Free clinic helps gender-diverse, trans Islanders make document changes

A clinic which helps trans and gender-diverse people make changes to their legal documents has opened to people on P.E.I. for the first time.

Clinic volunteer says P.E.I.’s requirement for physician statement can be ‘troublesome’

Ash Arsenault is one of the clinic volunteers. He is a law student at the University of New Brunswick and is from Prince Edward Island. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

A clinic that helps trans and gender-diverse people make changes to their legal documents has opened to people on P.E.I. for the first time.

The Trans ID clinic has been operating in New Brunswick for three years, but when COVID-19 moved the clinics online, organizers decided to take advantage and open the service up to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island.

The first regional clinic took place Sunday afternoon.

"We're aiming to target a group of clientele that are really underserved, and legal information is hard to come by, period, let alone for people who are in the trans community," said Ash Arsenault, a clinic volunteer and UNB law student from P.E.I.

"Trying to access the correct forms they need to change their gender markers and their names and things like that. It's really something that it's tough to get some information on. People can just be left to their own devices and it can be kind of hard to find the correct information."

The free clinic is open to transgender people, which is those who identify with a gender that doesn't match their biological classification at birth, as well as those who do not conform to conventional notions of female or male. 

With the assistance of volunteer lawyers in each province, UNB law students assist clinic clients with the forms and paperwork they need to fill out in order to make legal changes to their name or gender marker — male or female.

The clinic helps with changes to birth certificates, passports, driver's licences, social insurance, medicare or newcomer documents. Notarization services are also available from the volunteer lawyers at no cost.

"We know that it's not something that's readily available at all within the Atlantic provinces," Arsenault said. "Especially P.E.I. and Newfoundland where it's extremely rural and it's extremely hard to find resources."

P.E.I. still requires a physician's involvement

The paperwork required to make those changes varies by province. 

On P.E.I., Aresenault said those looking to change their gender marker on their documents are required to have a statement from a physician indicating the person's "correct" gender.

"That's something that is not so common anymore, it used to be a lot more common … now P.E.I. is one of the last remaining provinces that's clinging to that," he said.

Arsenault said this can create issues for those needing to travel out of the province or country for gender-confirmation surgery when they cannot obtain travel documents that match their gender identity. 

Also, not every trans or gender non-conforming person chooses, or feels the need, to have that surgery.

"That kind of emphasis on medical intervention is problematic for many reasons."

"They're kind of stuck in a catch-22, where they can't obtain medical assistance, but they can't obtain their identification that's required to obtain that medical assistance."

Arsenault said the physician statement required for P.E.I. residents to change their documents is something other provinces have eliminated.

Arsenault said New Brunswick has a similar policy, but the requirements are more flexible since the statement can come from a broader list of professionals, including a psychiatrist or social worker. Nova Scotia and Newfoundland Labrador do not require a doctor's signature.

"If you proclaim that the gender that you want reflected on your ID is the gender that you live, then that's enough for them," he said. "You just have to submit your own personal statement."

Arsenault said another barrier to the physician statement can be finding a doctor who will do it in a rural place.

"We're kind of struggling in terms of doctor shortages, and throughout the Atlantic region in general, but especially in P.E.I., we have a shortage of family doctors"

"Even if you do have a family doctor, sometimes it's tough to find a doctor who is knowledgeable and sensitive to trans issues. So it can be troublesome to find a doctor who is willing to sign off on that for you."

The clinic is a partnership between Pro Bono Students Canada, UNB Law and Imprint, an LGBTQ youth association based in Fredericton.

Arsenault said Sunday's clinic had unprecedented interest and organizers said more regional clinics may be held in the future.

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Nicola MacLeod grew up on P.E.I., where she is now a multi-platform reporter and producer for CBC. Got a story? Email