The Incarceration of Avery Edison

11 Feb

Here in Canada, we tend to think of ourselves as claiming a sort of moral high ground when it comes to social justice issues. We think of ourselves as liberated, fair, and anti-oppression; we look down on other countries for their medieval legislature, patting ourselves on the back for being so good, so forward-thinking, so tolerant. And then, every once in a while, an event occurs that proves just how awful and backwards we really are.

On Monday morning, 25 year old British comedian Avery Edison tried to enter Canada through Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, hoping to visit her partner and pick up a few of the possessions she had left behind after moving home to England. Knowing that she had previously overstayed her student visa, she travelled on a non-refundable return ticket and brought with her a copy of her London lease – unfortunately, this was not good enough. She was denied entry and detained by Canadian immigration officials, a fact which she admitted was her own fault:

It was while she was being interviewed by an Immigrations Canada officer that things started to go from being unfortunately inconvenient to nightmarish. Edison, who is trans* and whose passport lists her gender as female, noticed that the officer kept switching between masculine and feminine pronouns when discussing her over the phone. She then overheard him say that he had “one male for pickup” [emphasis my own]. She was told that she would be placed in a solitary cell due to her status as a pre-operative male-to-female, a fact that didn’t exactly thrill her but which she found unsurprising.

She asked if she could go home to England, but was told that was not a possibility.

She then had to submit to an examination by a nurse to determine where she would be sent. It was decided that because of her male genitalia, she would have to go to Maplehurst Correctional Complex, an all-male facility. This, in spite of the fact that her passport lists her as female. This, in spite of the fact that there is a trans* unit at the nearby Vanier Centre for Women. This, in spite of the fact of the high rate of violence against trans* folks in the general population, let alone the prison population.


And this is where I lose it. I mean, really lose it. I lose everything – my mind, my temper, my faith in humanity. What the fuck kind of government do we have in this country? How can a so-called progressive population stand the fact that we still have people in charge who think that you can tell someone’s gender based on a physical examination? How can anyone, anyone think that it’s all right to put a person in such a potentially harmful, violent situation? How is this happening in Canada, in this day and age, with all of our so-called tolerant and liberal values?

Before you start to roll your eyes at all of this, before you make any proclamations that start out with, “well, of course I’m sympathetic, but -,” imagine how humiliating it would be to be constantly questioned about your professed gender, even though you have official government documentation to back you up. Imagine how horrific it would be to be asked to submit to a physical exam to have your gender, which you have already disclosed and which is written on your passport, determined. Imagine how frightening it would be to be sent to a facility where you stand a high chance of suffering physical, emotional, verbal and, of course, sexual abuse.

Now imagine if that fear was something that you lived with, on one level or another, every day of your life. You would have to live your life always walking on a knife’s edge, never sure just how much information you can relay to any given person – information that cisgender people would give out without thinking twice. You would spend your days hoping that people can view you as who you are, but are never surprised when they call you by the wrong name or the wrong pronoun. You would have to answer all of the same questions, personal, prying, awful questions, over and over and over, because people just don’t want to get it. All of this because you committed the great and horrible crime of having a gender that does not align with the genitalia you were given.

Edison is currently being held at Maplehurst, and will be there until at least Monday. Her partner, Romy Sugden, has been able to visit her, and reports that the guards have continued to misgender her. According to Sugden, one staff member, after being corrected repeatedly on Edison’s gender, said, “I don’t care, she’s a man to me.” A friend of Edison’s took a picture of this staff member in order to file a report, but was forced to delete the picture.

You would think that all of this would be illegal here in progressive Canada, but it’s not. According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission,

Transgendered people may be placed with those of the sex with which they do not identify.

Take a moment to re-read that, and really let it sink it. Transgender [not transgendered – the law doesn’t even bother to get the term right] people may be placed with those of the sex with which they do not identify. This is government-speak for we do not give a shit about your professed gender, our only interest is in punishing you whatever way possible. This is very, very fucked up.

This has to change. Action has to be taken, not just for Avery Edison’s sake, but for the sake of all trans* prisoners and detainees. The personal indignity is too high and the threat of violence is too great for us to be able to look the other way. This is something that has to happen now.

If you are in Toronto, there will be a rally held here on Saturday, February 15th. You can find the details here.

Other things you can do:

– You can call Goran Vragovic, the Canadian Border Services Agency Director General, at 905 803 5590 and request Avery Edison’s release

– You can send support to NDP members, including NDP MPs Randall Garrison and Peggy Nash, who are working to help Edison in particular and to change the discriminatory laws in general.

– You can check out the #freeavery hashtag on twitter

– You can share this post, or any other post about Avery Edison, and let everyone know what’s happening

– You can do anything within your power to make this a more visible issue

Because this issue is really, really important.

You can find all of Edison’s and her partner’s tweets here about everything that has happened so far.


UPDATE: Edison’s partner just announced that she will be transferred to a women’s prison, either tonight or tomorrow:

However, the hearing is set for tomorrow and Edison is still in need of a lawyer:

Sources are now confirming that Edison was moved to the Vanier Centre for Women.

I will keep you updated on the situation, and let you know how and where donations can be made.


Avery is going home!

