The Canadian Bar Association
Family

Must children be registered as a specific sex on official documents?

By Lisa Gelman

Earlier this year, an eight-month-old baby in British Columbia made international news when the child was issued a health card that does not specify a sex. The document is widely believed to be a first, both in Canada and worldwide.

A health card with no specified sex

The child’s parent, a non-binary transgender parent who identifies as neither female nor male, and prefers the pronoun “they”, requested that all of the baby’s government documents be issued without specifying whether the child was male or female. The province has refused to issue the child a birth certificate with no specified sex, but did issue the child health card has a “U” in the area where a person’s sex is usually indicated so that the child could receive health care. “U” could either stand for undetermined or unspecified.

The parent is part of a group called the Gender-Free ID Coalition, whose members want individuals to have the right to remove gender identification from government documents. The parent wants to keep their child’s gender off of all records and is still fighting to omit it from other documents including the child’s birth certificate. They told CBC news that:

I’m raising [my child] in such a way that until they have the sense of self and command of vocabulary to tell me who they are, I’m recognizing them as a baby and trying to give them all the love and support to be the most whole person that they can be outside of the restrictions that come with the boy box and the girl box

Human rights arguments

The parent is also one of a group of eight individuals who have brought a case before the B.C Human Rights Tribunal demanding the right to change their own birth certificates. The parent believes that a visual inspection of a child at birth cannot accurately determine what gender or sex a person will identify with for the rest of their life:

Feeling contrary to the gender one is assigned at birth and having to then change government documents later in life…is often a difficult process…omitting any form of gender identification on government documents would reduce that stress.

The parent argues that assigning gender at birth is a violation of a child’s human right to freely express their gender. The parent said, about their own experience:

When I was born, doctors looked at my genitals and made assumptions about who I would be, and those assignments followed me and followed my identification throughout my life…[t]hose assumptions were incorrect, and I ended up having to do a lot of adjustments since then.

Current status of the law

Currently, a child must be known either as male or female a birth certificate registered in a Canadian province.

With respect to other government documents, B.C. is believed to be the first public authority anywhere to have issued a non-gender specific card. However, Ontario and Alberta are both seriously considering providing a third non-binary gender option on certain documents.

In addition, Canada is among a small handful of countries, including Australia, Nepal, and Pakistan, that are working towards creating a new gender designation for passports.

We will continue to follow developments in this regard and will blog about updates as they become available.

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