by Christin Scarlett Milloy Published: Wednesday, 2013.05.08
Very disturbing information has emerged about an incident which
recently occurred at the Peace Bridge
<http://en.wikipedia .org/wiki/ Peace_Bridge> , one of the road
crossings along the Canada / U.S. border, at the hands of Canada’s
federal Border Services Agency (CBSA).
Toby, 25, is an American citizen and resident of New York state.
Identifying as genderqueer, Toby does not use gendered pronouns (such
as he or she).
Toby and Graysen had been planning the visit for several weeks, and
took all possible steps to avoid difficulties in Toby’s border
• All of Toby’s travel documentation is up-to-date, and their U.S.
passport is valid.
• They investigated travel visa requirements, but for a short
visit such as this, no travel visa is expected or required, so they
did not apply for one.
• Toby’s gender presentation on the day of the border crossing was
“male,” to match the gender presentation in their passport photo, also
“male.” The photo on the passport is recent, and completely
recognizable as Toby.
• The Megabus ticket was Return, not One-Way (as may raise
suspicion). It was a bargain at $8.80, easily affordable despite
Toby’s limited income. The ticket was registered in Toby’s legal name,
to match the legal name reflected on the Passport.
There was, however, one glaring snag—something not affecting most
travellers, but which Toby was powerless to avoid: Toby’s passport
(they have consented to disclose) bears the legal sex designation “F”
for female, due to the widespread practice of identification by
pediatric genital assessment.
Although binary (male or female) identified Trans* Americans can now
access gender appropriate passports
<http://www.state. gov/r/pa/ prs/ps/2010/ 06/142922. htm> without surgery
if they are able to show a doctor’s note evidencing gender identity
treatment, those such as Toby who don’t identify as either “M” or “F”
have no options. With non-matching ID, they are left to struggle with
the stigma and (as this incident proves) the very real risk of being
singled-out for harassment, extra questions, and of being blocked
entirely at the border.
Toby knows better than most people the special risks faced by non-cis
persons trying to exercise their constitutional right of mobility
<http://en.wikipedia .org/wiki/ Freedom_of_ movement> . Trans* persons
are disproportionately singled out for additional screening when
attempting to cross the border. Last year, I reported on the case of a
Canadian Trans* woman who was fingerprinted and interrogated
<http://chrismilloy. ca/2012/02/ detained- at-the-airport- one-trans- womans-horrifyin g-story/>
by U.S. Customs after she presented a passport bearing a male sex
Despite having taken all of the prescribed steps and having all their
documents in order, knowledge of this impending risk weighed heavily
in Toby’s mind.
“I was in line to show my documents and already very anxious, and
exhibiting it. (The Officer) told me to calm down, and asked if I
would be okay… I said something like ‘yes, eventually…’”
Toby immediately identified themself to the CBSA agent by their legal
name, and explained that the reason they also use an assumed name—and
prefer to be called—”Toby,” is due to gender identity.
Toby is Quickly Singled Out for Travelling While Trans*
“Shortly after, I was escorted to Immigration by this officer and left
to stand in line until I was brought up to a counter for questioning,”
explains Toby. They also outed Toby in front of strangers, by using
Toby’s full legal name (which is gendered female) in earshot of
members of the public.
“What happened next, over the course of about an hour and a half, was
The officers responded to Toby skeptically, pressing in with ever more
specific and intrusive questions about Toby’s identity. When these
additional questions were raised, and it was clear that Toby’s gender
identity and expression were a point of concern for the officer, Toby
did what they had been trained to do—what our gatekeepers, and even
our legislators have told us
<http://chrismilloy. ca/2012/02/ motion-to- repeal-trans- flight-ban- is-defeated- by-tories- in-committee/>
to do in these situations. Toby presented their therapist’s note… the
other travel document in the “please treat me like a normal human
being” Trans* person toolkit.
“I’d shown a letter from my gender therapist in… NY, (on hospital
letterhead). It says I’m in therapy and currently undergoing FTM
transition.” The Immigration official took away the letter along with
all of Toby’s other documentation, as well as their mobile phone. “He
proceeded to ask about why I’m there, who I’m visiting, the specifics
of my mental illness and treatment, up to and including how much
medication I take and when/how often I take it and why.”
After requesting the telephone number to speak to Toby’s partner
Graysen, the officer departed into a private room.
The Intimidating Phone Call
Graysen says the call from CBSA was unexpected, and disturbing.
Initially, the questions were routine; Graysen was able to confirm for
the officer that Toby’s visit was expected, and was able to provide
both Toby’s chosen and birth names to the officer. There was some
initial confusion over Toby’s legal surname, but this was quickly
cleared up. The officer asked about the nature of their relationship.
“Toby and I are in a relationship. We’re partners,” Graysen explained.
