A Yukon transgender man who was recently told he needed to have sex reassignment surgery before changing his gender on official documents has won a small victory. Last week, he was quietly issued a new driver’s licence that lists him as male.
Earlier this month, Shaun LaDue complained publicly that the Yukon’s legislation is discriminatory toward transgender people. LaDue was born with a female body, but identifies as male. He made his story public after he moved back from B.C. to the Yukon with a driver’s licence listing him as male, and was told he was only allowed to have a Yukon driver’s licence that listed him as female.
According to the Vital Statistics Act, transgender Yukoners can only have their gender changed on their birth certificate after undergoing sex reassignment surgery. Passports, which are federal documents, are subject to similar rules. A birth certificate or a passport is required to obtain a driver’s licence.
Several provinces, including B.C., Alberta, and Ontario, have changed their Vital Statistics Acts in recent years to remove the requirement for sex reassignment surgery, but the Yukon has not.
LaDue said when he received his licence in the mail – the one that listed him as female – he noticed he’d been issued the wrong class of licence. He contacted the Motor Vehicles Branch to have the problem fixed, and picked up his new licence from the Whitehorse office on Sept. 17. It wasn’t until he got back into his car and opened the envelope that he realized the gender on the licence had been changed to male. He said no one from the branch ever contacted him to tell him the change was being made. “Nothing was said at all.”
Allan Nixon, assistant deputy minister of the Department of Highways and Public Works, said the first licence was always meant to be temporary, to buy the department some time to review the issue.
“My understanding is we had informed Mr. LaDue that we were looking at options,” he said.
LaDue insists that conversation never happened. And though he’s pleased with the new licence, he called the victory “bittersweet.”
“I feel like this is sort of a one-off to shut me up,” he said.
He has filed a complaint with the Yukon Human Rights Commission, and plans to push for legislative change to bring the Yukon in line with other jurisdictions that have already updated their Vital Statistics Acts.
Justice Minister Brad Cathers said after LaDue was issued his first licence, officials from the Department of Highways and Public Works and the Department of Justice conducted a review of the legislation and found that the Motor Vehicles Branch has the authority to change a person’s gender on his/her driver’s licence without requiring an updated birth certificate or passport.
Cathers pointed to the Motor Vehicles Regulations, which state that “the registrar may waive the requirement for an applicant for an operator’s licence to provide some or all of the documents… if the registrar is otherwise satisfied as to the identity of the applicant.”
“We think in this case, the situation has been addressed,” said Cathers. He explained that the Motor Vehicles Branch is continuing to review policies in other Canadian jurisdictions to develop a “clearer standard” for similar situations in the future. He expects other transgender people will not have to go through the same process as LaDue.
But none of this addresses the Yukon’s Vital Statistics Act, which remains unchanged. LaDue’s birth certificate, passport, and status card still list him as female.
Cathers said that act will not be changed in the fall sitting of the legislative assembly, but added that the government “is continuing to look at this issue.”
“The government has limited policy and drafting resources,” he explained. “We can’t consult on everything at once.”
But Jerald Sabin, a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Toronto who has recently published a commentary comparing the Yukon’s record on transgender issues with other Canadian jurisdictions, said he doesn’t see a convincing reason why the Yukon can’t change its legislation now.
“At this point, it’s a fairly standard legislative change. The Yukon would not be stepping outside of any kind of norm in Canada in changing its Vital Statistics Act,” he said.
Sabin argued that the Yukon has traditionally been progressive on issues of LGBT rights. He pointed out that the Yukon was one of the first Canadian jurisdictions to include sexual orientation in its human rights code and to legalize same-sex marriage.
But on transgender rights, he said, the Yukon is falling behind. He’s never heard of a jurisdiction switching someone’s gender on a driver’s licence without first updating the Vital Statistics Act.
“It seems to me unjust, if you recognize something as discriminatory, to not change the law,” he said. “It’s a victory personally for Mr. LaDue… but it’s a hollow victory for transgender Yukoners in general.”
Contact Maura Forrest at