How dangerous male offenders can enter women’s prisons in Canada

In Canada, a biologically male convict who identifies as a woman only has to make a simple request to be considered for a transfer into a women’s prison as a “gender diverse offender.”

For some prisoners who face no chance of parole, serving their sentences in a women’s institution offers an appealing alternative to the brutal conditions they face in male federal prisons. For one, women’s institutions are generally less violent and have lower security. Women prisoners also have access to different programs, including opportunities to see their children and even experience a campus-like environment.

Although life inside is not by any means a walk in the park for the inmates, women’s prisons are an entirely different reality compared to male institutions. Last year, all seven of the Canadian inmates who died as a result of a serious assault were serving sentences in male prisons. 

In today’s prison system, violent and sexually predatory men, who would otherwise never have access to women and children during the duration of their sentence, can freely mingle in one of the six women’s prisons in Canada.

According to data from Correctional Services Canada (CSC) as of 2020, there were 16 applications by “gender diverse” male inmates requesting to be transferred to a women’s facility. A majority, 10 inmates to be exact, had their transfers approved by Deputy Commissioner for Women, Angela Arnet Connidis. Connidis was appointed by the Minister of Public Safety and is the final decision-maker on every transfer of male-born prisoners to women’s facilities.

But how does an inmate who is biologically male get into a women’s prison? Based on current policy statements, inquiries with CSC officials, and an interview with a former federal prisoner and women’s rights advocate, True North has identified the process from the moment of conviction to the eventual transfer.

“44% of men (in prison) who identify as women are sex offenders…”
Heather Mason, founding member of Canadian Women’s Sex-Based Rights

“44% of men (in prison) who identify as women are sex offenders so every time I get a name, I request their parole document. And a majority of them are dangerous offenders, or they have long sentences and they can’t get parole so what they’re doing is because they can’t get out, then all of a sudden they’re requesting a transfer to a women’s prison,” former federal prisoner and founding member of Canadian Women’s Sex-Based Rights Heather Mason told True North. 

Several high-profile international cases of dangerous male convicts being transferred to women’s prisons have broken into the mainstream, raising public awareness of a formerly overlooked practice.

In Ireland, two transgender prisoners who were born men were sentenced to serve time in a women’s prison. Similarly after Scotland sent double rapist Isla Bryson into a women’s prison, public outcry led authorities in the country to reverse the decision and house him in a men’s facility. 

Canada too has received its share of negative international press coverage after male-to-female trans detainee Adam Laboucan was housed at Fraser Valley Institution for Women after raping an infant. 

“They’re castrating all of the pedophiles and rapists and they’re transferring them to the women’s prisons so what they’re saying is that the risk is associated with their penis. It’s not the person or the behavior. Nowhere in the risk assessment does it state that the risk is the penis but that’s how they’re treating it,” said Mason of Canada’s correctional policies. 

Prior to 2017, CSC policy only allowed male to female transgender offenders who had undergone gender-reassignment surgery to be admitted into women’s facilities.

“Pre-operative male to female offenders with Gender Dysphoria will be held in men’s institutions and pre-operative female to male offenders with Gender Dysphoria will be held in women’s institutions,” the former policy stated.

The policy changed when the Trudeau government passed Bill C-16.

Bill C-16 added “gender identity or expression” as an “identifiable group” to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. Today, simple self-identification is all it takes to be considered a woman by the Canadian correctional system. 

The contemporary process of transfer is guided by the Commissioner’s Directive 100 Gender Diverse Offenders, which officially came into effect in 2022. 

Correctional Services Canada – Flickr

Once a male-born offender is convicted and receives a sentence, a preliminary assessment is conducted by a parole officer. The assessment consists of an interview that covers the basics of language choice, religion, military service record, and ultimately, gender identity.

If the subject requests one or more gender-related accommodations – accommodations which include biological men requesting to be strip-searched by women correctional service officers or being provided with gender-appropriate clothing – the parole officer checks off the “Any offender identified gender considerations?” field. 

