Trans people have more legal problems but are less likely to formally act on them: CBA report

Issues stem from mistrust of and negative experiences with system, lack of resources: CBA pres.

Trans people have more legal problems but are less likely to formally act on them: CBA report
Steeves Bujold, CBA President

Trans people face a disproportionate number of legal problems and are less likely than cis people to formally act on them, said a new Canadian Bar Association report.

The CBA National Access to Justice Subcommittee and Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Community Section produced the report, Access to Justice for Trans People, in collaboration with the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinics Ontario (HALCO) and the TRANSforming JUSTICE: Trans Legal Needs Assessment Ontario Research Team.

The report’s findings indicate that the tendency not to act on legal problems largely stems from negative experiences with the legal system, a “well-founded mistrust of the legal system,” and a lack of financial resources, says Steeves Bujold, president of the CBA.

“They don't trust the system, for very good reasons, and the system seems to be not well-adapted to answer their legal needs.”

The report makes 40 recommendations, encompassing areas including improved public accountability and transparency, inclusive courts and administrative tribunals, support for trans legal professionals, professional training, identification documents, employment equity law reform, criminal law reform, and finances, housing, health, and social services.

While a boost in legal-aid funding and a threshold increase for eligibility are part of the solution, education is key, says Bujold.

“Even if you can afford a lawyer, or you have access to a budget to pay for a lawyer, if that lawyer doesn't understand your reality and cannot connect with you and establish a relationship of trust, we don't have the fundamentals to have a good professional relationship, and it's certainly starting on a bad note.”

“Funding is really important, but it needs to come with education and making sure that the legal professionals are well equipped to assist and answer the needs of the trans community.”

The CBA’s board of directors established an Advisory Group on Inclusion and Access to Justice for Trans, Non-Binary and Gender Diverse People, which will convene its first meeting next month. The advisory group will help the CBA determine what programs and policies it can execute to best address the issues faced by those communities.

The report emphasizes that the solutions to the access-to-justice problems faced by the trans community should be led by its members. “It's a question of empowerment. The answers should come from the community,” says Bujold.

“Although there has been some progress in the treatment of trans, non-binary and gender diverse people in a few areas of our justice system, we continue to experience discrimination, harassment and violence in many aspects of our lives, including attempts to retrench any modest gains we achieve,” says Lee Nevens, chair of the CBA Advisory Group on Inclusion and Access to Justice for Trans, Non-Binary and Gender Diverse People. “The data and recommendations in this report are a useful addition to the work in this area and will be used as a catalyst for discussions and action on improving access to justice for trans people.” 

The CBA announcement of the report includes a statement from HALCO, which says that the legal system is often the “root cause” of trans’ people’s problems, solutions must go beyond the recommendations laid out in the report. “Law and policy reform is required, led by trans people, as is a commitment to ongoing reform by institutions and individuals within the justice system to improve,” said the statement.

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