NEWS- Ottawa Sun
Policy boost for transgender inmates to bring ‘clarity’
By Corey Larocque, Ottawa Sun
First posted: Monday, January 26, 2015 07:46 PM EST | Updated: Tuesday, January 27, 2015 07:22 AM EST
Letting transgender inmates decide what part of a jail they want to be housed in will bring “clarity” to part of the justice system that lacked it for years, says Bryonie Baxter, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry society.
“The idea that they’re considering the human rights of transgender individuals and trying to make a decision that respects their human rights is important to us,” said Baxter, whose organization advocates for the safety of female inmates.
A new government policy unveiled Monday, aimed at protecting transgender people who land in jail, will require they be housed based on how they see themselves, not based on their biological body parts.
“It makes sense, obviously, in the case of transgendered prisoners that they get to go by the gender that they identify,” Baxter said.
An Ottawa case a year ago demonstrated the weaknesses in a system that defined inmates based on biology, she said.
In February 2014, Katlynn Griffith, a transgender woman from Cornwall, was arrested after a domestic disturbance and placed in a cell with two men at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre.
Griffith, who has male body parts but considers herself a woman, objected to sharing a cell with men.
The Elizabeth Fry Society was helping her prepare complaints to the Ontario Ombudsman and the province’s human rights commission.
“We raised the issue because we believed her safety was put at risk precisely because there was no clear policy in place about where she was supposed to be held,” Baxter said.
Griffith dropped those complaints when she got out of jail.
Under the new policy, which takes effect in March, trans inmates will be housed based on how they see themselves.
The new policy will require jails to treat inmates based on how they identify themselves instead of based on the inmate’s “primary sexual characteristic.”
Until now, inmates were treated according to traditional definitions of sexuality — what kind of body parts they had.
The new policy will also require jail guards to call inmates by their preferred name, not their legal name.
And inmates will be allowed to choose the gender of staff who perform searches.
There were 25 self-identified trans inmates in Ontario jails in 2014.
“We have to protect the human rights of all inmates,” said Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Yasir Naqvi, the Liberal MPP for Ottawa Centre.
“There have been a few cases like those where transgendered inmates were misplaced.”
He called the new jail policy a continuation of “updates” the government has made on gender identity issues, generally.
In 2012, he was involved in updating the Ontario Human Rights Code to protect gender identity and gender expression.
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