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news

Trans Woman Sent to Men’s Prison

Comedian Avery Edison arrived at Pearson airport and wound up in a men's prison, highlighting ongoing trans equity issues.

Photo by Pat Dryburgh

Photo by Pat Dryburgh via Flickr.

Avery Edison is a twenty-five year-old writer and comedian who now lives in London, England. Before that, though, she spent time in Canada, and yesterday she flew into Pearson Airport, planning to stay in the country for three weeks while she saw her girlfriend and friends and collected things she’d left behind.

Customs agents at Pearson weren’t prepared to let her leave the airport, however: she had overstayed her student visa the last time she was in the country, and while she thought a non-refundable return ticket might speak to her intention to return to England, airport authorities were unconvinced and proceeded to detain her and search her belongings. “This is 100% my fault, but it still sucks,” Edison tweeted.

But what started out as an experience of visa-related frustration became an exercise in bureaucratic confusion and ignorance, then active mistreatment, as the authorities discovered that Edison is a pre-operative trans woman.


After spending over six hours in an immigration waiting room, Edison was told she was going to be taken to an immigration detention centre, where she’d likely have to be held in solitary because of her pre-operative status. An officer discussing her situation on the phone commented, “I have one male for pick-up.” Interviewing officers occasionally referred to her as “he”; on her passport Edison is identified as female.

While settling in for the night on the floor of the waiting room, she was told that there’d been a change of plans: the next day, she’d be going to a women’s detention centre in Milton. Although she would have been permitted to leave the country if someone had bought her a new plane ticket, Edison decided to stay—she wanted to see the people who’d been waiting for her at the airport all day, and she wanted to protest her situation: “Yes, I messed up,” she tweeted, “but my treatment has been deplorable.”

Her situation continued to change without warning. Edison was then informed that the detention centre in Milton was no longer her destination, and that she’d be sent to the Maplehurst Correctional Complex, where she’d be assessed by a nurse before being assigned to a cell. While Maplehurst shares its grounds with Vanier Centre for Women, it is a men’s prison. “Literally going to jail,” she tweeted. “Actual jail. Because they don’t know what to do about my junk.”

Edison has not been active on the internet since last night, but her girlfriend @rahrahtempleton tweeted this morning that Edison was taken to a men’s prison last night. She also reported that one employee she spoke with, after being informed of Edison’s trans status, said, “Oh, that’s why they took him there.” She was apparently also told that Edison has “male parts, so male prison,” by an employee who then repeatedly referred to Avery as “he.”

Toronto MPP Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale–High Park) helped enshrine trans rights in Ontario with the passage of Toby’s Act in 2012, and was frustrated upon hearing about Edison’s case Tuesday morning. “I was shocked. Things are dangerous enough in prison, let alone being trans.” She said her staff is working to clarify Edison’s status, including whether she’ll be able to stay in a separate female cell at Maplehurst.

By explicitly adding gender identity and gender expression to the Human Rights Code, Toby’s Act codified the same protections that others in the queer community already had. These legal protections include housing rights, and DiNovo said that beyond the alleged crime Edison is charged with, she sees this as a case of institutions struggling to keep up with and understand changing legislation, “The bottom line is, that if she is in a prison, it should be a female prison.”

A Trudeau scholar at the U of T faculty of law, Kyle Kirkup is working on a doctoral thesis on the role of the legal system as it relates to gender and sexual norms. “We have an administrative classification that puts people into binary categories: men or women,” he told Torontoist in a phone interview. He points out that even though Edison and her papers identified her as a woman, preconceived notions about gender identity appear to have played a big role in the treatment she’s receiving: “Generally speaking in terms of prison policy it’s based on anatomy, which creates a series of problems.”

Kirkup says that growing realms of public policy—including criminal justice—are moving towards self-identification as the standard for determining gender, whereas internal prison policy still leans towards anatomical identification despite those policies and trends. Recent developments include legislation like Toby’s Act, and judicial rulings like XY v. Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, a landmark human rights case which decided that “gender identity should be recognized based on lived identity, and not depend on a surgical procedure.”

