Human Rights Tribunal Hears Access-to-Services Case in Ontario

I’d like to draw attention to a recent case in Canada brought to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), which as far as I can see, has so far only made waves with right-wing folk — such as the Ezra Levant crowd and Margaret Wente’s article in the Globe and Mail.  The case involves two complaints of denial of services against a plastic surgeon, Dr. Robert Stubbs, who specializes in tidying up and shaping genitalia.  Both complainants were refused services because they are transsexual.

The first complainant, Michelle Boyce, had GRS (Genital Reassignment Surgery) in 2001, performed in Wisconsin.  The result was flawed: one labial fold was larger than the other, and another intrusive flap of skin made sex painful.  In a consultation with Dr. Stubbs, she received a good price quote and then later in the examination room — when he found out that she is a post-operative transsexual — he abruptly ended the consultation and invited her to leave.

 The other complainant, Jenn Finnan, was refused treatment to augment her breasts.

 Dr. Stubbs’ case states that structure of genitals and chests of post-operative transsexuals differ from those of natal females, and therefore being transsexual was medically relevant.  While there is some virtue to this with regard to genital surgery, it is far less relevant with regards to the difference between a natal female chest and a developing female chest.  And even so, in both cases, there was no explanation given at the time, no discussion with clients of their alternatives, there was just an abrupt end-of-meeting refusal to treat transsexuals that would probably not have happened if the refusal stemmed from some other biological or physical condition — an indication that a personal bias was very likely at work.

 There is some discussion about the right of a doctor who performs elective surgeries to refuse treatment.  It takes on far more serious overtones, however, when other options are not available.  And when my own experience has shown me that refusal to treat is far more common among cosmetic surgeons than willingness (I know of only one doctor in the entire province of Alberta, for example, who will perform breast augmentation, and two others who only on rare occasions have relented in the past), and that those willing doctors tend to charge far more for those services, this does become an access-to-care issue. 

While the lack of treatment is not life-threatening in these cases, there certainly are such precedents in North America, most notably Robert Eads in Georgia (who was profiled in the documentary Southern Comfort), and was refused treatment for ovarian and cervical cancer by over two dozen doctors before finally finding a clinic once the cancer was too far gone to save him.  So the potential implications extend far beyond these cases.

But this story isnt written yet:  I challenge those in the Canadian GLB and T communities to watch this one, and, when / if they can, get involved.

    • Mark
    • February 20th, 2008

    Thats a tough call to make as a judge, because on one hand the surgeon can cite that he is not properly trained to deal with the implications of operating on a transsexual, but on the other hand he is in business and advertising genital correction surgery, which as a business cannot refuse on a basis of gender identity.

    • Anonymous (by order)
    • March 5th, 2008

    The surgeon didn’t refuse service because he was unqualified, he refused service because “he doesn’t do you people”. If this case wins against these individuals, watch out… who will doctors now refuse service to next? Will they not like your skin colour, or your religious beleifs, or maybe just them people.

  1. July 6th, 2009

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