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WTF Wednesday: Authorities totally mishandle Avery Edison’s visa issue

Simon Treanor

On Monday, U.K. comedian Avery Edison was detained and later arrested at Toronto’s Pearson airport over an issue with her visa. Edison admits she overstayed her student visa while previously in Canada, and had returned to visit her girlfriend and collect some belongings she’d left behind.

 Avery Edison ‏@aedison  Feb 10

For those asking – I overstayed my student visa last time I was here. Which is why I came today with a non-refundable return flight (1/2)

Avery Edison ‏@aedison  Feb 10

This is 100% my fault, but it still sucks. I feel so helpless and trapped.

The arrest, as Edison says, sucks (and some have questioned the rationale of detaining someone in Canada for previously staying too long). Yet, it’s what happened after the arrest that makes this incident truly WTF-worthy. Edison, a transgender woman, was sent to the Maplehurst Correctional facility for men.

Staff at the Pearson airport reportedly used the wrong pronoun repeatedly—insisting on calling Edison “him.” When her girlfriend, Romy Sugden, later inquired about the decision to send Edison to a men’s facility—despite the fact that Edison identifies as a woman and is also identified as such on her passport—she was informed in no uncertain terms that “male genitals equals male prison and it doesn’t matter.”

Both were told the standard procedure for sex-segregated institutions, such as prisons and hospitals, only allows transgendered women who are post-operational to stay at female institutions. Apart from that, policies state, each situation must be taken at a “case-by-case” decision.

This is a problem within the system—it forces us to treat gender as a binary existence. And the staff at Pearson airport were just following the rules: bad, outdated rules that help justify a disturbing lack of understanding of the trans community, and a callous disregard of Edison’s human rights as a trans person.

Sadly this treatment was continued while she was at Maplehurst, as the guards and staff there also insisted on referring to her as male. They did segregate her from the other inmates for her own ‘protection’. As Sugden tweeted:

 Was promised that she would not be put in a cell, “because she’ll get beat up or worse.” Yeah, thats only her nightmare, she knows—

If we can take one positive from this awful incident, it’s perhaps this: many people agree the treatment Edison faced is totally unacceptable. As Bustle commented in an article on the subject, “By refusing to recognize Avery Edison’s gender, Canadian immigration officials have opened her up to trauma and violence that is both unnecessary and unacceptable.”

Not only that but, as the airport staff had left Avery with her phone while they tried to figure out what to do with her, she was able to tweet her experience in real time, keeping the internet up to date with her traumatic experience.

 Avery Edison ‏@aedison  Feb 10

Initial interviewing officer is telling another about my depression, keeps switching he/she. MY PASSPORT IS FEMALE.

Avery Edison ‏@aedison  Feb 10

The fact that I haven’t been approached by officers about these tweets is a stunning indictment of their lack of Google-fu.

This resulted in the story becoming widespread on the internet overnight, and led to many movements gaining strength online, such as the #FreeAvery on twitter gaining huge support, and a planned public protest in Queen’s Park this Saturday which was organized through Facebook.

And, even better, the public protest against Edison’s treatment seems to have work. Randall Garrison, an NDP MP, tweeted on Tuesday:

Randall Garrison @r_garrison

@LadyJaya working on getting an immediate transfer for Avery, then a policy change so that trans rights are respected by CBSA in detention.

Avery was transferred to Varnier Center for Woman Milton on Tuesday night, and now has legal representation for her hearing scheduled today.

To keep up with the Avery case, please follow #FreeAvery on twitter

For more information about the planned protest this Saturday visit here

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