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Commission wins an important victory for transsexual persons in Ontario

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May 24, 2006

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For immediate publication

Toronto - A decision concerning the treatment of transsexual persons detained by police was issued by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario on Tuesday, May 16, 2006. The complainant’s case was referred and argued by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. 

The complaint centered on the treatment of a transsexual woman who was strip-searched by Peel Police on several separate occasions. The complainant, a pre-operative transsexual woman, alleged that she repeatedly asked to have female officers conduct these searches, but that her requests were denied. Peel Police policy at the time required a male officer be involved in the search because the complainant had not yet had sex reassignment surgery.

Finding the previous policy discriminatory, the Tribunal ordered that a transsexual detainee who is going to be strip-searched must be given three options: the use of male officers only; the use of female officers only; or a split search involving both.

The Tribunal provided direction on how such searches should be conducted, including a requirement that the officer-in-charge be informed and authorize the strip search. Direction was also given on how to resolve the situation where an officer has serious reason to doubt a detainee’s self-identification as a transsexual person. The Tribunal order states that officers are not allowed to “opt out” of performing strip-searches of a transsexual person except in limited circumstances where the officer has significant Human Rights Code or Charter of Rights and Freedoms interests of his or her own to protect. Finally, the order requires Peel Police to produce a training video on transsexuality for all members of its force, in conjunction with experts, and with input from the transsexual community. The Commission must approve the video prior to its release.

“This precedent-setting decision recognizes that transsexual individuals are full and equal members of society who must be accorded respect, dignity and freedom from discrimination,” remarked Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall.

In cases where a complaint has been filed and no settlement is reached, the Ontario Human Rights Commission makes a decision based on its investigation and written submissions from the parties. When there is sufficient evidence to warrant a hearing it will refer complaints to the Human Rights Tribunal. For the year ending March 31, 2006, the Commission referred 143 complaints to the Tribunal. The Commission sent an additional 27 cases to the Tribunal after reconsideration of a previous decision.

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Afroze Edwards
Sr. Communications Officer
Communications and Issues Management
(416) 314-4528

Jeff Poirier
Senior Policy Analyst
Policy Education, Monitoring and Outreach Branch (PEMO)
Ontario Human Rights Commission