Toronto Star

Dec. 7, 2002. 01:00 AM

Sex-change delisting `prejudiced'

Probe finds OHIP bias against transsexuals Tribunal to decide on issue of coverage

KAREN PALMER
PUBLIC HEALTH REPORTER
TORONTO STAR

Ontario could soon be paying for sex change surgeries if a human rights tribunal finds the government discriminated against transsexuals when it quit offering compensation for the operation five years ago.

An Ontario Human Rights Commission investigation found the government's decision to cancel OHIP coverage was prejudiced. At least four separate complaints involving six people have been referred to an independent tribunal, which will meet in the new year to hear arguments about whether the discrimination was justified.

"This is more than a mild victory," said Susan Ursel, a human rights lawyer representing two complainants.

Her clients declined to speak to the media, but said through their lawyer that they're pleased with the decision.

Ursel said her clients had already begun the transition from male to female and were "caught in limbo" when the surgery was suddenly delisted by the Mike Harris government in 1998.

Dr. Ray Blanchard, who heads the Clinical Sexology Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said the government used to pay for about 10 surgeries each year, at an average total cost of about $120,000.

"When you compare that to what one heart bypass surgery would be, you get the perspective that we're not talking a lot of money here," he said.

A private Montreal clinic performs the surgery for $14,000, although Maxine Petersen, a psychological associate at the centre, said that since OHIP coverage was cancelled, many transsexuals are choosing to fly to Thailand, where the surgery costs $6,000 (U.S.).

The province first began paying for sex-change surgeries in 1969.

Blanchard said the sexology program has always viewed surgery as a treatment of last resort for patients diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a clinical illness characterized by a desire to be, or insistence that one is, of the opposite sex.

However, Petersen said that for some transsexuals, surgery is seen as the only option.

Copyright © 1996-2002. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.