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

Single vehicle rollover on Highway 16 claims life of young woman, seriously injures another

The single vehicle incident occurred at Highway 16 and Hillcrest Way

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3

World Farm Animals Day, Drink Beer Day and Virus Appreciation Day are all coming up this week

COVID-19 cases grow to 13 at B.C. First Nation near Fort St. James

“This is very serious,” says Nak’azdli Whut’en Chief

Directional traffic change coming to one-way street beside McLeod Elementary

This change will be in effect starting Monday, Oct. 5.

Vanderhoof’s Brian Frenkel takes on top job in tough times

We can get through this, new local government leader says

105 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death as health officials urge B.C. to remember safety protocols

There are currently 1268 active cases, with 3,337 people under public health monitoring

B.C. nurses report rise in depression, anxiety, exhaustion due to pandemic

A new UBC study looks into how the COVID-19 response has impacted frontline nurses

National child-care plan could help Canada rebound from COVID-induced economic crisis: prof

A $2 billion investment this year could help parents during second wave of pandemic

Search suspended for Indigenous elder last seen mushroom picking in northwest B.C.

Mushroom picker Thomas (Tommy) Dennis has been missing since Sept. 16

16 MLAs retiring from B.C. politics add up to $20M in pensions: Taxpayers Federation

Taxpayers pay $4 for every dollar MLAs contribute to their pensions

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

‘Bonnie’ and ‘Henry’ among latest litter of service dog puppies

B.C. Alberta Guide Dogs names two pups after provincial health officer

Permanent fish-passage solutions considered at Big Bar landslide

151,000 salmon detected this year north of site

B.C. VOTES 2020: Few solutions offered for ‘out of control’ camping

B.C. Liberals, NDP spend millions as problem keeps growing

Most Read