Human Rights Tribunal denies B.C. Corrections bid to dismiss complaint by transgender former inmate

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      The Human Rights Tribunal has refused a request by B.C. Corrections to dismiss a complaint brought against it by a transgender former inmate.

      In a May 2 decision, tribunal member Emily Ohler wrote that Michael (Michelle) Wiens filed a complaint on December 4, 2017, against the B.C. Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General's Corrections Branch, Surrey Pretrial Services Centre.

      In her reasons for decision, Ohler wrote of the original complaint: "Ms. Wiens says that rather than incarcerating her in a female facility, she has been kept in solitary confinement within a male facility. She also says that Surrey Pretrial has not accommodated her requests for women's clothing, health care, searches, programming and pronouns either in a timely way or at all."

      Ohler also wrote that Surrey Pretrial was applying to dismiss the complaint under a section of the B.C. Human Rights Code that requires it to "show the complaint has no reasonable prospect of success".

      Because it appeared that B.C. Corrections did not fully follow its own policy regarding treatment of transgender inmates and because some of its staff possibly seemed unaware of this policy, as well as the "illegible" condition of much of the documentation the branch submitted, Ohler wrote: "I am not persuaded there is no reasonable prospect this element of Ms. Wiens' complaint will succeed."

      Wiens left custody in the summer of 2018.

      In a 2015 Straight story, a lawyer for the West Coast Prison Justice Society, Jen Metcalfe, said serious problems arise from holding transgender women in male facilities. “The problem with holding transgender women in men’s prisons is that they are at a huge risk for violence, sexual assault, and harassment,” she explained. “Most of our transgender clients say that they are verbally harassed by other prisoners, sometimes guards….Our federal transgender clients, I have had a few reports that they’ve been raped or physically assaulted.”

      At the time, a new B.C. Corrections transgender policy was in the process of being formulated.