Montreal·Point of View

Landmark ruling on Civil Code shows the resilience of Quebec's trans communities

This victory is not a sudden recognition of the rights of trans migrants, parents, minors and non-binary people. It is the culmination of years of advocacy and solidarity by Quebec trans communities.

Decision is the culmination of years of solidarity and advocacy

The rights of trans migrants was the focus of 2016's Montreal Trans March. (Radio-Canada)

In a long-awaited judgment released on Thursday, the Superior Court of Quebec delivered a major legal victory to trans people in the province. As a result of the decision, it will now be possible for trans migrants to change their name and gender marker without citizenship, for non-binary people to be recognized as such on their birth certificate, for trans adolescents to change their birth certificate without a letter by a mental health professional and for trans parents to have their gender recognized on their child's birth certificate.

Not every demand was granted: parents can still too easily object to their adolescent's change of name without change of gender marker, and newborns' birth certificates must have a gender marker without exception. We will have to carry on these fights in 2021 and onward.

Nonetheless, the ruling is an important win.

As someone who is deeply enmeshed in Quebec's trans communities, I am ecstatic. Having a name and gender marker that corresponds to your gender identity is not a luxury, but a necessity, for most trans people. Trans people experience severe marginalization, and gender-concordant identity documents are shown to greatly reduce negative mental health outcomes such as anxiety and depression.

My friends who do not have citizenship, who experience even greater marginalization, will finally be able to change their birth certificate in Quebec. On a more personal level, I am excited at the prospect of finally having documentation that reflects my non-binary self and look forward to working with the provincial government on how to implement the ruling.

As a legal scholar by trade, my temptation is to look at the decision as legal craft, analyzing its merits and lauding the work of lawyers. But this decision is less a testament to legal skill than a demonstration of the resilience of trans communities. Reading the judgment, I couldn't help myself from smiling as I came across the names of close friends and acquaintances who testified at trial. Laying bare the harm caused by the law, every line of the judgment was a reminder not only of what the plaintiffs and witnesses went through, but also of just how strong they are.

Through thick and thin, trans people fought the government for their rights.

The lawsuit was initiated all the way back in 2014. Back then, the government was developing regulations to make it easier for trans people to change their identity documents. When the regulation came into force in October 2015, it completely left out trans migrants, parents, minors and non-binary people. A year later, under pressure from a beloved minor political party, the government allowed minors to change their name and gender marker albeit with a letter from a mental health professional.

The rights of trans migrants, parents and non-binary people were left unheard. And so they stayed, until Thursday.

Though no legal change came in the intervening years, they were not years spent simply waiting. The fight continued. The Centre for Gender Advocacy, which spearheaded the lawsuit against the government, played a pivotal role throughout. As did many of the plaintiffs, interveners and eventual witnesses.

In 2016 and 2017, the rights of trans migrants were the focus of the Montreal Trans March, an unabashedly militant march held during Pride season. In 2018, the emphasis was put on trans parents. When then minister of justice Stéphanie Vallée spoke at an LGBTQ+ international conference held by Montreal Pride in 2017, she was interrupted by trans migrants who demanded that their rights be recognized. She committed herself to change the law.

Despite her promises, no legal amendment was ever proposed before the legislature.

Amid constant setbacks, trans communities never faltered. When the trial against the government began in February 2019, the courtroom was packed. Held in an unassuming room of the Montreal courthouse, so many people attended that dozens had to sit on the floor — and we couldn't even see the floor anymore! Despite the solemn atmosphere, the hallways in between sessions were full of cheer and reminiscence as friends encouraged each other before their testimonies or chatted excitedly about how the trial was going.

At various points, the government proposed some half-baked and easily reverted compromises to appease trans communities. Rather than accepting anything less than their due, the plaintiffs held strong and saw the lawsuit to its end. Today, we reap the fruits of their tenacity.

The ruling is not a sudden recognition of the rights of trans migrants, parents, minors and non-binary people. It is the culmination of years of advocacy and solidarity by Quebec trans communities. May it stand as a lesson to governments: ours is a resilient community. You can delay justice, but justice will one day come. We will make sure of it.

About the Author

Florence Ashley is a transfeminine jurist and bioethicist. Originally from Quebec, they are currently pursuing a doctorate at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and Joint Centre for Bioethics.

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