A British transgender woman has returned to the UK after being detained in a Canadian men’s prison by immigration officials, despite being legally registered as female.
Stand-up comedian Avery Edison had overstayed on her previous visa and was detained by the Canada Border Services Agency when she tried to re-enter Canada.
Edison, 25, who is identified legally in her British IDs and passport as female, was returning to Canada to visit her girlfriend Romy Sugden on Monday, and had booked a return flight back to the UK on 3 March.
But she was intercepted by border officials upon her arrival from Heathrow because she had stayed in Canada after a previous student visa had expired.
As she did not have access to funds for a direct flight back to London, Edison chose to be detained for an inadmissibility hearing and began posting updates of her situation on Twitter.
Change of plan AGAIN. Will be moved, soon, to Maplehurst correctional facility and assessed by a nurse before placed in male or female cell.— Avery Edison (@aedison) February 11, 2014
It was after this that Edison found herself faced with detention in the Maplehurst Correctional Complex male-only facility in Ontario.
Edison told The Independent that she was told "I needed to be placed in the men's correctional facility because I am pre-operative and still have male genitalia".
According to the Toronto Star, when her lawyer contacted the Correctional Services ministry, she said she was asked if Edison had breasts and male genitalia based on a clinical checklist.
After discovering that she was transgender, Edison said officers began referring to her as a 'he', treatment that allegedly continued throughout her detention, during which she was kept in solitary confinement.
“I have one male for pick-up, and it’s for a wet cell.” - Officer talking to detention centre about me on the phone.— Avery Edison (@aedison) February 11, 2014
Sugden, who took over Edison's Twitter account and continued to post updates, told Canada.com that when she asked authorities why Edison was being held in a men’s facility, she was told it was because "male genitals equals male prison and it doesn’t matter".
“When I asked why they were contravening Cdn [sic] law by housing a woman in a men's facility, employee informs me that she was told has male parts, so male prison. Then referred to Avery as he for the rest of the conversation," she later tweeted.
Sugden said officials told her Edison would be kept away from other inmates for her own protection.
Initial interviewing officer is telling another about my depression, keeps switching he/she. MY PASSPORT IS FEMALE.— Avery Edison (@aedison) February 11, 2014
Her story was quickly picked up by transgender activists, supporters and politicians from across the globe, with thousands using the hashtag #freeavery to bring attention to her situation.
After being detained in a men's prison for 17 hours, Edison was finally transferred to the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton before being granted permission to fly home in a detention hearing on Wednesday. She arrived back in London on Thursday morning.
Edison said: "I feel very lucky that I had so much support–both online and from my friends and partner–because without it I fear I may still be in detention, or may have faced an exclusion order.
"It feels like both a failure and a success to be home, and I'm sad that I didn't get to visit my girlfriend and other friends in Toronto, but happy to have my freedom again.
"I'm also really glad that this has been an opportunity for so many people to learn about the issues facing incarcerated transgender people, most–if not all–of whom are in far worse circumstances than I was."
A ministry spokesperson did not comment directly on Edison’s case, according to The Toronto Star, but said they are communicating with the border agency.
“Anyone with concerns about their treatment or care while in our custody can bring those concerns forward to the staff, superintendent of an institution, ministry officials, including the minister and deputy minister,” the spokesperson said.
“Classification recommendations and decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and are based on factual information and objective criteria.”