A woman has filed a human rights complaint against a Toronto shelter for female recovering addicts, claiming staff forced her to share a small double
A woman has filed a human rights complaint against a Toronto shelter for female recovering addicts, claiming staff forced her to share a small double room with a pre-operative male-to-female transgender person.
The formal complaint against the Jean Tweed Centre, which runs Palmerston House, followed Kristi Hanna’s efforts to inquire about her own legal rights in this unusual situation, only to be told by Ontario’s Human Rights Legal Support Centre that, by describing her new roommate as a “man,” Hanna was the one engaged in illegal discrimination.
Hanna, 37, is a former paramedic who has lately worked in the service industry, and has been struggling with the lingering effects of sexual abuse and resulting problems with addiction to alcohol and cocaine. She described herself as an “active ally in the LGBTQ community,” but said this conflict has left her feeling as if vulnerable women are unable to voice their own gender-based rights for fear of violating someone else’s.
“It’s affecting everyone in the house. This can completely ruin your recovery, let alone your safety, let alone your life,” Hanna said in an interview.
She spent two nights sharing the room — constantly looking over to make sure her roommate was still in bed, she said — before taking an indefinite leave from the shelter. Hanna had lived for seven months at the central Toronto facility, located in an old Victorian house, but since last week has been staying with friends on couches, as a “transient,” she said. “Those two nights were hell for me.”
In her formal complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, Hanna alleges the shelter “admitted a male bodied transgender into the safety of my home, bedroom and safe spaces.” She claims this has caused her stress, anxiety, rape flashbacks, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and sleep deprivation.
“We were all choked by our own anxiety, our crippling PTSD symptoms. You could cut the tension in the house,” she said. She described other women having rape flashbacks, threatening suicide, and one requiring hospitalization.
Lucy Hume, the outgoing executive director of the Jean Tweed Centre said her agency is “fully aware of the requirements under the Ontario Human Rights Code and are well known for our work in providing trauma-informed care across our programs.”
“With respect to accommodating trans women, we do not discriminate; nor do we impose modifications with respect to accommodation,” Hume said in a written statement to the National Post. “We do, however, do our best to meet the needs of all parties affected in a way that complies with the requirements of shelter standards and trauma-informed practice.”
The dispute began in mid-July, when the transgender woman arrived and, according to Hanna, was acting odd and failed a sobriety test. Residents must be clean for a month before they are admitted. After some time in detox, the trans woman was admitted July 20 and assigned to Hanna’s bedroom, a double room with beds about five feet apart.
Hanna said the woman is in her late 20s, has facial hair, chest hair, and wears large black combat boots that “trigger” her with their thumping. She said at one communal dinner, the roommate talked about having had a wife in the past, and a pregnant fiancée, and was overheard talking about some unidentified women as “hot” and expressing her preference for Latina women. Hanna said her mannerisms came across as “piggish” and inappropriate.
The Post was unable to contact the trans woman on Thursday.
Hanna said she told staff this person made her feel vulnerable and scared, a view she shared with other residents, some of whom signed a petition to staff.
“All of us were completely upset and flabbergasted, pretty much, and instantly all full of fear. They won’t even allow a man on the property without permission by the staff and all the residents. And we had no pre-warning of any of this. There was never any discussions. It was never mentioned. We were all just blindsided,” Hanna said. “Everyone in the house has had at some point male-enforced trauma. This is not about discrimination, this is about the safety of male-enforced trauma victims.”
She said shelter staff told her: “We’re all about inclusion and it’s unfortunate that you feel this way… Deal with it or leave.”
She was offered the alternative of moving to a room that, because it leads to a fire escape, does not even have a door that closes. She declined.
With the help of a family friend, she inquired about her own rights with the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, which provides guidance to potential human rights complainants.
Her friend, Peta Nankivell, described Hanna as “brash,” and said that in the phone call she was angry and under stress, and used male pronouns to emphasize her objections. That led the advisor to end the call, concerned that it was in fact Hanna who was violating human rights law by her words and behaviour — which could lead the roommate to file a complaint of her own, putting the Centre in a conflict of interest.
“What you’ve told me is potentially discriminatory and potentially a violation of the law, and that individual may file against you in the future, and our role is to keep those conflicts of interest in mind,” the advisor said. No one from the Centre was available to comment Thursday.
Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, said that as a general rule, women’s shelters have the right to restrict their accommodation to women.
“A trans person should have access to the shelter that matches their lived gender identity,” she said in a statement to the Post. “However, this does not necessarily require that a cis and trans woman share the same bedroom. An appropriate balancing of the rights of both women may require that one of the women be provided with non-shared accommodation.”
The Ontario Human Rights Code says everyone has a right to equal treatment with respect to services and occupation of accommodation without discrimination because of various grounds, including gender identity and expression. It also says everyone who occupies accommodation has a right to freedom from harassment by other occupants because of the same grounds.