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A Black trans woman mysteriously died in police custody. Authorities are refusing to stop misgendering her

Lily Wakefield November 4, 2020
The Special investigations Unit (SIU) has refused to stop misgendering a Black trans woman who died in police custody in Toronto, Canada

The Special investigations Unit (SIU) has refused to stop misgendering a Black trans woman who died in police custody in Toronto, Canada. (Andrew Lahodynskyj/Toronto Star via Getty)

A Black trans woman has died in police custody in Canada, but the unit investigating her death is refusing to stop misgendering her.

Just before 7am on 26 October, police in Toronto, Canada, received a call from someone who said their apartment was being broken into.

However, when they arrived it became clear that the person who had made the call was in the middle of a mental health crisis.

The trans woman had barricaded herself inside her apartment, but police eventually gained access and took her into custody under Canada’s Mental Health Act.

She was taken to hospital, where she began to suffer from physical symptoms. She was treated by hospital staff, but by 10.15am she had passed away.

No other details relating to her identity or her death have been released as an investigation is underway by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), “a civilian law enforcement agency which investigates incidents involving police officers where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault”.

While the Toronto Police Service (TPS) news release used gender neutral language in a release about the incident, the SIU release referred to the trans woman as male.

The 519, a local LGBT+ advocacy organisation, informed the SIU that the 30-year-old who had died was in fact a “much loved” trans woman, but the unit is refusing to amend its release.

In a statement, the organisation said: “Among the many questions for public officials, why has the SIU published a news release that misgenders the woman who died after being informed of this error?

“We refuse to wait any longer for information and answers from the TPS and the SIU that account for this loss of life… Those closest to this tragic loss, family and friends, are owed answers. Those in our communities are owed answers. More information is needed – and it is needed now.

“We demand that the Toronto Police Service and the Special Investigations Unit uphold their responsibility for transparency and accountability, and provide the public with more information about the circumstances that led to the death of the 30-year-old Black trans woman who was taken to hospital by police.

“What happened? Silence, in the face of such loss, only serves to cause greater harm.”

Justin Khan, the director of legal services at The 519, told CBC that when the organisation contacted the SIU to let them know that they had misgender the trans woman, “they stated that they have not made contact with the family so they are unable to amend the statement”.

He added: “There’s no reason why the SIU couldn’t have used a gender-neutral news release if they weren’t able to verify that information.

“This is an individual who’s passed away. When we talk about misgendering … we’re advocating for this individual and for their family that they be remembered and recognised as the person that they were.”

More: black trans women, Canada, misgender, Toronto, trans violence, trans women, transphobia

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