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Yukon makes progress on transgender rights

The Yukon government is taking steps to remove a barrier for transgender Yukoners whose identification doesn’t match their gender.

The Yukon government is taking steps to remove a barrier for transgender Yukoners whose identification doesn’t match their gender.

The territory’s Motor Vehicles Branch will be changing its policy so that transgender people don’t have to undergo sex reassignment surgery to change the gender on their driver’s licence. The policy will be updated by the end of April 2016.

The change was prompted by a human rights complaint recently filed by Shaun LaDue, who was born with a female body but identifies as male. LaDue moved to the Yukon from Vancouver in August. His B.C. driver’s licence listed him as male, because B.C. has updated its legislation to allow transgender people to change their gender on official documents simply by providing a letter from their doctor.

But in the Yukon, LaDue was told the gender on his driver’s licence had to match the gender on his birth certificate. And according to the territory’s Vital Statistics Act, he can only change the gender on his birth certificate after undergoing sex reassignment surgery.

After LaDue complained publicly, he was quietly issued a new Yukon driver’s licence that listed him as male. But that didn’t stop him from pursuing the human rights complaint on behalf of others who might run into the same problem.

“This is for the trans Yukoners who want to get their driver’s licence with their preferred gender,” he explained.

Dan Cable, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, said the new policy will likely follow B.C.’s model. If so, people who want to have their gender changed would simply need to provide an affidavit from a doctor or a psychologist.

“Society’s understanding of gender is changing, so that is having an effect in the legal and policy world,” he said. “This is where government catches up with society.”

Julie Jai, acting director of the Yukon Human Rights Commission, said she’s pleased that the government has agreed to a “systemic change” that will recognize the rights of transgender people.

“I see this as an issue where people are more and more aware and they’re taking steps to make the change,” she said.

But she also pointed out that the territory has yet to agree to a legislative change. The Vital Statistics Act still requires that people undergo surgery to change the gender on their birth certificate.

Jai called the policy change “a very clever way of getting around the fact that the legislation still requires gender reassignment surgery.”

But she does believe that legislative change is coming. “I see this as a positive first step,” she said.

Cable said the government is reviewing its legislation with transgender rights in mind, but cautioned that it’s much harder to change legislation than to tweak a policy.

“There are a lot of departments at play here, so a fairly significant amount of policy work has to be done,” he said.

Still, Yukon is now one of a minority of Canadian jurisdictions that have not removed or promised to remove the requirement for surgery to change gender on a birth certificate.

Jai said that B.C., Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario no longer require surgery, and the change will soon be in effect in Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

She also said the legislation in New Brunswick and Nunavut never required sex reassignment surgery in the first place.

“This is a very live topic and it is being discussed by all of the jurisdictions,” she explained.

For his part, LaDue plans to keep raising awareness about this issue until the legislation is changed here at home. 

“Part of it is education,” he said. “We need to make policies that are more inclusive in every organization in the Yukon.”

Contact Maura Forrest at