Quebec appealing court decision that helps trans, non-binary teens change legal documents

The Quebec government wants the province’s highest court to ensure teenagers seeking to change their sex designation on official documents get the OK from a health professional first.

Decision struck down requirement for teens to get OK from a health professional to change sex designation

A recent court decision made it easier for transgender and non-binary teens to change their sex designation on legal documents, but the government is appealing the decision. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

The Quebec government wants the province's highest court to ensure teenagers seeking to change their sex designation on official documents get the OK from a health professional first.

It is appealing part of a landmark decision from last January, when Justice Gregory Moore invalidated several articles of the Civil Code, including the one that prevents a person from changing the sex listed on their act of birth to reflect their gender identity.

He also decided article 23.2 of a Civil Code regulation — which requires teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17 to provide a letter from a physician, psychologist, psychiatrist, sexologist or social worker when applying to change their sex designation on their act of birth — must be amended.

That health professional must declare that they have "evaluated or followed the child and is of the opinion that the change of designation is appropriate," the regulation reads.

Moore ruled the article must be amended because that requirement has been eliminated for adults, and said the declaration of appropriateness does not serve a rational purpose.

In the appeal brief, government lawyers say the judge made several errors of law when he struck down that article of the regulation.

Decision to appeal a 'mistake,' advocate says

Mona Greenbaum, executive director of the LGBT+ Family Coalition, said she thinks the decision to appeal is a mistake.

The government may think it's being cautious because it believes young people don't fully understand their gender identity but it's not something a doctor can assess, and it doesn't take long for people to figure out, she said.

Gender identity begins to develop as early as age two and is quite entrenched by the age of five or six, she said.

Greenbaum said youth 14 and up can make all kinds of medical decisions and should be able to make decisions about their gender identity as well, like adults do.

"The end result is that these young people end up with documents that don't match how they feel and often how they look, which can actually be dangerous and damaging to them," she said, adding that it could lead to physical violence, but is also dangerous for their self-esteem.

Highlighting the difference between sex and gender

The case underscores "the difference between sex and gender identity and the discrimination that can result when the law treats them as synonyms," the ruling said.

Statistics Canada defines sex as something that is assigned at birth and is usually assigned based on a person's reproductive system and other physical characteristics, while gender refers to the gender that a person internally feels and/or the gender a person publicly expresses in their daily life.

According to the judge, the limitations of the Civil Code deprive trans and non-binary people "of the dignity and the equality that they are owed."

Moore gave the province until the end of this year to make it easier for people to change their gender identity on official documents.

The ruling also struck down the provision that requires someone to be identified as a mother or a father on a declaration of birth, rather than being referred to as a parent.

with files from Steve Rukavina