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Tom Zytaruk photo

Transgender inmate makes human rights complaint against Surrey Pretrial

Michael (Michelle) Wiens claims discrimination for being housed in ‘male facility’

A transgender inmate has lodged a human rights complaint against Surrey Pretrial Services Centre alleging discrimination “regarding provision of a service, facility or accommodation on the basis of gender expression, gender identity and sex.”

Michael (Michelle) Wiens claims discrimination for being housed in a “male facility” instead of a “female facility.”

The case is before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, with tribunal member Emily Ohler presiding. Ohler denied the Corrections Branch’s application to have Wiens’ complaint dismissed.

“In my view, as the complaint is proceeding, it would not be helpful at this stage to parse the remaining allegations one by one as there is little efficiency to be gained,” she wrote in her reasons for decision. “On such an application, the respondent has the burden to show the complaint has no reasonable prospect of success.”

Ohler noted Wiens claims Surrey Pretrial failed “to accommodate her in a timely way or at all in respect of providing her with female clothing; being mindful of her privacy in relation to bathroom and shower use; providing her with requested items from the female facility’s canteen, trying to house her in a shared room with a male inmate; and addressing her with incorrect pronouns and permitting other inmates to subject her to discriminatory comments.”

Corrections denies Wiens’ allegations.

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Ohler noted in her reasons there are roughly 2,600 adult inmates in B.C.’s 10 corrections centres and there is one centre exclusively for females. Surrey Pretrial primarily houses male inmates but occasionally houses women on a case-by-case basis.

These inmates are on remand awaiting trial, transfer once sentenced, serving a sentence of two years less a day, or are immigration detainees.

Weins was admitted to Surrey Pretrial on Nov. 2, 2017 and has an “extensive history with Corrections having been incarcerated at various facilities between 2003 and 2017,” Ohler noted. “It appears Ms. Wiens left Corrections’ custody in summer 2018.”

“Corrections says that Ms. Wiens did not indicate to staff at Surrey Pretrial that she identified as female on her arrival. She did, however, request separate confinement for her own safety because of ‘peer issues.’”

On Nov. 8, 2017, Wiens submitted a request to be transferred to the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women, writing “I don’t think it’s fair that I am in a male jail,” and on the following day requested women’s underwear, clothes, and for information about transgender rights. Wiens later asked for a green uniform, worn by female inmates at ACCW to replace the red uniform issued to male inmates at Surrey Pretrial, and asked to share a cell with another transgender inmate.

Ohler noted Wiens also requested lipstick, “female programs” and complained about not being able to “express her gender by decorating a sign on her door with flowers and hearts.”

Weins wrote on Feb. 14, 2018, “I am a female identified inmate. As such I feel that being classified within an all-male jail is wrong and ask for you to re-classify me to a womens jail as I am female and identify as such.”



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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