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Transsexuals can choose male or female officer for strip search: tribunal
Wed May 24, 5:31 PM ET
TORONTO (Canadian Press) - A group that supports transgender rights is applauding a "precedent-setting" decision by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario that gives transsexuals who are strip-searched by police the right to choose between male or female officers or both to perform the act.
The ruling, which stems from a complaint by a man who was in the process of becoming a woman, is a "win-win" for both transsexuals and police, said Laurie Arron of Egale Canada, a group that advocates equality for homosexual, bisexual and transgender people.
The transsexual complainant, Rosalyn Forrester, was strip-searched by male Peel Region police officers in May and August of 1999 and March 2001.
Forrester said she asked to have the search performed by female officers each time, but was repeatedly denied.
In its decision, the tribunal found the strip-searches constituted unintentional discrimination on the basis of sex.
The ruling, issued May 16, also sets out directions for officers who have doubts that a detainee is transsexual, and ordered Peel police to produce a training video on transsexuality for its members.
"It upholds the human rights of trans-people, and the police training will help everyone to get along better," Arron said.
Peel police policy at the time of the complaint was for a male officer to conduct the search because the complainant had not yet had sex reassignment surgery.
The ruling means transsexuals who are to be strip-searched by police now have three options: the use of male officers only, the use of female officers only, or a search involving both.
Officers also cannot "opt out" of strip-searching transsexuals unless they believe they have significant rights of their own to protect.
Peel police spokesman Peter Brandwood said Wednesday a policy on strip-searches involving transgender or transsexual people was updated last July, but he was unsure if it was done in relation to the tribunal case.
The tribunal's decision was also lauded by Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
"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," Hall said.
"This really taught a lot of people about transsexual persons and ... I think there will be greater respect and dignity and greater freedom from discrimination as a result."
Rod Michano of Toronto, who considers himself "two-spirited" - a term used by some aboriginals to describe a transgender, homosexual or bisexual person - said the ruling is just common sense.
Michano said someone who identifies herself as a woman should be treated as such without question.
"It shouldn't even be an issue," he said.
Sex reassignment surgery is currently covered by provincial health plans in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec, and on a case-by-case basis in most Atlantic provinces.
The surgery was covered in Ontario from 1969 until 1998, when funding was discontinued by Mike Harris's Conservative government. Two cases before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and one before the Superior Court of Justice are challenging that decision.
An interim decision released by the tribunal in November found that three people who were already in the midst of the approval process for the surgery should receive funding. However, one other person not in the midst of that process was not granted funding.