Overview of Canada
Canada has built a reputation off of being one of the safest places for LGBTQIA2S+ people and refugees. Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms makes it illegal at the Constitutional level to discriminate on the basis of gender identity and expression. You have the right by law to be referred to by your correct name, gender, and pronouns, no matter your gender expression or legal ID. Trans people may change their legal gender to M, F, or X. Surgery and hormones are not required to change one’s legal gender or name in Canada.
Employment, healthcare, and housing discrimination against trans people is illegal, but of course discrimination still exists. Conversion “therapy” has not been federally banned but is explicitly illegal in several regions of Canada.
Canada is such a large country that each province/territory is distinct from the next. The official languages of Canada are English and French, but English is more widely understood than French by far. In general, major cities have more access to trans-specific or inclusive resources than smaller towns, and resources also vary province to province. Larger cities, such as Vancouver and Toronto, are popular places to live because of their LGBTQIA2S+ communities, large immigrant populations, and many trans-specific resources.
Canada’s healthcare system is mostly public, and mostly good, but each province makes its own rules. Basic healthcare coverage for permanent residents and Canadian citizens is provided by the province or territory you live in. This covers things like family doctor appointments and visits to the hospital. Provincial health insurance coverage varies in its coverage of dental care, prescription drugs, and trans-specific care, and you may have to pay a small or large amount depending on the procedure. Usually, dental and prescription coverage is supported through private insurance or through school or work. Some gender affirming surgeries will be fully or partially covered.
Canada is one of the most difficult places to immigrate to if you do so as a non-asylum seeker, with near-unattainable standards for skilled workers, so you should thoroughly consider the best immigration option for your situation. You can begin the application process for refugee status inside or outside of Canada. This page has information about your eligibility as a refugee in Canada. Most trans applicants whose applications are accepted will be classified as convention refugees. If possible, do not travel through any other countries on your way to Canada. Do not travel through the United States, because if you do, you may be forced to apply in the USA instead of Canada.
Outside of Canada
If you begin your application for refugee status outside of Canada, you will be going through an organization like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which selects people to go to Canada, or you can be sponsored privately. Other organizations, such as Rainbow Railroad, can coordinate and sponsor applications for specifically LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers. If you intend to begin your application outside of Canada, you should contact these organizations for help.
Inside of Canada
If you are beginning your claim inside of Canada, you can make a claim at any Canadian Port of Entry, sending an email to Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), or applying at an IRCC office. Those who cross the border from illegitimate points of entry will not be penalized if their case determines them to be a refugee, but you will be treated better if you enter the country through an official port of entry. Even if you have a valid visa that allows you entry into Canada, it is recommended that you begin your refugee application at the port of entry, as delaying your claim will hurt your case.
When you arrive at a port of entry, declare that you intend to apply for refugee status and declare your reason why; you must be truthful. You will be escorted to a room where a border officer will interview you. You have the right to an interpreter that speaks your language and dialect if you request one, and you have the right to request a different interpreter if you believe there will be miscommunication. All the information you give while making your application must be true and must demonstrate that you are unsafe in your country. If the border officer determines that you are eligible, they will refer your case to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). You will be given instructions for a medical exam and your IRB hearing. Cases can take weeks to months to be decided.
When you make your claim, you will also need to provide any and all forms of original identification documents, whether or not they are legal. This includes fake, forged, and stolen documents. Bringing supporting documents that prove or support your claim is recommended. If these documents are not originally in English or French, you will need to get translated copies of your documents before the IRB can make a decision on your case. Bring two photos of yourself. Write your name and birthdate on the back of one of the photos.
You can find the forms and application guides for the refugee application process here. You do not need to worry about completing these forms now; if you do not have the application package when you enter Canada, you will be given one at the port of entry where you make your claim. For a better idea of how other people’s experiences have been, see this summary of experiences compiled by Sojourn House and the Canadian Council for Refugees.
You will be given a temporary ID while your application is being processed. In most cases, your temporary refugee ID will be in your legal name and gender. Some people have gotten their refugee ID’s changed by having a lawyer write to the government. After a decision is made on your case, you will be able to change this information on your Canadian ID by submitting a form. You have the option to select M, F, or X as your gender.
You can apply for a work or study permit if eligible. You should contact an LGBTQ+ refugee or immigration organization for legal help, and to guide you in the emigration process. There are many services and resources available for refugees, which you should research specifically for the city and province of your destination.
Protected persons such as refugees can become permanent residents and Canadian citizens. People whose refugee applications are accepted by the IRB are able to begin their permanent residency application immediately.
Unfortunately, your application must be made in the name and gender on your passport or other legal documents. It is important to note that despite this, you have the right by Canadian law to be referred to by the correct name and pronouns throughout the emigration process, with your legal name only used when legally necessary. There is a space within the Basis for Claim Form where you can write your correct gender identity.
At all points in the application process, you have the right to an interpreter. You have the right to an interpreter that speaks and understands your language and dialect.
You have the right to healthcare in Canada while your application is being processed. Canada provides health coverage to all eligible refugee claimants, even before your case is decided, under the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP). You will be covered under the IFHP for your all your health needs, including prescription drugs. You will automatically be covered by the IFHP if you are eligible to make an asylum or refugee claim, including for the medical exam that is part of your application. You may be able to also apply for a work permit or study permit during this time.
This is the Basis of Claim Form you will be given to fill out once you start your claim in Canada. You can use the questions here as a guide to what information is important when making your application. For detailed information and tips on how to make your claim, see this info guide.
United Nations Resources