While a number of provinces offer gender-neutral birth certificates, many in Canada’s trans and gender-diverse communities say they are concerned their lived identity is not always reflected in official documents after their death. Callum Tate, a transgender man, is pictured in his Toronto apartment on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Transgender Canadians say death certificates don’t reflect their lived identity

Medical certificate of death reflects the sex as per the physical characteristics observed at autopsy

While a number of provinces offer gender-neutral birth certificates, many in Canada’s trans and gender-diverse communities say they are concerned their lived identity is not always reflected in official documents after their death.

“It’s the final ‘screw you,’” says Callum Tate, a Toronto transgender man in his mid-30s. ”It erases them without their voice here to say, ‘You made a mistake.’”

Between 2012 and 2017, all Canadian provinces and territories amended their Vital Statistics Act and lifted the requirement of gender confirmation surgery for people to change their gender on various documents. Five provinces and two territories offer a gender-neutral option.

READ MORE: X gender identity now recognized on B.C. IDs

Death certificates, however, are far behind.

“How an individual’s identity is reflected on vital event certificates is an important conversation that is being had in jurisdictions right across the country,” says Maria MacInnis at the Nova Scotia Vital Statistics and Medical Examiner’s Offices.

At the time of death, she says, the medical examiner or last attending physician completes the medical certificate of death, which reflects the sex as per the physical characteristics observed at autopsy. While each province has its own policy, practices across Canada are similar.

As only a small percentage of trans people opt to get gender confirmation surgery, the anatomy of the deceased doesn’t always reflect their gender identity.

READ MORE: B.C. to offer gender-affirming surgeries for transgender people

“In Canada, ascertaining the identity of a deceased person remains a very medicalized and pathologizing process that understands and empathizes the deceased person as a body categorized by sex assignment,” says Kate Hazell, a co-ordinator at The 519 — a Toronto-based agency that advocates for the LGBTQ community.

“There is currently no meaningful mechanism to ascertain the self-identified gender of a deceased person,” she says.

Hazell is aware of trans Canadians who were misgendered in official documents after death, though she declined to share their names for confidentiality reasons. The problem is also present in other countries, including the U.S.

“Not having one’s lived identity recognized at and after death is a form of violence,” says Hazell. “It also does harm to community, friends, partners and family who wish to ensure their loved one is represented in an authentic and respectful way.”

Misgendering after death may be deeply distressing to grieving family and friends, say advocates.

“It can also impact genealogical records, insurance claims and delays in settling the estate,” says Susanne Litke, lawyer and acting chair of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action project.

For the Canadians who identify as transgender, concerns about death certificates can come tragically early. The 2015 Trans Pulse Report found that 20 per cent of transgender people in Ontario had been physically or sexually assaulted because they were trans, and 67 per cent feared they would die young. The 2017 Canadian Trans Youth Health Survey reports that transgender youth aged 19 to 25 had over 16 times the risk of a suicide attempt in the past year than cisgender youth of the same age.

A will is the only legal document that can help trans individuals express their wishes after death, says Litke.

“People can put in their will their name and gender to be respected and ask their executor to follow those requests,” she says.

Tate, whose father has dementia, says he worries about what will happen if he develops the condition and can’t advocate for himself one day.

“Government identification forms should include this question: ‘In the event of my death, I want to be referred as: Name, Gender,’” he says.

MacInnis says the way forward may include collection of both sex observed at autopsy as well as lived gender.

“Maintaining information on the anatomical sex of a person is important as health conditions related to the cause of the death can present differently” depending on biological sex, she says. “That being said, it is also important to gather statistical information on the 2SLGBTQIA+ community over time to improve health provision, service and outcomes.”

— Marie-Claude Grégoire is a pain and palliative medicine physician and a fellow in global journalism at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City of Port Alberni to review 2020 budget in response to COVID-19

Deadline for final budget adoption is May 15

Alberni school district takes a week off to plan for online education

All buildings and playgrounds in School District 70 closed to the public

Vancouver Island farmers demand on-site slaughter

COVID-19 pandemic puts supply chains at risk, says group

Social media a blessing and a curse during time of crisis: B.C. communication expert

‘In moments of crisis, fear is very real and palpable,’ says SFU’s Peter Chow-White

COVID 19: Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, other First Nations mobilize resources

Some Indigenous communities are enacting emergency measures to cope during pandemic

B.C. records first at-home death from COVID-19, but 70+ hospital patients have recovered

Total of 970 novel coronavirus cases in B.C., with the majority in the Lower Mainland area

An ongoing updated list of Alberni Valley events affected by COVID-19

Has your event been cancelled or postponed? Check here

Canada to spend $2B more on procuring medical supplies for COVID-19 fight

Government has signed deals with three companies

World COVID-19 updates: Putin may be exposed; 30,000 prisoners released

Comprehensive news update from around the world as of Tuesday, March 31.

Canada expands 75% wage subsidy to COVID-19 affected businesses of all sizes: Trudeau

Program will provide up to $847 per week for each worker

‘This is no joke’: B.C. woman in Alberta hospital asks people to stay home during COVID-19

‘I want people to start listening to what the doctors are saying. This is no joke, please stay home’

Rest stops barring washroom access to truckers a ‘huge problem’ as COVID-19 spreads

Teamsters Canada says truckers are increasingly being denied warm meals

Canadians asked to wash mailboxes, keep dogs at bay, to ensure safe mail delivery

Four postal workers in Canada have tested positive for COVID-19 infection:

Hospitality workers hit ‘first and hit hardest,’ says union seeking more support

Union represents workers in hotels, casinos, airports, arenas, universities, schools and remote resource camps

Most Read