Mercedes Allen

Canadian Government Halts Funding of GRS For Trans Inmates

Filed By Mercedes Allen | November 26, 2010 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Transgender & Intersex

The Conservative government has ordered Correctional Services Canada to halt all medical coverage for gender reassignment prison051707.jpgsurgery. The change took effect immediately, on Friday, November 19th.

"The courts have ruled that CSC must provide essential medical services to inmates. However, we do not believe that sex change surgery is an essential medical service or that Canadian taxpayers should pay for sex change surgery for criminals," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told QMI Agency.

Even so, regardless of what they may have been convicted of, inmates are entitled to essential medical treatment. A 2001 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision, backed up by a 2003 federal court ruling, required that GRS be considered essential medical treatment. So the Conservative government is in direct violation of what it has already been ordered to fund. The 2003 National Post article is no longer online, but is archived at

Janice Tibbetts
Friday, February 07, 2003

OTTAWA - Canada's federal prisons will be forced to allow sex-change surgery for transsexual inmates as a result of a court ruling that concluded a blanket ban is discriminatory.

"If the medical opinion is that sex reassignment surgery is an essential service for a particular inmate, it follows that it should be paid for by Correctional Services Canada, as would any other essential medical service," wrote Madam Justice Carolyn Layden-Stevenson of the Federal Court of Canada.

Corrections Canada will revise its policy because of the decision, spokeswoman Michele Pilon-Santilli said.

But she warned that sex-change operations will not be available for all transsexual inmates.

The decision upholds a 2001 decision from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in the case of Synthia Kavanagh.

The tribunal said that it was discriminatory for prisons to have a blanket ban on sex-change operations but not on "non-essential" services such as the removal of tattoos.

The Corrections and Conditional Release Act requires prisons to provide essential health care to inmates.

The timing of this is curious, considering it coincides with a wave of religious right opposition to Bill C-389, which would extend equal rights to trans people. One has to wonder if the intent is to exploit Canadians' lack of sympathy for convicts in order to show off a faux worst case scenario of "we're going to have to pay for sex changes for murderers and rapists if we give them rights."

"CSC is legislatively mandated to provide every inmate with essential health care and reasonable access to non-essential mental health care that will contribute to the inmate's rehabilitation and successful reintegration into the community," said CSC spokeswoman Sara Parkes.

Of course, what could better facilitate a transsexual person's reintegration into the community than helping align their physical sex with their identity if they need it? Although we tend to think of the extreme of murderers and sex offenders when we think of inmates, the majority of those convicted are there because of a poverty issue or come from an environment of poverty that made it easy to slide into crime. I fail to see how releasing someone into society with an inevitable poverty issue (having to self-fund GRS) is going to help them avoid reoffending.

Currently, CSC houses inmates according to the genitalia they have. Amazingly, CSC fails to see how this might make someone particularly vulnerable to the problem of prison rape. One quarter to half of trans inmates are not taking hormone therapy or denied access to it.

For more information, see the earlier article, Why "Sex Change" Surgery is Medically Necessary.

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Paul in Canada | November 26, 2010 9:39 AM

Nothing this conservative government does, no matter how low, should surprise anyone, anymore. Harper is nothing more then Canada's asshat-supreme!

I have no objection to maintaining the transition status of a person at time of incarceration.

Once you're in sorry, any further transition at government expense should stop.

And I have never thought making the case that trans inmates should be entitled to SRS in prison helps win over many folks to a more tolerant perspective on transgenderism.

I'd rather do what's right than make idiots happy. Transition is a legitimate and a necessary medical procedure, therefore, it should be done. Denying people medical treatment is inhumane.

There are a lot of things to be upset with the Conservatives about, but this issue isn't one of them. When poor families can't get medical access for life-threatening illness because of the doctor gap and emergency room waits, I think the medical services needs to prioritize. While gender reassignment is important to mental and emotional well-being, it's not life-threatening.

Is denying transsexuals care going to actually provide care for others? I am, admittedly, not a Canadian, so I don't know the ins and outs of your system, but I get the feeling that this isn't an either/or situation.

Nikki in Vancouver | November 28, 2010 1:10 PM

Actually it is life threatening; a recent study showed that more than 50% of trans people attempt suicide, and a great number of folks succeed. Trans folks are among the most marginalized and vilified in our society and denying them access to hormones and surgery in prison will put them further at risk for violence and suicide.

I think the Canadian courts struck a reasonable balance in saying that the prison system can't deny GRS as "non-essential" while at the same time offering actually non-essential services such as tattoo removals.

We can legitimately divide medical treatment into three categories: critical care (as in immediately life-threatening), noncritical but medically necessary, and cosmetic / elective. GRS self-evidently falls into the second category, and as such the prison medical system should be obligated to provide it as necessary.

Angela Brightfeather | November 28, 2010 12:43 PM

Are we even questioning the fact that not being able to obtain GRS,in or out of prisons, causes suicides in the Transgender Community?

For those conservative Trans people who don't believe it is proper for the state to pay for GRS, do they also think that it is right to grant it in the courts and then change government agendas and rescind it because you happen to now be the power in the Parliament? Do they expect Trans people to changee their goals every two or four years as elections occur and at the whim of the majority?

Those who feel the courts are wrong about this, need to spend some time talking to some Trans people in prison and get their views on "cruel and inhumane" treatment. Of course since they can't vote one way or the other, I guess they gave up all their rights. So it's real easy to justify taking the few that are granted them.

To Geena, Gaston and others:

It is not an either / or situation. Cessation of GRS funding for trans inmates does not equate to more funding for someone else's tattoo removal.

I know that many mainstream Canadians couldn't possibly care if any and all medical treatment for convicted persons -- certainly anything above and beyond caring for immediate life-threatening conditions -- which is why this is such a lucrative approach for this government to take. However, we have a moral obligation to provide necessary health care, and the legal system is satisfied that this includes GRS. It's not an attack on "cosmetic health," it's an attack on trans people, knowing that very few are going to complain.

And as mentioned, resolving transition issues goes a long way to help reintegration in society and address problems in a way that will help avoid necessarily following a path that will lead to reoffending.

I don't post to Bilerco believing I will sway anybody's opinions. I post because it is what I believe in.

I would not support GRS for inmates no matter what amount of surplus or deficit of funding was available. I also don't believe GRS turns a violent criminal into a model citizen. If you are committing violence pre-op, you have major issues that have nothing to do with GRS.

I still do not view transition procedures as a medical necessity. Psychiatric care for the suicidal can be seen as a medical necessity. If you don’t have mental stability at all points of the gender transition (which may not always come out as fast or as one hopes) be it from crossdresser to post-op, than you will not be helped by subsidized transition.

Some of you are turning suicide into such an integral part of trans-culture-advocacy, it has become an argument of please help us before we all kill ourselves, rather than about the right of individual freedom and liberty.

If you disagree with me, that is fine, and I know most of you do. And I have never treated a trans person differently or less helpful in person because I disagreed with them.

The NDP is calling for this decision to be reversed, for exactly the reasons mentioned: SRS is *legally* medically necessary treatment. A prisoner does not give up the right to have his or her medical conditions appropriately treated.

And if I may say, the fact that certain other medical treatments are inadequately funded is not an argument against adequately funding this one. All medically necessary services should be universal, accessible, and free, per the Canada Health Act.

Thank God they finally halted funding for this crap and I think they better stop giving tax right offs for woman who get lipo suction too or we are going to go broke...the liberal ass government did this put it in practice...they also funded a clinic while they were at for drug adicts to have a place to shoot up not get rehabilated but shoot up....what next there are just some things I don't think we should have to pay for...