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Op-ed: Rain Edmond

Canada has a moral imperative to record our true identities, says trans international student

By Rain Edmond

My name is Rain Edmond and I am a third-year undergraduate student in political science at Memorial.

I’m also an international student support assistant and a World University Services Canada ambassador for the Internationalization Office. I am also trans.

Different jurisdictions, different rules

As trans people, our bodies are not our own.

Instead, our legal existence is regulated by different jurisdictions with different rules, depending on where we were born, where we live now, and the passports we hold. In Canada, there is a persistent discrepancy in provincial, territorial, and federal government regimes for the recognition of trans people’s identities.

A trans recognition regime consists primarily of two things: a change of legal name, and a change of legal gender.

All provinces and territories except Quebec (with a federal work-around for permanent residents living there) allow their residents, whether temporary, permanent, or citizen, to change their legal name. Changes of legal gender, however, are different.

Even though no jurisdiction in Canada requires surgery today, the requirements for a change of legal gender vary wildly.

Gender marker ≠ legal gender

Before going further, I must delineate between legal gender and gender marker.

A gender marker appears on a person’s non-foundational identity documents (e.g.  a driver’s licence), and legal gender appears on foundational identity documents and is generally legally assigned at birth (e.g. a birth certificate). A gender marker usually follows legal gender, but they are not necessarily the same.

Most provinces and territories will amend a person’s driver’s licence or photo identification card to have a different gender marker regardless of place of birth.

“We are labelled temporary, and relegated to second-class status.”

But this does nothing in terms of foundational identity documents, therefore providing an avenue for someone to be outed when in a situation which requires more paperwork than just photo ID.

Furthermore, people born in trans-hostile jurisdictions would not see any legal acknowledgment of the change, if only the gender marker on their licence or photo card is amended.

An identity that is not ours

Generally, people born in a Canadian province or territory can change their birth certificate to reflect their true gender.

If you are a permanent resident or citizen, regardless of where you are born, you can change the legal gender on your immigration/citizenship status document and get a linking document called a verification of status, to prove you’re the same person as the one named on your birth certificate.

But not everyone in Canada falls within these neatly-defined criteria: most provinces, all territories, and the federal government, do not make these processes accessible to temporary residents.

Individuals like me who are labelled international students and foreign workers live in, work for, and contribute to communities all across Canada. There are also people who come to Canada seeking a safe harbour, waiting for a decision on their asylum applications.

We are labelled temporary, and relegated to second-class status. Our legal documentation reflects an identity which is not ours, and which we cannot correct.

Moral imperative

You may think that trans people who are temporary residents of Canada can easily get a change of legal gender through their countries of birth or nationality. If only that were true.

Many countries refuse to legally recognize the true gender of trans individuals, and among those that do allow a change of legal gender, prohibitive requirements make the process difficult.

For example, Indonesia demands you present a clergyperson from your registered religion at your court hearing; to testify that the change is religiously okay.

“This is an oversight with real consequences.”

Canada has a moral imperative to record the true identities of those who reside here and who have ties to restrictive countries. Two Canadian jurisdictions are leading the nation in this regard.

New Brunswick and Nova Scotia allow all residents born out of province, to obtain a change of legal gender on the same terms as a change of legal name, and enabling them to receive a Certificate of Change of Gender. I have been personally campaigning, and continue to campaign, for a similar model to be adopted in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Even if all the provinces and territories were to adopt policies to allow a legal change of gender for temporary residents born overseas, the issue also remains that our primary status document will not be amended to show our true gender by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), unless our countries of nationality amend them on our passports first.

As mentioned, this is impractical or impossible for a lot of trans people; even though they do recognize a provincial/territorial change of name for temporary residents.

This is an oversight with real consequences.

Dead names

Melissandra Sainte-Jeanne-d’Arc Groza, an undergraduate student at Memorial, puts it best.

“I came out as my true self last year, and earlier this year I also had to renew my Medical Care Plan (MCP). Unfortunately, I couldn’t write my gender identity as female and the name I go by. Instead, I had to write male as my gender and write my deadname in my MCP. Where I’m from, I can’t change my gender marker and name, based on my gender identity. I now have to explain my situation every time I fill out any kind of paperwork, so that I get addressed by my proper name and pronouns. Being deadnamed and misgendered is very triggering for me, as I suffer from extreme gender dysphoria due to my gender assigned at birth.”

Sonja Knutson, director of the Internationalization Office, notes that international students, foreign workers, and asylum seekers are often overlooked when governments make attempts to modernize policies to reflect societal needs and norms.

“Policies, whether economic or social, frequently ignore the rights of these temporary residents. We have seen this with the COVID-19 federal aid packages, and we see it here with the lack of process for temporary residents to formally change their gender status.”

Enact real change

There are real consequences of having inconsistent and discriminatory policies, governing who can and cannot legally change their gender.

For people like me, the oppression that has followed us from our countries of birth and/or nationality remains. You have read this far; the question now is: what can you do to help enact real change?

I call on everyone to do the following:

  • Contact your provincial or territorial Member of the House of Assembly, and the provincial or territorial Minister Responsible for Vital Statistics and ask them to amend the Vital Statistics Act of your province or territory to be in line with the gold standard in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Urge them to allow everyone, not just those who were born in your province or territory, to legally change their gender.
  • Tell your federal member of Parliament and the minister for IRCC, to formalize the recognition of trans temporary residents’ true genders on their immigration status documentation, as they would recognize provincial or territorial change of name.

For many trans temporary residents, Canada has been a safe harbour, a place to call our first true home.

Please help make it safer for all of us.

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