Most Canadians Think Transgender Inmates Should Not Be in Women’s Prisons: Poll

Most Canadians Think Transgender Inmates Should Not Be in Women’s Prisons: Poll
A file photo of patches on the arm and shoulder of a corrections officer at the Fraser Valley Institution for Women in Abbotsford, B.C., on Oct. 26, 2017. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
Tara MacIsaac
Almost 80 percent of Canadians think it is important to maintain single-sex housing in prisons, according to a poll released Feb. 2 by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI).
Since 2018, however, prisoners in Canada have been housed in men’s or women’s federal prisons based on their self-identified gender.

“Clearly this is a sensitive topic and accordingly many people have a reluctance to talk about it. But we felt that given what was at stake is so important—namely, the physical safety of women—that we had to explore it,” said Aaron Wudrick, MLI’s director of domestic policy, in an email to The Epoch Times.

“Reconciling inclusivity for transgender people and safety concerns for women cannot simply mean staying silent about the latter to satisfy the former,” Wudrick said.

The poll also asked specifically about male-bodied inmates who self-identify as women being housed in female prisons (separate from other categories, such as female-bodied inmates being housed in male prisons). About 80 percent of those polled also said they don’t support or are unsure about allowing this.

In a recent high-profile case in Scotland, a male-bodied prisoner was housed at the Corton Vale women’s prison but transferred back to a male facility after public outcry. Isla Bryson was convicted of raping two women while known as a man called Adam Graham.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross raised the matter at First Minister’s Questions on Feb. 2, saying, “I believe anyone who rapes a woman is a man.” Ross said that under current legislation there, “Sex offenders like him can keep forcing their way into women’s spaces.”

Alleged Sexual Assaults

Cases have been reported internationally of transgender inmates allegedly raping female inmates. Five inmates at a women’s prison in California filed a lawsuit last year after an alleged rape.
Tomiekia Johnson is one of the inmates suing. She said, according to court documents, “I am very offended at being treated as if I am some sort of bigot. … It is not bigoted to ask for sex-separated facilities when I am changing, showering, sleeping, and using the toilet.”

She described one of the two transgender prisoners allegedly involved in the rape of a fellow inmate: “M.C.H. is gigantic, tall, physically scary-looking, non-feminine, bizarre, creepy. His hair is a masculine haircut, but wild and unkempt. When I first saw him walking on the main yard, I knew he was a man right away. … Since he does not look or act anything like a woman, I assumed he was one of the pretenders.”

From 2018 to 2020, Correctional Service Canada reports 99 gender diverse offenders in custody, with 62 percent of them being “trans-women.” About 20 percent are “trans-men” and 17 percent are “other.”

The Epoch Times asked Correctional Service Canada (CSC) whether any incidents of sexual assault involving transgender inmates occurred in Canadian prisons.

A spokesperson did not directly answer, but outlined CSC’s policies on how to prevent sexual violence in prison and ensure inmates have avenues to report it.

CSC said it “remains committed to ensuring gender diverse offenders, including persons who identify as transgender or as two-spirit, are given the same protections, dignity and rights as others. CSC has zero tolerance for violence in its institutions and we take all allegations of sexual coercion and violence (SCV) very seriously.”

Human Rights Complaint

Advocates for transgender inmates have said they are at risk of sexual assault in male prisons.
Nastasia Laura Bilyk was convicted of second-degree murder in 1987 and is serving a life sentence. Bilyk started taking transitioning hormones in 2008 and told The Toronto Star in 2015 that a more feminine appearance had led to repeated rape by inmates at a male prison in British Columbia.
West Coast Prison Justice Society advocated for Bilyk and other inmates, filing a human rights complaint against the Correctional Service of Canada in 2015.

The complaint said that transgender inmates “are most likely to be considered ‘protective custody’ prisoners due to their vulnerable status as women with male biology. … These women are required to live in prison with the most violent male sex offenders in Canada and puts them at great risk of sexual violence while incarcerated.”

The group also said that inmates were denied “medically necessary” gender-affirming surgery.

CSC says it was the 2017 enactment of Bill C-16 that spurred it to decide a prisoner’s housing based on gender identity. Bill C-16 added “gender identity or expression” to the protections under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

According to MLI’s poll, half of Canadians believe male-bodied inmates who identify as women must be accommodated in some way, though less than a third believe they should be in female prisons. Female respondents were slightly more likely to say they should be in female prisons (35 percent of female respondents versus 20 percent of male respondents).

MLI said there was agreement on these matters “across regions, income, and education levels.” However, Canadians 35 and older were more opposed to male-bodied inmates being housed with female inmates.

MLI will release a full report on the subject of transgender people in Canadian prisons next week.