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A legal challenge to institutional violence against trans* people

Centre for Gender Advocacy resists discriminatory law

The Centre for Gender Advocacy announced Wednesday that they will be challenging the Quebec Civil Code in Quebec’s Superior Court. Article 71 of the Code stipulates that a trans* person must be over the age of 18, a Canadian citizen, and have undergone a sex reassignment surgery in order to change their gender on official government identification. The Centre is calling for these three stipulations to be abolished.

“The Quebec Civil Code attaches sexual organs to gender, which in turn attaches certain stereotypes,” said Marc-Antoine Cloutier, executive director of the legal clinic Juripop, in French.

“These laws cause deaths, we should not forget that. When you impose a law like this, you force trans* people to out themselves to everyone.”

The Centre asserts that the law is discriminatory against trans* people. According to Gabrielle Bouchard, Peer Support and Trans* Advocacy Coordinator at the Centre, the law sends the wrong message to trans* youth.

“It asks young people to live out their adolescence at school with a gender dichotomy and legal identity, [only] in order to reach the age of 18 and get a sex change,” said Bouchard. “Currently the rate of suicide among trans* people is 40 per cent, and this is largely due to the fact that they cannot live their lives like everybody else.”

The Centre also challenges the law’s enforcement of sex reassignment surgery in order to change one’s gender on legal documents.

“When we talk to young trans* people, we promise them that when they reach the age of 18, if you want to stop being discriminated against, you have to have a sex change,” said Bouchard, “We are talking about mandatory sex changes. These include a complete hysterectomy or vaginoplasty. Right now they don’t have a choice.”

Bouchard explained that both these surgical procedures lead to sterilization. “Right now we don’t talk about the people who refuse to go under the knife to biologically alter their bodies. They only exist in the background.”

According to Bouchard, the decision to take this issue to courts is a preliminary step to making Canada a safer place for trans* people. “Our society is gendered and there is no way on earth that [we] will change that. […] We have to work within a binary society, where there is either male or female,” Bouchard said. “What we’re hoping to achieve with this is at least giving somebody the possibility to choose which one they’re more comfortable with or the least uncomfortable with.”

The Centre initially filed a complaint with the Quebec Commission of Human Rights and Youth Rights in August of this year. According to Bouchard, the Commission confirmed that the current law is discriminatory. However, the Commission was unable to take the case without a clear victim.

“We’re taking it to court [because] the process of modifying the law has been dragging on forever. If the [members of Quebec’s National Assembly] cannot come to a conclusion on this, then we have to use the tools that have been known throughout the years to be working,” said Bouchard.

“We are talking about mandatory sex changes. These include a complete hysterectomy or vaginoplasty.”

“Today we have in our hands all the elements in order to pursue a judicial case which will happen in the coming weeks,” Cloutier added. “Because we cannot accept the discrimination of these people, they have to integrate and live peacefully in society the way they are.”

On November 25 and 26, Quebec’s National Assembly will debate potentially striking down some of the articles. Even if they make changes to some parts of Article 71, Bouchard stated that the Centre would still go ahead with its legal challenge to the other parts as well.

“The Minister of Justice knows the law is discriminatory,” said Cloutier. “If the Minister of Justice does not take responsibility for this case next week then that will cause a great delay.”

“These laws cause deaths, we should not forget that,” he added. “When you impose a law like this, you force trans* people to out themselves to everyone.”

With files from Ralph Haddad.