Speaking about Edison’s case, which he followed on Twitter as it unfolded, Kirkup said, “It’s clear that the security people didn’t have the correct training, from using the incorrect pronoun to not following the right protocol in where to send her.”

Asked about the bigger picture in Edison’s case, Kirkup added, “It shines a light on something that happens every day and gives us the opportunity to do something about it.”

UPDATE: February 12, 2014, 9:15 AM After public outcry over her treatment, Avery Edison was moved to the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton, Ontario, on the evening of February 11.

Comments

  • OgtheDim

    No excuse for this…deplorable.

    Side question – are federal immigration detention centres subject to provincial law at all?

    i.e. Should somebody not be asking the federal leaders what they think of all this?

    • rich1299

      Thanks to the Conservative dominated Senate the limited legal protections (gender expression was dropped due to Con opposition) for trans people federally that was passed by a majority in Parliament still hasn’t become law.

  • http://joeclark.org/weblogs/ Joe Clark

    Toronto MPP Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale–High Park) helped enshrine trans rights in Ontario with the passage of Toby’s Act in 2012, and

    wants to make all-female gatherings illegal. (This is your hero.)

    By explicitly adding gender identity and gender expression to the Human Right’s [sic] Code, Toby’s Act codified the same protections that others in the queer community already had

    …and which were already in full effect based on precedent and reading-in of analogous grounds. Also, tell me how transgendered people and gay men are both “queer.”

    At any rate, immigration falls under federal jurisdiction. That means Ontario legislation, even legislation you support (while getting its effects wrong), has no bearing on the case. Please don’t change the subject.

    “The bottom line is, that if she is in a prison, it should be a female prison”

    …despite having a penis and not being female or a woman.

    A Trudeau scholar at the U of T faculty of law, Kyle Kirkup… points out that even though Edison and her papers identified her as a woman, preconceived notions about gender identity appear to have played a big role in the treatment she’s receiving[.]

    No, the treatment “she” is receiving is clearly based on objective facts of phenotypic sex.

    If Torontoist implicitly argues that Edison is unsafe in a men’s prison, I wonder why it does not accept that female inmates in female prisons would be rendered unsafe by the presence of a male in their midst.

    Besides, hasn’t Edison, by “her” own admission, been moved out of what used to be called genpop on Oz? Isn’t the problem solved?

    • OgtheDim

      You know, there comes a time when pedantry means dick all to reality.

      • OpportKnocks

        … “pedantry means dick to all reality” good one!!! I was going to go with a “pandora’s box” joke, but that is way better.

  • nilbud

    If he thinks he’s a butterfly does he get to go to quarantine?

  • Yeould

    I applaud your overall tone and the site in general, but can i request that this story be retitled simply “Woman Sent to Men’s Prison”? Because that’s the deal here, and the kind of people who would object to you unequivocally (and correctly) categorizing her as A Woman are the kind of people who are worth pissing off, and always will be.

    • http://madeofhells.tumblr.com/ Triangle Dimes

      Not really, if the male genitals are intact it’s still appropriate to refer to her as transgender. If you think it all has to do with evil men, keep in mind that a lot of women in prison probably don’t want to be anywhere near a penis, let’s step back a minute here and just admit this is a grey area. These words exist for a reason and “identity” is not the entirety of it.

    • andrewtraviss

      Since the intent is to highlight transphobic policy, her identity as trans is actually important and relevant. Without it, the headline would sound like a simple stupid mistake instead of discrimination.

    • Blombiddyshob

      “Woman Sent to Men’s Prison” would be a lie, since we’re talking about a man here.

  • ocscorpio

    I’m sorry, but this individual broke the law, no? She’s not in jail “because they don’t know what to do about my junk,” as she claims. She’s in jail because she broke Canadian immigration law, which I am surprised to hear CCR actually enforces. Because immigration law falls within the jurisdiction of the federal government, the provincial legislation you cite seems to be irrelevant here.

    Regardless, the whole thing seems like an idiotic overreach by CCR. God forbid they should ever let an English-speaking white person with a job into the country.

    • OgtheDim

      My question about why she is in jail would be whether this is standard practice to jail people awaiting being sent back because they over stayed the last time..

      • ocscorpio

        I don’t think the debate should be whether or not someone who broke immigration laws deserves to be in prison for it.

