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In a move applauded by prisoners' rights and LGBTQ advocates, B.C. Corrections has amended its policy on transgender inmates. Now, individuals are to be placed in correctional facilities based on their gender identity, rather than their birth sex.
B.C. is now the second province in Canada to adopt this policy, Ontario being the first to introduce it in January of this year. Both provinces include requirements to place inmates according to identified gender and to give the opportunity for inmates to choose the gender of officers performing frisk or strip searches.
In addition, transgender inmates are allowed to keep any items with them that are necessary to expressing their gender and, when possible, they will be integrated into the general population, rather than being placed in solitary confinement.
Finally, the provinces' policies state that transgender inmates are to be given private shower and toilet facilities and are to be addressed by their preferred name and gender pronouns.
In addition to these points, B.C. Corrections has prohibited placing inmates in a shared cell if a transgender person is ever housed according to their birth sex and also provides training -- not just for staff -- but for inmates as well.
According to the West Coast Prison Justice Society, which was a significant advocate for this change, this new policy "may be the best example of any jurisdiction in Canada and the world for the accommodation of transgender prisoners."
Prisoners' rights and LGBTQ advocates argued that the old policy put transgender inmates at risk of sexual harassment and assault from both inmates and officers, while also violating their human rights.
Additionally, previous guidelines for transgender individuals in the B.C. Ministry or Justice Adult Custody Policy stated that "Transsexuals who have not progressed beyond step 3 in the process… are placed in a correctional centre consistent with their original gender."
Step 3, as outlined in the document, is defined as "Surgical removal of sex organs (e.g. castration -- removal of testes; hysterectomy -- removal of uterus, ovaries)."
One inmate who has already benefited from this new policy is Bianca Sawyer, who was transferred to a female facility in late September. She was moved from Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre -- a facility that is strictly for men. Sawyer was the first person to be transferred based solely on her gender identity, and not because of her physical appearance or the fact that she had reached a certain stage in B.C. Correction's outlined requirements.
According to the West Coast Prison Justice Society, this new policy marks a milestone in transgender rights in B.C., offering a level of consideration and dignity that is one step closer to equality for all sexual orientations.
Alyse is a Vancouver-based writer and editor with a passion for social justice, storytelling and tea. She studied English Literature and Global Development at Queen's University and believes in the ability to make positive changes through media that digs deep, asks questions and shares narratives. Alyse was the Editor of Servants Quarters and has written for the Queen's News Centre, Quietly Media and the Vancouver Observer.
Photo: flickr/British Columbia Emergency Photography