More intrusive questions followed. Graysen reports the officer wanted
to know how long they had been in a relationship (8 months), Graysen’s
age (22), Graysen’s employment status (full-time student at University
of Toronto), university major (Sexual Diversity Studies), financial
situation, and living circumstances. After disclosing that they
cohabitate with supportive parents while attending school, Graysen was
asked if their parents were aware of Toby and the planned visit (Yes).
Then the officer asked Graysen, who let’s remember is 22 years old, to
put the parents on the phone. As it happens they were unavailable.
Toby says the immigration officer, like his counterpart from the
initial customs screening, expressed suspicion because of the
differences in preferred names and legal names due to gender identity.
“Graysen and I were subjected to repeated misgendering, especially
after being forced to disclose our transgender status due to
questioning about our names, my surname in particular. Graysen was not
obliged to give such information, which the officer took as
suspicious.” After the phone call, the immigration officer returned to
question Toby further.
Intense Additional Scrutiny—Fishing for a ‘Reason’
Toby was grilled on specific plans while in Canada, which included
regular attendance at a community support group. The officer demanded
that Toby provide the specific street address for each meeting, and to
recite Graysen’s home address from memory, which Toby was unable to
do. The details were stored in their mobile phone, which the officer
had confiscated. “At this point I’ve asked for my phone back several
times and he refuses to return it, saying ‘in a few moments’ multiple
times, and leaving me with no means of outside communication.” Toby
says at this point the man became hostile.
Questions about financial status forced Toby to disclose that, unable
to work, their only income is from disability payments from U.S.
Social Security. “He tells me I cannot ‘sustain myself’ on that,” and
then, Toby says, he proceeded to criticize Toby for having accepted
offers of support from friends in the past.
“(The man) told me early on that my gender letter had ‘no bearing’ on
whether I could enter (Canada), but he delved into it anyway after
spotting that I was in therapy.” The immigration official prodded
Toby, wanting to hear in excruciating detail about Toby’s past medical
and psychiatric treatments. Further questioning revealed that Toby’s
therapeutic history had included time as an in-patient.
“Eventually (the officer) comes back from speaking with his supervisor
and gives me a final decision of ‘no,’ apparently based on my finances
and mental health.”
Toby says the officer told them “it hasn’t been long enough since
September (8 months ago) when you were in in-patient, I want it to be
a few more weeks so you can have moved on from that.”
Furthermore, disregarding Graysen’s confirmation that Toby was welcome
and expected, he challenged Toby on the legitimacy of their plans
together. “What if you have a falling out? What if they tell you to go
home? How will you sustain yourself here?”
Canada Border Services Agency Hits Discrimination Trifecta:
Transphobia, Ableism, and Classism
There is nothing illegitimate about the fact that Toby accesses
disability benefits from the U.S. Government. Nor is there any shame
whatsoever in having a history which includes necessary in-patient
therapeutic services. And of course, neither of these serves as
justification for nullifying Toby’s civil rights. Nevertheless, these
factors of ableism and classism apparently weighed heavily enough on
the Canada Border Services Agency’s final decision to bar Toby from
Furthermore, had it not been for the fact that the restrictive sex
designation on Toby’s passport doesn’t “match” their gender
expression, Toby would never even have been subjected to the harrowing
experience of secondary screening in the first place.
Secondary screening is supposed to be reserved for those deemed
suspicious or risky for admission to Canada; I would like to see CBSA
explain what, precisely, is so disproportionately suspicious about
people who live with Trans* identities that it justifies terrorizing
us into submission at every turn.
It is eminently clear that CBSA and Immigration officers either have
not received the necessary anti-discrimination training incumbent on
officers charged with exercising Canadian law appropriately, or
perhaps (at least in the case of these specific individuals) they just
don’t give a shit about Trans* people.
Toby reports that throughout the entire process, CBSA and Immigration
officers repeatedly referred to them, and to Graysen, as “she” and
“her,” even after what turned out to be a protracted discussion about
Toby’s situation and identity. “(The male officer) only called me Toby
when I was about to leave.”
CBSA forced Toby to wait outside for a cab to arrive, to return them
to the U.S. Border. “I waited for about an hour,” says Toby, but they
were not allowed access to their luggage. “(I was) told to leave my
bags inside until the cab arrived.”
Toby was then taken by cab and delivered to U.S. Border Patrol agents
for further inquiry where, bewilderingly, they were informed that
their “biggest roadblock” with Canadian customs had been
“I had the required stuff according to their own website, but they
covered their transphobia and everything else by telling me I didn’t
have enough documentation to get in.” When Toby asked the U.S. Border
officer what specific documentation was allegedly missing, the officer
declined to answer.
Although CBSA covered the cost of the short cab ride across the
bridge, Toby was on the hook for a $56 greyhound ticket necessary to
return to their New York home. “I am sad, disgusted, humiliated,
afraid, angry, numb,” wrote Toby shortly after the incident.
Toby and Graysen are currently pursuing legal options to obtain a copy
of the report filed by CBSA on the incident, to find out how Toby’s
refusal was justified on paper. I will be following this story.