The most progressive policy on the treatment of trans inmates in North America

transgender inmatesTransgender inmates in Ontario, Canada will now be dealt with according to their own gender identity, not their physical sexual characteristics. Ontario’s corrections minister is calling this method the most progressive of its kind in North America.

Up until now, transgender inmates were housed based on a person’s “primary sexual characteristics.” Now, they will not only be housed according to their self-identified gender, they will be referred to by their chosen name and their preferred pronoun rather than their legal name and pronoun.

“This is the most progressive policy on the treatment of trans inmates in North America,” said Yasir Naqv, the Ontario Correctional Services Minister. “No other jurisdiction in Canada has such policy. In fact one of the things that I’ll be doing is sending a copy of our policy to all other my colleagues across the country.”

According to the Canadian Press, the case of Avery Edison, a trans woman from England who was detained by the Canada Border Services Agency last February pushed the issue to the forefront as she tweeted her experiences before being detained in a men’s facility, despite travelling on a passport identifying her as female.

Edison was eventually transferred to a women’s facility, but filed a human rights complaint about her treatment. She said Monday she couldn’t comment on Ontario’s new policy because her human rights case is ongoing. I personally would assume she’s at least pleased that the government is taking this positive step.

Not only are transgender inmates usually housed according to their physical sexual characteristics, but they are often segregated from the rest of the prison population for their own protection. Trans inmates often become victims of assault, particularly in male prisons. Now in Ontario, they will be integrated into the general population whenever possible.

“Today is about human rights,” said Naqv. “It is about ensuring that trans inmates are given the same protections, the same dignity and the same treatment. It is about respect and dignity for gender identity and gender expression.”

Here is hoping that the other nine provinces and fifty states follow Ontario’s lead. It is incredibly dehumanizing for trans people to be treated as anything other than their self-identified gender.


  1. I think of gender identity as a medical issue and it is therefore protected health information not a label to be used for housing. Once transitioned it should be no different than for example someone treated for knee surgery. They are no different than anyone else who comes into a prison setting.
    When I worked in a US prison in the late 1980’s the criteria to determine if an inmate was housed as a male was whether they had a penis. Irrespective if they had breasts or any other female anatomy or how they looked was considered. Some of the MTF individuals preferred to be in the general population, while others felt being restricted to protective custody where you are housed individually but only get 1 hour a day out of your cell was a better alternative.
    If they had the choice to be in the woman’s facility, they all would have been placed in the general population unless they had a reason to believe their safety was at risk. I think placing people in an institution with the opposite gender to what they identify and are being medically treated, should be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
    If you extrapolate this to non inmates like college students who are housed often in same sex dorms, etc. Why is a medical diagnosis that puts no one else in danger used as criteria to deny on school housing for countless people every year? Why are children in schools and workers denied the right to use the bathroom of their self identifed sex because they have a genital abnormality? This is no different than Any other medical condition. The ADA needs to step up to the plate and begin to do their job- these are mostly law abiding citizens who are being discriminated against and abused.

  2. Actually, it would make sense to house those transgender inmates who self-identify as female together and those who identify as male together. That would seem to be fair to everyone.

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