Transgender woman files human rights complaints after detention in Canada
Published Friday, July 4, 2014 2:33PM EDT
A transgender woman from England has filed two human rights complaints in Canada after customs officials put her in a men’s detention facility when they stopped her at a Toronto airport earlier this year.
Avery Edison landed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport in mid-February for a short visit. However, border officials denied her entry into the country upon learning that she had stayed past her visa’s expiry date the last time she came to Canada.
Despite carrying a passport that stipulates she is female, she was sent to Maplehurst Correctional Institute, a male-only facility, to await an immigration hearing. Edison tweeted details of her ordeal as it was happening, which sparked an outcry from friends and supporters online. She was later moved to Vanier Centre, a women’s-only facility.
Edison, 25, was allowed to fly home four days after she was detained.
She has filed human rights complaints with both the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Edison says that once she was back in London, her first instinct was to put the ordeal behind her. But she was contacted by lawyers who suggested that if she brought the issue to a human rights tribunal, “we could maybe affect some positive change in policy so that it didn’t happen to anyone again.
“And that’s absolutely something I would want to be part of,” Edison told CTV News Channel on Friday from London.
She suffered discrimination at the prison, “which was pretty rough and absolutely not something I ought to overlook,” she said. But that is not the primary reason she filed the complaints.
Rather, she is upset that she was sent to a men’s only facility in the first place, and feels that there should be better guidelines for dealing with transgender detainees.
“There was a real feeling in the immigration centre that customs officials had no idea what to do with me, that there was no precedent for handling a transgender person and that there was really an arbitrary decision made,” Edison said.
A policy on transgender detainees should allow for each case to be assessed on its own merits. In the end, however, officials should “really defer to an individual’s gender identity and where they would prefer to be sent,” she said.
Back in February, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Safety and Correctional Services issued a statement to say that “classification recommendations and decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and are based on factual information and objective criteria.”
At the time, the Canada Border Services Agency would not comment on the specific incident, citing privacy concerns. However, the agency said it is up to the provincial ministry to determine which facility a detainee is sent to.