Ottawa said to be reviewing policy on designating gender on passports

Back in February in this space we reported transgendered Canadians were worried they'd be barred from travelling if their appearance didn't match the gender marked on their passports.

Now there are signs the Conservative government is ready to consider allowing a third option besides male or female, which better embraces the ambiguities of 21st-century sexual identity.

Documents obtained by La Presse under Access-to-Information legislation turned up a ministerial briefing note that "Passport Canada policy in relation to the gender indicated on passports is the subject of a review."

Passport Canada spokeswoman Béatrice Fénelon confirmed Tuesday that "the policy regarding transgender people is still under review," the National Post reported.

Critics in the transgendered community are concerned a section of flight-security screening regulations that can bar a traveller who "does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents."

"Right now, the only way Canadians can change the gender listed on a passport or birth certificate is to undergo sexual reassignment surgery and submit proof to the government," Xtra gay and lesbian news reported.

"That's discriminatory, say trans activists, and it excludes a broad section of those who have changed their gender identity but do not wish to undergo surgery."

The Post reported that details of any proposed change aren't known, but that Canada might go the way of Australia and allow Canadians to mark their passports with an X, or streamline the process for the transgendered to get new passports reflecting their sex change.

People born with ambiguous chromosomes or genitalia (known as intersex) also are forced to choose a gender when applying for a passport.

"There are people in transition from one sex to another. In my view I don't see why passports shouldn't reflect reality," Karen Selick of the Canadian Constitution Foundation told the Post.

Last September, Australia changed its passport policy to allow citizens to mark their gender as "indeterminate," the Post said. The United Kingdom has also decided to review the security implications of not indicating gender on a passport.

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But Xtra reported not everyone is confident the government will make the change.

Dany Morin, the NDP's deputy critic on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered issues, said he has "serious doubt that the Conservative government will actually go through with this.

"Australia is a leader on trans rights based on their non-discriminatory regulations while Canada, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, clearly is not."

Transgender activists have won some changes provincially, Xtra noted.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission ruled last month that surgery does not have to be a prerequisite for changing gender on a birth certificate and Quebec is apparently looking at changing its policy on birth certificates as well.