Nova Scotia

Trans woman 'shocked' by treatment in Halifax police custody

Mariah Baker says she hopes that by speaking out, other transgender people might avoid the same type of treatment by police.

Mariah Baker says she was placed in men’s holding cell, and birth name was wrongly used in police news release

Mariah Baker says that while Halifax Regional Police used her preferred name and pronouns during their interactions with her, there were several instances in which she felt her dignity was violated. (Submitted by Mariah Baker)

A transgender Halifax resident says her dignity and privacy were violated when she was placed in the same wing as men and her birth name was used in a press release while in Halifax Regional Police custody.

Mariah Baker told CBC's Information Morning that while officers used her preferred name and pronouns during their interactions with her, there were several incidents that concerned Baker.

Baker was arrested on June 3 when police raided Scotia Green Dispensary, a cannabis dispensary on Spring Garden Road. She was taken to police headquarters on Gottingen Street and spent the night there. She faces four drug-related charges and was one of three people charged.

Baker said she told police up front that she was transgender, and that her name, gender, and appearance did not match her government identification, which uses her birth name. She said she hasn't had her name legally changed due to financial constraints.

Baker said she was searched by a female officer and placed in a cell by herself in a men's wing where she was "surrounded completely by men."

"I brought it to their attention a couple times … I got fingerprinted and put back in those same cells in that same wing," she said.

Bathroom concerns

Baker said while she was alone in the cell, she was concerned about being seen by other prisoners, especially while using the toilet.

"I was kind of using my skirt like a blanket on my lap when I was using it," she said.

According to a police press release, Baker was arrested shortly after 1 p.m. on June 3.

She said it wasn't until officers were telling inmates to go to sleep that she was given the option to change cells. She said she was asked whether she wanted to move to a cell in the women's wing, or be placed next to another transgender person who was arrested with her.

"I opted to go down there with [him] and when I got there, I was actually quite surprised to find out that he was in a wing by himself," she said. "So, it was like they really didn't know what the hell to do with him."

'A little shocked'

The next day while waiting to appear before a judge, Baker said she was approached by a male officer who asked whether she had surgically transitioned.

"I was a little shocked by it, but he said it was for purposes of searching me," she said.

Baker said this came after being searched twice by female officers, and she wasn't sure if she was compelled to answer the question. She said she thinks the question was asked out of curiosity rather than necessity.

"If that's something that they were concerned about, they should have asked that a long time ago," she said.

Outed by press release

After being released from custody, another surprise was in store. Several media outlets had published her birth name, which she quickly realized was included in the press release about her arrest.

"It is still standing as my legal name, but on my release papers it says Mariah Baker, the judge I appeared before referred to me as Mariah Baker and Ms. Baker," she said.

Baker said she contacted police about having the name changed on the release, but she said they never got back to her. She's hoping that by speaking out, other transgender people might avoid the same fate.

"I really hope that nobody else in my position has to go through that, because that hurt worse than all the rest of it," she said.

"I'm hoping they'll think twice about how they handle a trans person if they have to bring one in."

Police response

Halifax Regional Police spokesperson Const. John MacLeod said he was unable to comment specifically on the case as it's before the courts.

"We make every effort to treat citizens in our prisoner care facility with utmost respect and dignity," he said. 

"Should anyone feel that they did not receive appropriate treatment by our officers, they are encouraged to contact our professional standards office, who will follow up on the complaint." 

Nova Scotia 1 of 4 provinces with transgender policies

Adelina Iftene is an assistant professor at Dalhousie University's Schulich School of Law. She said Nova Scotia is one of four provinces with policies around the placement of transgender people in cells based on gender identity.

But there's usually a catch, Iftene said.

"It says something to the effect that the authorities have the discretion to assess whether there is a certain risk associated with placing the individual based on the gender that they identify with," she said.

Iftene said officers have a responsibility to use the name and pronouns that a transgender person wishes to be addressed by. She said even if they're compelled to use a person's legal name for legal documents, a press release doesn't count.

"A press release is not an official document of any sorts, so there was absolutely no need to disregard her desire to have her name used as she wanted it," she said.

"It's also, beyond anything else, just a blatant disregard for her dignity."

When asked about the police department's policy for the treatment of transgender people in custody, MacLeod said information on policies and procedures is only available by filing an access-to-information request.

With files from CBC's Information Morning