Categories: Provincial News

New Vital Stats Act good first step, say advocates

The Vital Statistics Act. It sounds boring, but if it had been changed as the province now proposes years ago, Max Quillian may have had an easier time passing his driver’s test.

Quillian, a Paul Kane grad who is trans, said he had to take his exam back when his government ID still said he was female.

“They would ID me as female and that would make me so wildly uncomfortable,” he said.

“That ended up throwing off my concentration entirely so I failed the test multiple times.”

The province tabled the Vital Statistics and Life Events Modernization Act this week. The bill, if passed, will make it easier for Albertans to change their name and/or gender on official documents such as driver’s licenses and birth, death, adoption and marriage certificates.

M, F, and “X”?

The bill proposes to let people who do not identify as male (M) or female (F) choose a third marker (X) on official documents. This would not take effect until the federal government made similar changes to align provincial documents with federal ones such as passports.

Alberta would be the first place in Canada to take this step, said St. Albert’s Kristopher Wells, faculty director of the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services. Wells said this is the first step in a wider conversation on gender identity.

Australia already offers this third option, and Facebook allows for about 50 different gender identities in profiles, Wells said.

“This is really the reality of a lot of our younger generation that doesn’t feel comfortable with those traditional (gender) binaries.”

Right now, Canadians whose gender differs from the one listed on their official ID are at risk of being outed as trans whenever they use it, Wells said.

“It can get you stopped at a border. It can get you pulled over by a police officer. It can get you questioned or interrogated, and it can subject you to harassment, bullying and violence.”

While he said he liked the idea of this change, Jan Buterman, a former St. Albert teacher fired for being trans who is now studying birth certificates and gender identity at the U of A, was concerned that the “X” could be imposed on trans Albertans and single them out for discrimination.

The bill removes a requirement for Albertans to prove that they have had sex-reassignment surgery before getting their gender changed on documents – a requirement that was actually struck down by the courts years ago, Wells and Buterman noted.

The bill removes the requirement to publish any legal name change in the Alberta Gazette. This will protect the privacy of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) persons or people in witness protection programs who change their names, Wells and Buterman said. Right now, those changes can be exposed by Google searches. The act also removes the requirement to provide a reason for a name change, which could force a transgender person to out themselves.

Wells said Albertans currently need a legal affidavit from a psychologist or psychiatrist to request that their gender be changed on official documents. This bill allows social workers and nurses to provide that proof as well, making this change easier.

Buterman said he was “completely dumbfounded” that this third-party affidavit requirement was still in the law, as it meant the province believed trans people weren’t competent enough to determine their own gender.

“You have to have a note from someone in a white coat,” he said.

“That letter shouldn’t be needed.”

If you’re over 18, all you should have to do is swear an affidavit yourself to confirm you want to make the change, he said.

The law would also make it easier for people born outside of Canada to change their name or their child’s names and allow the use of traditional naming conventions such as last name first.

Quillian said the bill would do much to enhance inclusion of transgender Albertans and show people that there are more than just two genders.

“It’s a big step.”

The bill was set for third reading as this story went to press. Visit www.servicealberta.gov.ab.ca/3188.cfm for details.

Kevin Ma: Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.