Trans-border crossings

Strip searching transsexual or intersexed individuals has never been easy, but it’s about to get more complicated

Trans-border crossings

Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Nothing is simple in the post-9/11 world of border security. That’s especially so in an era when a person boarding a plane might refuse to be identified as a man or a woman. Given that, the Canada Border Services Agency has developed a new strip search guideline. But now it’s a question of whether they’ve made things even more complicated.

Released in August, the protocol applies to “transsexual or intersexed” individuals; people who strongly identify or seek to live as a member of the opposite sex, have undergone surgery to physically change their sex, or were born with a mix of male and female reproductive parts. Such people can now choose from three options when faced with a strip search at the border: they can be searched by male border officers or female border officers—or receive a “split search.” That’s where things get interesting.

Two groups of officers perform the search. The person being examined strips the clothes from their upper body, and a team of officers from one sex perform the search. Then, the person puts their top back on and strips off the bottom half of their clothing before a second group of officers of the other sex scrutinizes down there. The whole process is observed by at least one non-participating officer to ensure everything is on the level. For those counting, that’s at least five officers for every split search.

The CBSA’s Patrizia Giolti says the agency had no previous guidelines on how to search “transsexual and intersexed” people. The change brings them in line with the practices that were adopted by many police agencies after a 2006 decision by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. It ruled that Peel Regional Police should have allowed Rosalyn Forrester—a transsexual born as a male—to choose the gender of the cop who strip-searched her. “It’s always been problematic for trans people,” says Marie Little, chair of Vancouver’s Trans Alliance Society. She says the CBSA guideline—despite its complexities—is a step in the right direction. “The fact that it’s a choice, or an option, that’s completely positive.”

The fact that many border officers will now be preoccupied with a single strip search, maybe not so much.

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