This automatically activates a gender identity expression “flag” on their individual protocol, triggering what’s known as a “Gender Consideration Need” within the CSC’s Offender Management System.

By this point, if the offender expresses a desire to have their gender needs accommodated by being placed in a women’s facility, the transfer process has virtually already begun.

Now that their “Gender Consideration Need” has been triggered and noted on their individualized protocol, the notification moves up the chain to the Correctional Manager or other superiors, depending on the circumstance. 

The next step is to trigger a “case conference” without delay to determine whether the male-born gender diverse offender fits the criteria to be housed in a women’s prison. Although case conferences must take place, they only serve as advisory bodies for the final-decision maker – Deputy Commissioner Connidis.

“Newly sentenced gender diverse offenders are provided with an opportunity to indicate if they have a preferred institution type. Should CSC have sufficient information to assess the offender’s risks and needs, a case conference will occur to determine the type of intake site,” CSC spokesperson Marie Pier Lécuyer told True North.

“In all cases, where an offender is requesting a penitentiary placement or voluntary transfer to a site that better aligns with their gender, the sending institution schedules a case conference. These work to assist staff in making informed decisions concerning offenders’ gender-related needs, and will ensure progress towards rehabilitation and reintegration into the community,” 

Case conferences are made up of the District Director or the Institutional Head of the men’s prison, the Regional Deputy Commissioner, and representatives from the Women Offender Sector and the Gender Considerations Secretariat, among others. Together, they discuss things like the offender’s individual needs, comments from the proposed receiving women’s institution, and risks of overriding health and safety concerns.

Correctional Services Canada – Flickr

During this time, the offender who requests to be housed in a women’s facility will have an opportunity to speak to the staff from any potential receiving site to ask questions about life in a women’s prison.

At the end of a case conference, the male-born prisoners are provided with the conference’s decision and have an opportunity to give a written or verbal presentation on the recommendation. If the transfer to a women’s prison is approved, it takes place “as soon as possible after the decision is rendered” by Deputy Commissioner Connidis.

“Offenders are generally transferred shortly after the decision maker has approved the transfer, depending on whether the transfer operation can occur by land or by air,” said Pier Lécuyer.

“The placement process is a very thorough as each request requires a robust assessment of offenders’ needs and risks, and takes into consideration any overriding health and safety concerns. Only if these concerns can be successfully mitigated, can a transfer occur,” she added.

True North asked CSC Canada whether, at any point along the way, women inmates in the receiving institutions were informed of or consulted regarding a biological male being transferred into their prison complex. CSC said that any information about an offender’s gender was only shared with department officials.

“Information about an offender’s gender will only be shared within CSC with those involved with the offender’s care and only when relevant, unless otherwise agreed to by the offender,” said Pier Lécuyer.

According to Mason, women prisoners have to go through extraordinary lengths and snooping to find out the details of the male-born gender diverse inmates they have to share a prison with. 

“I don’t think that there’s enough awareness and all the organizations that you would expect to help women, they’re all captured.”

“No, they never (get notified). Usually when a man gets transferred I get a phone call and the women are like ‘So and so is here, this is their name, I’m not sure of their real name yet. He’s about this age yet, he’s been inside this long, this is their crime.’ And then I go and try to track down who this man is and they are inside asking questions,” Mason told True North.

“I apply for the parole document and then they call back and I read it to them and that’s how they find out how serious of an offender that person is, so they’re never told. It’s usually me telling them.” 

According to Mason, although awareness is growing among the general public, traditional women’s groups have been largely silent on the matter due to the influence of gender ideology.  

“I don’t think that there’s enough awareness and all the organizations that you would expect to help women, they’re all captured,” Mason told True North.  

A solution to these problems might be to scrap the policy altogether – a move that’s unlikely given Canada’s decision to legislate gender self-identification as a protected category into the penal code. Alternatively, Mason suggests giving transgender women their own wings. 

“I think the better solution would be to create wings for them, then the wings could be tailored to their unique needs. That would be safer for women and it would also be safer for some of them. Men’s prisons are not easy, they’re rough,” said Mason.  


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