        • vampchick21

          Actually, there should be a debate/discussion surrounding immigration officials and how they handle each case they come across at airports and border points. And there should be a discussion surrounding transsexuals, gender identification, and which jail they should be in should they break a law requiring actual jail time.

          • ocscorpio

            Not really. If someone breaks the law, they risk arrest at any time. From the sounds of it, the CCR agent may have been overzealous in their arrest, but keep in mind, we’re only hearing ONE side of the argument, and even that one side admitted breaking immigration law. So what really is the issue here? That she’s in a male prison when she considers herself a female? Flip side of the coin is you put here in a female prison where, given the fact she still has male genitalia, she could be a risk to the female inmates. There is so easy solution here that doesn’t put someone at risk. Furthermore, the woman broke the law. She is subject to punishment, simple as that.

          • dsmithhfx
          • Blombiddyshob

            There it is, the old “Do anything we don’t like and you’re a fascist” nonsense.

          • vampchick21

            Ok, I guess I’ll have to talk slower then? No one is saying she didn’t break the law. No one is saying don’t punish her. Sorry if we all don’t seem as hardline, black and white as you.

          • ocscorpio

            Not black and white at all. I really don’t see what the issue is. If she was in a female prison, she could be a threat to female prisoners and, as you yourself indicated, be more at risk from female prisoners. So she’s in a male prison and that’s not good either. I really don’t think this is an issue except for the fact that her and her partner managed to make this go somewhat viral. At the end of the day, these detention centers aren’t Alcatraz. No one is getting shanked or raped in the showers. They’re more or less holding facilities until agencies like CCR can figure out what to do with people.

            On an unrelated note, you should really hold off trying to condescend me by saying you’re going to ‘talk slower’ when the whole discussion is being done via the written word.

          • vampchick21

            I didn’t indicate in any way, shape or form that she would be a risk to any prisoners period. Nor did I indicate in any way. shape or form that she was at risk from female prisoners. Or male prisoners. Or that she or anyone was at any kind of risk whatsoever. That was said and/or indicated by other people in this discussion.

            She is not in a detention centre, she is in a jail. Please to google name of jail she was taken to.

            And given that you clearly attributed someone else’s words to myself, perhaps I should indeed ‘talk slower’. Or louder. And I’m aware of how the discussion is taking place, thank you very much.

            (I should also point out that in several of your posts, you made the incorrect assumption that people were saying she should just get off scot free, happy happy joy joy when no one was saying that at all.)

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            “…she could be a risk to the female inmates.”

            I would think she’s more at risk from the female inmates, given her plumbing. Women are not incapable of violence; this is a prison we’re talking about.

          • ocscorpio

            Well then I guess it’s a good thing she’s not in a female prison.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            UPDATE: February 12, 2014, 9:15 AM
            After public outcry over her treatment, Avery Edison was moved to the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton, Ontario, on the evening of February 11.

          • ocscorpio

            I guess you’ll be protesting that too being you thought she’s more at risk from female inmates.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            I wasn’t protesting anything, just correcting your baseless assumption that women don’t commit violence in prison.

      • vampchick21

        Especially when it’s very clear they are happily returning home as evidenced by a plane ticket.

    • EDMUNDOCONNOR

      She did break the law, and should have to face the consequences. The question is where she should be held in detention, not should she be held in detention or not. She has admitted that it was her fault.

      • dsmithhfx

        “She did break the law, and should have to face the consequences.”

        She overstayed a visa. For that she should be put in prison? No, sorry, that’s not right. Worst case scenario: she could have been turned back at the airport.

      • dsmithhfx

        Did I mention that now we, canadian taxpayers are on the hook for a border agent’s criminal stupidity? Seriously, fire this dude and every other public servant that touched this file, we simply can’t afford it. Amiright?

        • OpportKnocks

          No, no, the Canadian way is a public inquiry, followed by an updated policies manual and 2 days of sensitivity training for all immigration and corrections staff.

          Plus that will create more jobs for the lawyers and trainers in the community. Cost? Who cares.

          • dsmithhfx

            “the woman broke the law. She is subject to punishment, simple as that.” — you.

