The Yukon government is looking for public feedback on proposed legislative amendments it claims will protect the rights of transgender Yukoners.
The government is proposing to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression in the territory’s Human Rights Act.
It also plans to amend the Vital Statistics Act to remove the requirement for sex reassignment surgery before people can change the gender listed on their birth certificate.
The government has released a 12-question survey about the proposed changes.
“I think it’s really exciting and I think the government has put a lot of thought into this. And I think that it’s a really good starting point,” said Chase Blodgett, a local transgender advocate.
Yukon and New Brunswick are the only Canadian jurisdictions that don’t explicitly list gender identity in their human rights legislation. Nunavut just voted to amend its own Human Rights Act on March 13.
A bill to add gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act is currently before the Senate.
“As a government, what we’re really looking to do is align ourselves with what’s happening with the rest of the country,” said Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost.
Jessica Lott Thompson, director of the Yukon Human Rights Commission, said that transgender Yukoners have been able to file complaints about discrimination based on sex or disability. But this amendment would give them grounds to complain specifically about discrimination based on gender identity.
“We’re very glad to see that proposal being put forward,” she said. “It’s a step we’ve been asking the territorial government to take for many, many years and so we’re really glad to see that there’s action taking place.”
But she cautioned that the amendment will need to be followed up with policy changes and education.
“There’s gender discrimination in a systemic way in many, many areas of society,” she said, pointing to application forms and sign-up sheets that unnecessarily require people to list their gender.
Once the Human Rights Act is amended, those things may need to change. Yukoners might also choose to file complaints with the Human Rights Commission if businesses and public buildings fail to provide gender-neutral bathrooms.
Lott Thompson said the commission is available to help organizations adapt.
“You don’t need to wait for the law to change to do what’s right,” she said.
The Yukon government is also proposing to amend the Vital Statistics Act so that people won’t have to go through sex reassignment surgery to change the gender on their birth certificate.
The government is proposing that legal adults should only have to provide a letter from someone who has known them for at least two years.
That would set the Yukon apart from other Canadian jurisdictions, including British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, which require people to submit a letter from a medical professional before they can legally change their gender.
The government is also proposing that custodial parents would apply on behalf of children under 19. If children don’t have support of their custodial parents, they would have to get a court order instead.
But Blodgett has concerns about requiring minors to get a court order.
“I think it makes a barrier for a kid,” he said.
NDP Leader Liz Hanson agreed. “I just think if we get too far down the road of being prescriptive … then you may create barriers and create more difficulties for a young person who may be facing a number of challenges already.”
The government is also proposing to introduce a gender-neutral option “X” for all Yukoners on official identification.
But Blodgett said the government should consider eliminating gender markers on many official documents altogether.
He pointed to a recent landmark human rights case that could lead to gender markers being removed from passports, birth certificates and other identification. That decision is under review by the federal government.
For now, Yukoners are being asked to submit their thoughts through an online survey, available until March 24. The government plans to make the legislative amendments during the spring sitting.
“We are going ahead with the changes,” Frost said. “We are going through this process because it’s required, it’s long overdue and we are taking a proactive approach.”
The government’s survey is available at www.hss.gov.yk.ca/vitalstatsamendments.php.
Contact Maura Forrest at email@example.com