Trans Health Care in Canada Needs Major Improvement

Written on 06/04/2021
Staff Columnist

The transgender community in Toronto is insisting federal government change trans and gender-affirming health care across the country - CTV News reports

Experts encourage the provinces and territories to look at the Yukon as an example of how trans health care coverage works.

“The new coverage policy in the Yukon is undoubtedly the gold standard,” Ayden Scheim, co-principal investigator at Trans PULSE Canada and professor of epidemiology at Drexel University in Philadelphia, explained to CTV News.

Now, transgender people and lawyers are demanding this standard of health care at the national level.

The Yukon Gender-Affirmative Care Policy debuted in March, and it’s being called the most thorough in the country by the trans community. The policy added a list of surgeries and procedures for trans and non-binary residents, but experts feel the rest of the country is falling behind. They believe it’s up to the federal government to get things going.

“I sincerely hope every other province and territory looks into this and says, ‘It’s time we pull ourselves together,” Fae Johnstone, a trans-educator, organizer and author, told CTV News.

“Time and again the federal government has stepped in and said, ‘This should be a priority’, in relation to mental health or long-term care or a variety of other issues, and I would like the same kind of prioritization of trans health by the federal government to really support it Ensure that provinces and territories have consistent and equitable access to trans health care,” Johnstone continued.

Right now, each province and territory offers varying levels of care for transgender and non-binary people. However, the feedback from the trans community is that there are barriers to getting access to health care. Many feel that there is a lack of education in trans health care in the Canadian healthcare system, leaving them to do the work on their own.

“Many doctors don’t know that [they can prescribe hormones]and don’t feel like they have the knowledge and skills to care for trans people, ”said Johnstone.

One issue raised was that the amount of health care a transgender or non-binary Canadian gets could depend on their GP or where they reside.

“If you are in a rural, remote community, what will your approach be?” Johnstone said, pointing out that gender-affirming doctors are primarily located in larger cities.

“They are hoping for a local doctor who has the expertise, but even then, most will have to go to Montreal or Toronto for access to care, especially surgery, which is not an easy task for many people,” she continued.

But many people in the trans community have expressed that they don’t feel comfortable discussing the topic with their family doctor.

Health care for gender-affirming procedures is viewed as a necessity and vital for a trans person’s mental health. Trans PULSE Canada did a study in 2019 that discovered 56 percent of trans and non-binary Canadians feel their mental health is ‘fair or bad’.

“Gender-affirming care and health care are beneficial for mental health and well-being,” said Johnstone. It can also make trans-Canadians who are vulnerable to violence safer in public spaces.

“I sincerely hope every other province and territory looks into this and says, ‘It’s time to bring our action together,” said Johnstone.

Scheim doesn’t feel the government will get things done at a federal level, but he thinks the Yukon’s model is something for all provinces and territories to follow.

“My recommendation would be that all provinces and territories follow the leadership of the Yukon,” he explained. “There is now a model policy that people can adopt and say, ‘The Yukon is doing this, why don’t we do it’.”

(Image Credit: Eric Audras / Getty Images)