          • OpportKnocks

            Sorry buddy, you are quoting someone else, i believe ocscorpio

    • vampchick21

      She never claimed she went to jail because they don’t know what to do with her junk. Please re-read the article.

      • ocscorpio

        Perhaps you should re-read the article being you obviously missed over this part:

        “Literally going to jail,” she tweeted. “Actual jail. Because they don’t know what to do about my junk.”

        • vampchick21

          *headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*

          “After spending over six hours in an immigration waiting room, Edison was told she was going to be taken to an immigration detention centre, where she’d likely have to be held in solitary because of her pre-operative status.”

          Immigration Detention centre is different from actual jail.

          “While settling in for the night on the floor of the waiting room, she was told that there’d been a change of plans: the next day, she’d be going to a women’s detention centre in Milton. Although she would have been permitted to leave the country if someone had bought her a new plane ticket, Edison decided to stay—she wanted to see the people who’d been waiting for her at the airport all day, and she wanted to protest her situation: “Yes, I messed up,” she tweeted, “but my treatment has been deplorable.”

          “Her situation continued to change without warning. Edison was then informed that the detention centre in Milton was no longer her destination, and that she’d be sent to the Maplehurst Correctional Complex, where she’d be assessed by a nurse before being assigned to a cell.
          While Maplehurst shares its grounds with Vanier Centre for Women, it is a men’s prison. “Literally going to jail,” she tweeted. “Actual jail. Because they don’t know what to do about my junk.”

          To sum up. They initally said Immigration Detention Centre. Then put her there. Then they decided woman’s jail. Or have person buy her new plane ticket. She said no to plane ticket because of desire to protest treatment. Treatment, not law. Treatment, as in how the officals on the ground treated her through this. Then told another detention centre, assessment and put into men’s prision due to having ‘junk’ still as pre-op.

          So, again, NOT PROTESTING FACT THAT SHE INADVERTANTLY BROKE LAW. Protesting how she was treated as a pre-op transexual, and bringing this type of situation to light.

          So, no, I didn’t miss that part. But I also read everything around it. You just plain focused on that and interpreted it as someone complaining about having to go to jail, rather than taking everything in the situation into account for a clearer understanding of what was being said in 140 characters.

  • dsmithhfx

    Chris Alexander is an opportunistic aryan scumbag with a hitlerian coif, but that last detail is surely coincidental, unlike his incipient neo-nazism?

    Sure, send him an email.

  • http://madeofhells.tumblr.com/ Triangle Dimes

    So you think female prison inmates would be friendlier to a female with male parts? Where is this weird sense of safety coming from? She is *WAY* safer in isolation in a male prison than the general population of a female one. And in the event that she would be in isolation either way because of equal threats, then it really does boil down to semantics.

  • Orson Sedmina

    The big question here really is, what would Jesus do?

    • dsmithhfx

      Jesus would be imprisoned by Canadian Immigration as a terrorist.

      • HotDang

        Judas would be an RCMP plant.

  • Mike Murdoch

    “pre-operative trans woman”. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, bottom line is you go to the same jail as people with your type of body parts.

    • dsmithhfx

      Obviously you are wrong, because she has since been transferred to a women’s prison.

      • Mike Murdoch

        Yay for stupidity, he is not a woman. If you are not born a women, then guess what, you are not a women.

        • dsmithhfx

          What are you afraid of?

  • Guest

    hmm.

  • nilbud

    It’s a bloke in a dress. Gender is extremely straightforward.

    • OgtheDim

      Frankly, I think your either extremely straight thinking or trolling.

      And given your history of where you post…I call the latter.

      • nilbud

        Hmmm oh yeah your unsought opinion, terrific great amazing, not worth a fuck. Why don’t you get back to your minimum wage job and stop boring me.

        • OgtheDim

          Says the guy who spends time yelling at right wing people in the US and is only on here because of doing a google search.

          Yeah…classic troll.

    • vampchick21

      No. John Cleese was a bloke in a dress. This is a pre-op transgender woman. Please take the time to learn about such things.

      • nilbud

        No difference, except John Cleese is funny. Maybe it is a chick after all.

