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Although Canada is known for its universal healthcare system, which provides medical coverage to all Canadian citizens and permanent residents, transgender people in Canada continue to face significant barriers to accessing healthcare.
I believe that the lack of adequate health services for the transgender community, if not addressed, will create a range of negative health consequences and a decreased quality of life for those impacted.
Transgender is an umbrella term that refers to people with diverse gender identities and expressions that differ from stereotypical gender norms. The lack of access to healthcare for transgender people is a human rights issue under section 3 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and section 2 of the Ontario Human Rights Code. It is the responsibility of healthcare providers and policymakers to ensure that healthcare services are inclusive and accessible to all individuals, including transgender people.
Transgender people experience higher rates of physical and mental health problems than the general population. Those in this community are often denied needed care or receive inadequate care due to discrimination and lack of knowledge by healthcare providers.
Indeed, transgender people face wait times of more than two years to access medically necessary gender-affirming health services. In addition, according to the campaign at transhealthontario.org, between 37 to 38 per cent of transgender people have experienced discrimination when accessing healthcare services.
Transgender individuals may be forced to travel long distances or seek healthcare abroad, which can be costly and time-consuming. For example, transgender people may need hormone therapy or surgery to alleviate their gender dysphoria. The average cost of gender reassignment surgery ranges from $10,000 to $60,000. However, many healthcare providers do not have the knowledge or training to provide these services. So, the community has no choice but to travel for needed care to another jurisdiction, increasing the overall cost.
The medical necessity of transition-related care is recognized by medical experts as effective and necessary for many transgender people, says the U.S. National Center for Transgender Equality. Making these services more accessible in Canada would be beneficial.
While there are major gaps in Canada in terms of healthcare developments for transgender people, we are seeing some steps forward. For example, on Feb. 26, 2023, the Government of Canada announced that it is committing to fund up to $75,000 per lifetime of gender affirmation procedures for federal employees, beginning July 1, 2023.
Still, this is not enough. The measures put forward do not help those who do not work for the federal government. We need more incentives and legislative reforms to see actual change in our healthcare systems. That said, the federal government’s initiative is a meaningful start to reduce some barriers.
Critics will argue that transgender individuals choose to join this community and therefore should not complain when they have adverse experiences with the healthcare system. However, transgender people often testify that the desire to transition is not a choice, but rather something they were born with.
As a solution, I propose that Canada, and specifically Ontario, adopt a bill that was recently rejected by the Ford government in Ontario: Bill 17, the Gender Affirming Health Care Advisory Committee Act, 2021.
The bill would create a committee to make recommendations to the Minister of Health on ways to improve access to gender-affirming care and transition procedures in Ontario. The committee would consist of members of the Two-Spirit, transgender, non-binary, gender-diverse and intersex communities with diverse lived experiences, as well as healthcare providers.
Transgender people deserve better healthcare. It is time to end this crisis and make universal healthcare universal for all.
Evan Young is a third-year law student at the University of Ottawa in the French Common Law program.