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

Exclusive: Pamela Anderson talks plans for waterfront Ladysmith property after 12-day marriage

Anderson says she can pay her own bills. Peters denies making comments suggesting she can’t

Students evacuate safely after Thursday morning fire at Chemainus Secondary School

Numerous firefighters on the scene several hours, students sent home for the day

Town Council approves recommended remunerations increase

A Select Committee on Council Remunerations was formed to determine an increase to remunerations

Ladysmith A&W sends employees on all-inclusive vacations for 10 years of service

Kelly Frenchy, Katherine Aleck, and Muriel Jack are headed on all expenses paid vacations

Disaster Aid Canada Receives $60,000 in Donations for Australian Bushfire Relief

Rotary Clubs in the affected areas will be able to apply for rebuilding funds for local projects

Blair says RCMP have met Wet’suwet’en conditions, calls for end to blockades

The Wet’suwet’en’s hereditary chiefs oppose the Coastal GasLink project

Pipeline talks got B.C. railway open, can work again: Horgan

Premier says protest excesses damage Wet’suwet’en case

Burger King breaks the mould with new advertising campaign

The company is known for irreverent ad campaigns

Maggie and Tim: B.C. residential school survivor turns to faith, forgiveness in mourning son

A young man’s tragic death and his mother’s survival through hardship

PHOTOS: RCMP call on kids to name latest police puppy recruits

This year’s theme is the letter ‘N,’ and 13 German shephards must be named

B.C., federal ministers plead for meeting Wet’suwet’en dissidents

Scott Fraser, Carolyn Bennett standing by to return to Smithers

B.C. mom’s complaint about ‘R word’ in children’s ministry email sparks review

In 2020, the ‘R’ word shouldn’t be used, Sue Robins says

Federal minister pledges to meet Wet’suwet’en chiefs in B.C. over natural gas pipeline

The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say they are visiting Mohawk territory

Most Read