VANCOUVER—A trans woman in a B.C. women’s jail has filed a human-rights complaint after being asked to sign a contract obliging her to continually “demonstrate” her gender in order to stay.
Since September 2018, Hayden Patterson has been held at the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women as she awaits extradition to the United States on a murder charge. Before arriving at the women’s facility, she was being detained in a men’s jail; she requested a transfer so she could be in an institution consistent with her female gender identity.
However, before it would accept her, the women’s jail required that she sign a special behavioural contract that, among other things, said she must continue to “demonstrate gender expression that is consistent with (her) current gender identity (as a woman).”
Patterson’s lawyer, Laura Track of the Community Legal Assistance Society, said Patterson feels she is subject to conditions that other female inmates are not and that the contract’s requirement is vague and discriminatory.
“On a plain reading of that term, she doesn’t know whether if she didn’t shave for a couple of days, didn’t wear makeup or decided to cut her hair really short — or otherwise wasn’t performing her female gender to the standard that corrections deems appropriate — that she could face consequences for that, including return to a men’s institution,” Track said.
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In 2016, the B.C. human rights act was amended to protect trans people from discrimination based on their gender identity or expression.
As part of the contract Patterson signed, she is also prohibited from having a cellmate. She says that is resulting in “distress, frustration and loneliness,” especially as other inmates have told her they would be willing share a cell with her.
The Alouette facility, represented by a lawyer for the provincial government’s Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, denies the policies are discriminatory but declined an interview request.
In its written response filed to the human-rights tribunal in January, the prison says Patterson was required to sign the contract because she had been “charged with 25 Regulation violations” while at the men’s prison and the contract aims to keep Patterson, other inmates and prison staff safe.
The institution also said the no-cellmate condition is part of its policy for trans inmates who have not had gender-affirming surgery. According to the documents, that is the case for Patterson.
Patterson also has an ongoing human-rights complaint filed against Surrey Pretrial Services Centre, the men’s prison where she was held before the transfer to Alouette. She alleges that the prison discriminated against her based on religion when it refused to provide her with kosher meals. The jail denies the allegation and argues that Patterson could not sufficiently prove she was Jewish.
The complaint against Alouette is set for a hearing between June 24 to 28, and a hearing for the complaint against the Surrey jail is expected for the fall.
Tessa Vikander is a Vancouver-based reporter covering identity and inequality. Follow her on Twitter: @tessavikander