New Gender Neutral Ontario Health Cards Make It Harder To Get A Passport

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Ontario's decision to go gender neutral on its health cards and driver's licences is making it more difficult to get a passport — because the province didn't consult the federal government before making the switch.

Hamilton native Rachael Bestard found that out the hard way when she applied for a passport this week.

Bestard, 24, is going to Europe in October, she hopes, which would be her first trip out of the country since she was a kid. That's when she last had a passport.

A passenger holds a Canadian passport before boarding a flight in Ottawa on Jan 23, 2007. (Photo: Tom Hanson/CP)

She went through the usual motions — getting guarantor signatures, passport photos, and finding her birth certificate. The other required documentation is government-issue photo ID, which includes her name, date of birth and sex.

Bestard doesn't have a driver's licence, so she planned to use her Ontario Health Card.

She applied for a new one on June 24, but when it arrived, the card didn't have her sex on it — and because of that, her passport application was rejected.

"I was quite surprised. It feels a little absurd," she told CBC News.

service ontario
Service Ontario office in Kingston, Ont., on March 23, 2016. (Photo: Lars Hagberg/CP)

"I've been a female for 24 years, so it does feel a little strange."

Her headache is about to become all too real for some Ontarians. The province announced in June that it will start issuing health cards that no longer display information about a person's sex on the front of the card.

Beginning in early 2017, drivers will also have the option to select X, instead of an M for male or F for female, for their licences.

The Liberal government said it is making the changes "to ensure the fair, ethical and equitable treatment of people with trans and non-binary gender identity."

Bestard maintains this is a positive step for non-binary people, and one that she has absolutely no problem with. "I do understand the nuances of the LGBTQ community, and the challenges they face," she said.

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The issue, she says, is the headache that has been created by both levels of government not working together.

"There seems to be a lack of communication between the two levels of government at the moment, which is very odd. The lack of communication is quite surprising."

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Lindsay Wemp told CBC News that, "IRCC was not consulted as part of this initiative from the Government of Ontario."

Representatives from the provincial ministry of Government and Consumer Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bestard says she has been told by the province that if she is reissued a receipt for her temporary health card, that should have her gender on it, and that would be accepted on a passport application. She says that "seemed like news to the passport office," so it remains to be seen if that stopgap measure will work.

Her other option is an Ontario photo card, which would take four to six weeks to arrive by mail — likely too late to then also get a passport in time for her trip.