Identification, Sex Marker and Passport Canada


Part of the process of transition, after the name change, but before one travels outside the country, is getting a new passport. Sounds simple, right? Maybe, maybe not. The application fee for a Canadian passport is currently $85 (Aug. 2011). Not a tonne of money, but noticeable when you’re on a budget. I decided to contact Passport Canada prior to applying for the passport to ensure that the gender marker on the passport would be the correct one – female.

I sent the following question to Passport Canada using their website on August 8th.

I have changed my name and have transitioned from male to female since my previous passport expired.

I would like my new passport, when I apply, to have my gender properly indicated. What will I need to provide?

A fairly reasonable question to get some basic information. In response I received the following on August 9th:

Thank you for your message of August 8, 2011.

If you have undergone sex reassignment surgery and your proof of citizenship does not show the new sex, the following documents must be submitted:

. original proof of citizenship showing the former sex; and

. medical documentation to confirm that you have undergone a sex change, and that the surgery is complete.

A full validity passport may be issued in the new sex.

We trust this information is of assistance to you.
Okay, so a minor problem here, I haven’t had SRS and don’t know when that will happen. I replied with another question:
Is there no way to have it show my new sex without this surgery?
Yes, I used the term “sex”, not gender, mostly not to confuse them too much.
So, next day, next response:

Thank you for your message of August 9, 2011.

A limited validity passport may be issued in an assumed sex to an applicant who provides medical documentation indicating that he or she will be undergoing sex reassignment surgery in the next twelve months.

Please be advised that the passport will be valid for two years and will not be extended.

Please note that you may encounter difficulties travelling with a passport showing your assumed sex.

We trust this information is of assistance to you.

(underlined text is from Passport Canada’s response)

So, if I’m going to have surgery, and IF I have medical documentation that I will be having it within a year, then I can get a passport with the correct gender / sex. Right. But, oh, it’s only good for two years and it’s the full fee. Wonderful.
Being the person that I am, and passionate about fair treatment I asked for more information:
Which piece or pieces of legislation and or policy documents are being applied here?
In other words, “I’m not letting this be and if you have this policy, where is it documented and is there legislation that you are applying here?” They responded with an email telling me it was sent on to Passport Canada officials. A few days later I received a reply:

With regard to your message of August 12, 2011, Passport Canada officials have reviewed your request and provided the following information:

Passport Canada has been charged by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to administer all matters relating to the issuing, refusing to issue, revoking, withholding, recovery and use of Canadian passports. This mandate is derived from the Canadian Passport Order (SI/81-86) and the Order Amending the Canadian Passport Order (SI/2001-121).

We trust this information is of assistance to you.

Armed with the information on where the mandate comes from I did some more digging and looked up the order and the relevant section. The section that pertains is Schedule 8, Additional Information under the heading Sex:


(1) Where the sex indicated in an application for a passport is not the same as that set out in that applicant’s birth certificate, the applicant may be requested to provide an explanation.

(2) Where an application for a passport indicates that a change of sex of the applicant has taken place, the applicant may be requested to submit a certificate from a medical practitioner to substantiate the statement.

Interesting, the Canadian Passport Order does not require Passport Canada to ask for an explanation, and it also doesn’t dictate the requirement for a certificate from a medical practitioner. The use of the word “may” means it’s optional. So really, it’s all in the hands of Passport Canada, they can make whatever rules they want. They also don’t seem to have any internal documentation to back up what they are asking for.
Realizing this would be a bit of a struggle, I made an appointment to meet with staff at my member of parliament’s office. I met with them on Monday and provided this information. They are looking into this with Passport Canada and will get back to me. I was told that this would likely require a policy change as well as a letter to the minister. I would be asked to sign an authorization for the letter to the minister.
The one piece of the correspondence that really got me was, “Please note that you may encounter difficulties travelling with a passport showing your assumed sex.” Right. Sure. With the way I look now I’m much more likely to run into problems if my passport says “Male” and not “Female”, especially travelling in Europe.
In my researches I found that the United States does not require proof of surgery.
In order to have the passport issued in your new gender, you must submit a physician certificate with your application that validates whether your gender transition is in process or complete.
(, thank you to Harper Jean Tobin at TransEquality in Washington DC for the link, I was having trouble finding it myself.)
From what I’ve heard crossing the Canada / USA border by car is usually quite straight forward for trans people even if the sex marker does not match how they are presenting – as long as you look like your photo. Flying is a different proposition. There was a recent case with the TSA and how they were treating a transgender employee. Europe is also a question mark. I have read a number of complaints from people who have had a lot of trouble, including strip searches, when travelling to or in Europe because their sex marker did not match in their passport. I’d call that a major “difficulty” when the passport does not have the “assumed sex”.
At this point I’m waiting to hear back from my MP’s office. I do not expect anything this week. I will follow up with them at some point next week and find out if they know anything yet. I was very clear with them that depending on the answers I get I will be going to the media, I will be public about it and I will go to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

8 Replies to “Identification, Sex Marker and Passport Canada”

  1. Thanks for the update. This seems like it’s pretty clear that there is no definition of what is the what. Ie. They have a policy that isn’t documented like policies should be in any organization of a size of two or more. Please keep us informed.

  2. Hmmm. I’d take them on for the literal meaning of one of their statements:

    “Where an application for a passport indicates that a change of sex of the applicant has taken place, the applicant may be requested to submit a certificate from a medical practitioner to substantiate the statement.”

    It says a ‘change of sex’ – they don’t define it as a SURGICAL change of sex. This makes me think that all you need is a certificate from your doctor saying that you now live solely as a woman. A “change of sex” has taken place.

    Good for you for keeping at them, Talia. So many others will benefit from your work.

  3. I, thankfully, have not been strip-searched. Though I have had some, rather thorough and humiliating pat-downs and searches even before the TSA started doing them regularly. Lots of ma’am until they see my passport, then… SIR, SIR, SIR for the rest of the encounter.
    So I have to laugh at their claim that there will be problems with a passport of your “assumed sex”… :s I found the opposite.

    As for USA/Canada vs Europe. I found Canada and the US I’ve been treated worse in terms of misgendering, thorough searches (often by guards of the wrong gender) and generally being A**holes once seeing my passport… In my experience Europe (well the UK and Finland, never really been anywhere else) I was treated more respectfully. Yes, I was thoroughly searched still, but was referred to as “ma’am” on every occasion so far, even after seeing my passport. And the searches were always performed by female guards, who were also gentler and apologised before and during the searches (asking, “are you alright?”, throughout). Heck, one time in Finland, I was pretty much waved through security.
    So while your mileage may vary, I find air travel in Europe so far (particularly, security), much less intimidating than Canada/U.S.

    • I’ve yet to travel outside of Canada since Transition, and I think that I’ll make an effort to find out what is required to change the birth certificate in BC. I may need to get surgery. I may get it with stating my sex to be what it is (female) on the name change form. I think I’m going through with the name change, now just to get my butt in gear.

  4. Hi Talia

    I was wondering if anything’s happened yet? Passport Canada recently introduced its ePassport implementation scheme and is open to comments until the end of next week. I will be submitting a complaint about their policies then, because the new passport scheme affects trans people. Because the maximum validity for our passports is 2 years, we will be paying nearly 50 dollars a year under the new pricing, whereas most Canadians will pay $13.50 a year for a valid passport.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.


    PS: The US, UK, New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands all issue full-validity passports to trans people without any requirement for having had or scheduled surgery.

  5. Pingback: Metamorpho-Sis | 17. It’s a Long Road…

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