sees it," Charlie Eau said.

Eau sees the policy move as just one step forward in recognizing this segment of the population exists. Eau hopes having this change on an official document will create a "domino effect" for more institutional change and for public opinion to welcome a spectrum of gender identities.

"This opens the door to conversations for us to have drivers' licences and other provincial I.D. [such as] medical cards that have our correct names and gender markers. It's a big deal to have this institutionally recognized," Eau said.

Eau wants to see the option on all official identification documents, while demanding more transparency as to why information about a person's sex is relevant for the government to track and what the data is used for.

Canadian citizens who do not identify as either female or male can now mark their gender as "X" on federal identification documents, the federal government announced in June 2019.

Some other provinces have already adopted gender-neutral identity documents.

Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador allow people to choose "X" as a gender indicator — or to not display any gender — on birth certificates, drivers' licences and other documents.

The release, issued Monday, said the Manitoba government is also trying to pass legislation to remove the requirement to display sex designation on birth and death certificates.

In a Facebook post, NDP MLA Uzoma Asagwara said the government has not explained the delay in coming to a resolution or how it will ultimately satisfy the commission's ruling.

With files from Austin Grabish and Canadian Press