        • vampchick21

          Awww…aren’t you a cute little idiot! Go back to your sub-reddit.

          • nilbud

            Your delusions are amusing, you’re truly a figure of fun.

  • Guest

    I guess Sign has given up its fight for a spot near Kensington Market.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    Gender is more than clothing choices. Gosh, what happens if a woman puts on pants?

    • vampchick21

      According to Ronnie, we become loudmouthed and pushy and expecting to leave the kitchen. With shoes on.

  • dsmithhfx

    If you comment like a troll, you really are a troll.

  • Blombiddyshob

    HIS passport is wrong.

    • OgtheDim

      Um…based on what? Your opinion?

      • vampchick21

        His ignorance.

      • Blombiddyshob

        No, based on the facts as presented by this article. The only one using opinion to determine one’s gender is the transgender person in question.

        • dsmithhfx

          You seem unusually stupid, for an 18-wheeler truck.

          • Guest

            What the hell are you talking about?

  • Blombiddyshob

    Allowing people to legally determine their own gender is a ridiculous concept. Hey man, if you want to live your life like a woman, go ahead. But when it gets to the point where we’re all forced by law to humour your fantasy, it’s gone way too far. I can’t wait to see the next insane incarnation of appeasing people’s delusions.

    • OgtheDim

      If you think gender change is a fantasy, you have not talked to any transgender people.

      Get yourself edumucated before you throw out stuff like this.

      • Blombiddyshob

        Okay, ‘fantasy’ wasn’t the right choice of word. ‘Incorrect assumption’ and ‘total disregard for biology’ would be better ones.

  • OpportKnocks

    Recently some of our university clients have requested that we modify our online registration forms to collect Male, Female, and Other. At some point, we may have to have public facilities for all 3 as well. Until then, I suggest authorities go with a quick DNA test where the evidence is conflicting.

    “In a statement released by Lockheed Martin, Business Development manager Bret Light said the new IntrepID S2A-90 device provides rapid DNA analysis, in the lab and in the field, in less than 90 minutes. Under previous tests, results took days, if not weeks to process.

    “We’re excited about the capabilities it can offer for forensic laboratories, law enforcement and other prospective users to perform DNA testing quickly and securely and meet their mission needs,” Light said

    Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-07-portable-dna-device.html

    • Blombiddyshob

      Start DNA testing on these people and they’ll insist that EVERYONE gets DNA testing to prove their sex, so as not to discriminate.

    • dsmithhfx

      You should move to Iran or North Korea, where your odd notions may be more highly regarded.

      • OpportKnocks

        Please, our group does not like to be referred to as “odd” – we are “out of the box”

    • OgtheDim

      On the point of public facilities, that’s done easily enough.

      Single user washrooms with no gender notice on them.

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      How would a DNA test reduce confusion? The DNA may say male but the passport, or clothing and mannerisms, or whatever, would still say female.

      • Guest

        Hmmm, I am absolutely certain that I knew that would be the outcome. The point is, until we have separate security facilities for the emerging trans population, we should go with DNA, simply because the rest can easily be faked, for whatever reason.

        The subject of this article also self-identifies as a comedian. I sincerely hope that is working out better and this incident provides some fresh material.

        • tyrannosaurus_rek

          And I’m absolutely certain your suggestion doesn’t fix the problem.

          • OpportKnocks

            Agree. It doesn’t fix the gender politics problem and it is not in accord with Avery’s wishes. But it solves “the problem of where to put Avery” until the bureaucracy finds a better, permanent solution for these situations. Face it, 2-3 days in a Canadian segregation cell in a complex intended for members of one gender or another is not a hardship worthy of a Mandela award.

          • dsmithhfx

            You seem kind of hot and bothered… Howse gender identity working for you?

          • OpportKnocks

            I am hot and bothered because I had to chop 2″ of ice to be able to move my recycling bin to the curb. Or it might be menopause.

  • vampchick21

    1. She had a ticket back to England.
    2. She was at the airport to catch the flight BACK to England.
    3. Customs officials decided to keep her here, in jail, which is paid for by tax dollars.
    4. You need to think outside your wallet.

  • vampchick21

    Qvestion the first. Exactly how would one go about dressing like a black man?