The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal handed down an important decision in August 2001 that helps to clarify the rights of transsexuals. The complainant, Synthia Kavanagh, an inmate in a federal men's prison, alleged that the Correctional Service of Canada had discriminated against her on the basis of sex and disability by not accommodating her needs.
Ms. Kavanagh felt she was a woman trapped in a man's body. Before her sex reassignment operation, Correction officials refused to move her to a women's prison, for a time stopped her hormone therapy, and denied her a planned surgery.
Before the case came before the Tribunal, the Correctional Service agreed to resolve her situation. She was allowed to undergo surgery at her own expense and is now in a women's correctional facility. Questions still remained as to how the Correctional Service would treat similar situations in the future, and this was the focus of the Tribunal's inquiry.
The Tribunal found that not placing pre-operative transgendered people in prisons for their targeted sex was reasonable given the circumstances of prison life. However, the Tribunal also observed that this did not in any way diminish the need to do everything possible to accommodate transgendered people in prison, such as protecting them from sexual attacks and harassment. Routine denial of sex re-assignment surgery for prisoners was also found to be unacceptable because it discriminated against transgendered people on the basis of sex and disability. The Tribunal ordered that the Correctional Service revise its policy in consultation with the Commission to ensure that such surgery would be permitted when deemed appropriate by medical experts in the field of gender identity. The Correctional Service is seeking judicial review of the Tribunal's decision.
Excerpt from the “Annual Report 2001″ published by the Canadian Human Rights Commission