Denied laser hair removal and halal food in B.C. jails, transgender woman files human rights complaints

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      A transgender woman has filed two human rights complaints against her jailers.

      Bianca Lovado alleged that B.C. Corrections discriminated against her on the basis of her gender identity and expression, and religion as an adherent of the Muslim faith.

      Lovado told the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal that she was denied access to laser hair removal treatment during her stay at the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women, and the Surrey Pretrial Services Centre.

      According to Lovado, she wanted her facial and body hair removed as these are male characteristics she does not desire.

      Lovado also claimed that she was discriminated on the basis of her Muslim faith because she was not provided a halal diet permitted by Islamic teachings.

      Lovado included Chiron Health Care Services Inc., which provided medical services to inmates at provincial correctional centres, in her hair removal complaint.

      B.C. Corrections sought to dismiss the complaints without hearing. Chiron also made the same application regarding the hair matter.

      However, the applications to dismiss Lovado’s complaints were rejected by tribunal member Beverly Froese.

      In her reasons for decision regarding the laser hair removal, Froese recounted that Lovado was told that her request to go to hair removal clinic outside prison because of security and safety concerns.

      Lovado was also advised that she can use razors, just like other inmates.

      Help was also offered to Lovado to arrange for her hair removal after her release from prison.

      According to Froese, Lovado’s doctor wrote correctional authorities to support the transgender woman’s request.

      “In that letter, Ms. Lovado’s physician stated she had been providing gender‐affirming care to Ms. Lovado for two years,” Froese related. “Ms. Lovado’s physician also stated that Ms. Lovado had funding to attend Arbutus [Laser Centre] and that in her opinion, the Treatment was medically necessary and would help Ms. Lovado integrate into a women’s correctional facility.”

      According to Froese, there is evidence indicating that Lovado “experienced adverse impacts as a result of the decisions not to allow her to attend at Arbutus to receive the Treatment, in particular that shaving was challenging for her because of her sensitive skin, she frequently cut herself using razors, and she felt depressed and sometimes suicidal about her transgender issues”.

      Froese explained that while she is not saying that Lovado is going to succeed in the case, there is enough basis to proceed with a hearing.

      The same also applied to Froese’s reasons for decision regarding the denial of halal diet to Lovado.

      “There is evidence indicating that Ms. Lovado repeatedly requested a Halal diet because of a sincerely held belief that it was part of her Muslim faith and she did not receive one during the material times,” Froese wrote. “In my view, that evidence is sufficient to make the connection necessary to take this element of her complaint out of the realm of conjecture.”

      B.C. Corrections has doubted Lovado’s claim about her belief in Islam.

      “In particular, there is evidence indicating that Ms. Lovado was seen on several occasions trading her vegetarian meals for regular meals and eating non‐Halal food,” Froese wrote.

      B.C. Corrections also pointed out that an Imam met with Lovado in prison and did not approve her request for a halal diet because she was “not a Muslim”.