Canada is now officially a transgender no-fly zone.

This is the result of new rules, introduced last July, but only now coming to light, which state that an air carrier “shall not transport a passenger if … the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents”.

The reason that it has taken so long for this provision to percolate through to public awareness is that it was introduced not through formal legislation before the Canadian legislature, but as part Identity Screening Regulations, implemented unilaterally by the Ministry of Transportation, in support of Canada’s so-called Passenger Protect programme.

Its impact will be felt first by members of the Canadian transgender community, who may only change the ‘sex’ designation on a Canadian Passport, on provision of proof that surgery has taken place, or will take place within one year. This, it is argued by blogger, Christin Scarlett Milloy, means that non-operative transgender persons, gender nonconforming (genderqueer) persons, and the vast majority of pre-operative transsexual persons will find it literally impossible to obtain “proper” travel documentation.

However, there is likely to be some degree of impact on trans persons from any other country travelling through Canada on documents that fail to meet these new criteria.

A petition calling on the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, to have these regulations set aside has been launched on change.org.

Meanwhile, cynics are speculating whether this move is ill-thought accident – or a rather more sinister piece of revenge by Conservative MP and Minister for Transport, Denis Lebel.

The change to regulations took place shortly after the federal election in 2011. In the previous parliament, Bill C-389, a bill to amend the Human Rights Code to explicitly enshrine protections against discrimination for transgender people, had successfully passed in the House of Commons, only to die on the Senate floor when the election was declared.

As Ms Milloy asked yesterday: “Is the timing of this disturbing and blatantly discriminatory regulatory adjustment merely a coincidence?

Analysis

Some people have been asking how many individuals have actually been prevented from flying by these regulations: but that misses the point entirely – which is that the use of perceived gender in this fashion is deeply offensive not simply to trans men and women, but to all men and women who fail to live up to societally imposed “norms” of gender and appearance.

A particular issue, which i have reported on in the past, is how women whose appearance is in any way “butch” or masculine frequently report difficulties in some women’s spaces.

While some will inevitably defend this move on grounds of “security”, it is important to understand what is being required here. No-one is objecting to government rules that require an individual’s appearance to match to their description on their pasport – or indeed that they should be allowed to duck out on biometric measures such as fingerprinting or retinal scans.

But this is about something else: whether an individual fits with the preconceived notions of what a border guard believes constitutes a “normal” appearance for their declared gender.

Over the last twelve months, Australia has stated its aim of permitting an “indeterminate” status to be recorded on passports for intersex individuals: and the UK Government has revealed that it is examining the entire question of whether gender markers on official documents are useful – not just, as critics would have it, for reasons of “political correctness”, but because there are genuine doubts that it really adds much that is useful.

This makes the Canadian regulation looks all the more like a seriously retrograde – and spiteful – step.

Jane Fae is an independent writer and sexual rights activist.