26 Responses to “The Incarceration of Avery Edison”

  1. AliKlip February 11, 2014 at 11:06 pm #

    Reblogged this on …Because Being A Woman Ain't Easy and commented:
    As my blog title states, ‘being a woman ain’t easy’. Here’s hoping Avery is recognised for the person she is and released immediately…

  2. studentlondon3 February 11, 2014 at 11:11 pm #

    Reblogged this on Living La Vida London and commented:
    This is pretty disgraceful, and though this blog generally keeps it pretty breezy, I couldn’t just leave this post from The Belle Jar.

  3. Rosie February 11, 2014 at 11:17 pm #

    Thank you so much for writing about this. As always, you’ve done so from the heart. This young woman is in a terrifying situation that never should have happened and I hope her nightmare is over soon.

  4. Rosie February 11, 2014 at 11:23 pm #

    Reblogged this on FEMBORG.

  5. KarinKateriKei February 11, 2014 at 11:32 pm #

    Reblogged this on The Eclectic Poet and commented:
    Not my usual poetry reblog but this issue is important. Here’s hoping that Avery is realeased immediately. As a Canadian, I am horrified that this has happened here and I agree that this law must change.

  6. Frances Rae February 11, 2014 at 11:34 pm #

    Thank you for this.

  7. Dadicus Grinch February 12, 2014 at 12:40 am #

    Proud of you for being a voice for this young woman. Glad she is being transferred. Thanks for bringing this travesty to light.

  8. thinkthefeeling February 12, 2014 at 12:41 am #

    Immigration is definitely still an issue in Canada… Interesting case, topic and writing which make this article, I think, a really good one!

  9. myfemalepersuasion February 12, 2014 at 1:38 am #


  10. Janet isserlis February 12, 2014 at 2:03 am #

    thank you for this update. could I please repost it, with attribution, to tumblr, where people are also worried about Avery?

    • Janet isserlis February 12, 2014 at 2:04 am #

      and.sorry. just saw your ok to share widely. will do

      thank you

  11. haddayr February 12, 2014 at 3:44 am #

    Reblogged this on Have a Heart of Fire; Have a Heart of Gold and commented:
    The problem of trans* women being put in prisons with male inmates apparently is not exclusive to the US. This essay is really good and explains a lot, and gives us some ideas for how we can help.

  12. chavisory February 12, 2014 at 5:00 am #

    I’m…at a loss as to why they wouldn’t just deport her back to England? Other than to just be egregious?

  13. DysthymiaBree February 12, 2014 at 5:38 am #

    NMG, that is terrible.

  14. Amanda Martin (writermummy) February 12, 2014 at 8:14 am #

    Reblogged this on writermummy and commented:
    Shocking reading, please share

  15. Spherical Manga February 12, 2014 at 8:18 am #

    So in your country, there’s an actual facility for trans people? Hate to break it to ya, but your very advanced.

  16. carmillavoiez February 12, 2014 at 11:42 am #

    Reblogged this on Carmilla Voiez.

  17. peacewisdomprosperity February 12, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

    This is so very messed up!! We think that we’re so much better than other countries, that we have rights here, dignity…but this is yet another incident added to the list that makes me realize how backwards some laws still are. Thank you for passing this information on, I will do the same on my end and let’s hope Avery can get back home soon and this situation not be left behind and buried under Olympic coverage. This needs to be straightened out…

  18. Honore February 12, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    Thanks so much for sharing this story!

  19. Poblo James (Jumpy) February 12, 2014 at 6:02 pm #

    This is sad. But i like how she BROKE THE LAW is not an issue. Fucking white privilege.

  20. Rilian February 12, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

    Nooo it is transgendered. It’s an adjective. transgender is a noun. And you can’t say “I’m a transgender” because transgender is a different kind of noun than “woman” or “engineer”. You can say “I’m a transgendered person” or “I’m transgendered”. I HATE being called “transgender”. You didn’t finish the word.

  21. anon February 12, 2014 at 10:24 pm #

    The OHRC documented quoted is not a legal document but a discussion paper. Also there isn’t a single link to any sources for any of this beyond tweets from Ms. Edison and co. Granted it has made the news but this is some sloppy writing.

  22. silkpurseproductions February 16, 2014 at 3:18 pm #

    This certainly was an eye opener.

  23. Arcee Elliott February 18, 2014 at 5:25 pm #

    This was a travesty. I’m glad that she’s back home now, but the whole debacle is an embarrassment to the western world as a whole. She broke the law, and should have done her time for it. But she was clearly and legally identified as a woman, and thus should have gone into a women’s jail — not a jail for men. I mean, Christ. I know American prisons in a more personal way, I’m not entirely sure if Canadian prisons operate in the same fashion; however, a woman like Avery – well. I’m just glad they finally wised up, and she was able to get home. Still, it’s frankly bullshit that they put her in jail when she brought along documentation indicating that she was living in the UK. It’s not like she was sneaking into the country if she brought a lease and documentation of her residency in Britain. Also, that quoted law is complete fucking bullshit.

    Transgendered people aren’t *identifying* with any particular gender. They ARE that gender. That’s all there is to it. End of story. Avery Edison is a woman. It doesn’t matter what physical parts or sexual organs we have. The fact that there’s still a phobia about that is just infuriating.


  1. Lightning Round – 2014/02/26 | Free Northerner - February 26, 2014

    […] progressive population stand the fact that we still have people in charge who think that you can tell someone’s gender based on a physical examination?” One of the most insane sentences written by man. Related: How dare they use […]

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