Canada, and the province of Ontario, in particular, is something of a leader in the adoption of transgender and gender-non-conforming rights. According to the Toronto Star, Ontario (whose human rights laws specifically designate gender identity and gender expression as protected categories) has already instituted gender-neutral options on health cards and driver’s licenses: the health card change was instituted in June of last year, and a gender-neutral driver’s license is available as of the beginning of April.
Now, along with a bill that would protect gender identity and expression across the country, the federal government is looking to introduce a gender-neutral option for passports – and pressure is on to allow it on birth certificates as well.
Currently, Canada (which allows passports from countries which include a third option) only allows passports to be marked M or F. But according to PinkNews, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould are pushing to see a third option added.
“The prime minister is very mindful of perhaps a third box or an ability to mark something other than male or female. This work is being undertaken at Passport Canada.”
“Individual ministers and (people) within their departments are recognizing that this bill has been introduced, that there is work that needs to continue to be taken.”
The changes are set to be introduced in Bill C-16, which would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender expression and identity as protected categories. Proponents are hopeful that the bill will be passed; however, there are concerns that the Canadian Senate will once again block these changes – as they have the four previous times that similar bills have passed the Canadian House of Commons. Canadian Senators are appointed for life, and the Senate is still dominated by a Conservative majority. Bill C-16 passed the House of Commons in October with a 248-40 margin – the most support a transgender rights bill has ever received in the nation.
One Canadian Senator, Andre Pratte, had to issue an apology for using a racial slur during a transgender rights debate; Senator Don Plett, the primary opponent to Bill C-16 in the Senate, said that a gender-neutral passport (which are already in use by many countries, without incident – Australian New Zealand, and Nepal among them) was not “a workable solution” and has suggested (inaccurately) that opposing transgender rights is vital to protecting children in school bathrooms.
“When you start putting other boxes in, where does that end? How many boxes are we going to put in?” Plett added.
Meanwhile, non-binary activists in Ontario are pushing for a gender-neutral birth certificate option. Joshua M Ferguson, a non-binary Canadian activist and filmmaker, has applied to have their Ontario birth certificate changed, pointing out that their gender identity is already legally accepted and protected by the province – and not having a gender-neutral birth certificate option in 2017 is “not good enough.”
“My gender identity and gender expression are covered under Ontario law. I have a right to receive my non-binary birth certificate now, not next year.”
They added that a gender-neutral birth certificate would allow people who don’t identify as male or female to “turn this alienation we feel into a realized place in society.”
“I am doing this for myself: once I was scared, hurt and alone and I didn’t have the language or the support to be who I am. But I am also doing this for you, the non-binary reader who has had to fight daily to exist in the face of intolerance.”
Canada and Ontario are generally supportive of transgender rights. Activists still face some uphill battles there but are optimistic that protections and options on legal documents which recognize a broader spectrum of gender identities are just around the corner.
But for transgender, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming individuals, those changes can’t come soon enough.
[Featured Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]