Samuel Singer is an assistant professor in the faculty of law at the University of Ottawa and a member of the Law Society of Ontario and the Barreau du Québec.
In January, trans people in Quebec celebrated a major human rights decision. In Centre for Gender Advocacy v. Attorney General of Quebec, the Superior Court of Quebec declared that several provisions of the Civil Code of Quebec about identity documents discriminated against trans people. I was born in Quebec, as was my child, and I lived in the province for many years. This trans rights victory was very personal to me, as a long-time advocate, a trans law professor and a co-plaintiff in the case.
The Quebec government was ordered to allow trans migrants who are not Canadian citizens to change their name and sex. For trans youth, the decision removed barriers to changing their legal sex. Non-binary people were finally legally recognized, and no longer required to be listed as male or female. Trans parents could change their parental designation from mother to father, and vice-versa, or be listed as “parent” on their child’s birth certificate. I know many people whose lives would be directly improved by the decision, including me and my family.
Then in March, the Quebec government appealed parts of the decision – and we counterappealed. The government’s decision to do so was disappointing, but it did not prepare me for what came next.
On Oct. 21, the government introduced Bill 2 in response to our trans rights victory. Bill 2 not only goes against the spirit of the court’s decision, it is also crushing for trans communities. Celeste Trianon, trans rights advocate at the Centre for Gender Advocacy, described it as “truly the most directly transphobic bill ever proposed in Quebec, and also in Canada.”
If enacted, Bill 2 would create two separate categories for trans people on their birth certificates. All people would have a sex designation. People whose sex assigned at birth does not match their gender identity could then add a gender marker of “X” (non-binary), “F” (female), or “M” (male). Their sex designation, however, would still be listed. It would remain unchanged unless an individual proved that they underwent surgery to change their “sexual organs.”
Bill 2 would leave many trans people in Quebec with a sex marker that says one thing and a gender marker that says another. There are long wait lists for gender-affirming care in Canada, and many trans people choose not to pursue the surgeries necessary to satisfy the criteria under the proposed law. Bill 2 also marks trans parents as the only people who could be identified as “parent” on birth certificates.
By disclosing private information about trans people’s bodies and their gender histories on their civil status documents, Bill 2 violates trans people’s privacy and exposes them to discrimination. Dalia Tourki, an advocate who led the trial mobilization for the Centre for Gender Advocacy, describes the proposed law as a “forced coming out.”
The Quebec government must reverse course: Trans people must have access to identification papers that match their gender identity, and need to be protected from outing and the risks of violence and discrimination.
The proposed amendments in Bill 2 are a surprising and disturbing departure from when Quebec brought into force new rules that eliminated surgery requirements in 2015. Surgery requirements to change one’s legal sex were already declared discriminatory by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in 2012 and the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta in 2014.
Across Canada, non-binary people have also successfully used advocacy and human rights law to fight for legal recognition in Canada. They can now obtain a sex designation of “X” on their birth certificates in many Canadian jurisdictions, including Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Yukon.
If Bill 2 is adopted, it would undo major gains for trans rights in Quebec and introduce the most regressive legal framework for changing identity documents in Canada. The Quebec government must amend Bill 2 and give trans people in Quebec back their victory.
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