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Indocile Bodies: Gender Identity and Strip Searches in Canadian Criminal Law*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2014

Kyle Kirkup
Faculty of Law, Common Law, University of Ottawa, 57 Louis Pasteur Street, Ottawa, ON K1N 6N5Canadakkirk
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This article examines what happens when non-normative genders and sexualities collide with the complicated world of criminal procedure. Grounded in a close reading of Forrester v. Peel (Regional Municipality) Police Services Board, a recent decision in which a trans detainee alleged discrimination in services on the basis of “sex,” the article connects strip searches to a larger system of corporeal power. Trans bodies are targeted not merely because they are perceived as different but also because of what that difference symbolizes: a failure of the regimes that regulate bodies into a sharp, essentialist gender binary. As such, trans bodies become a key site for simultaneous observation, normalization, and examination not only by the police but also by society at large.


Cet article se penche sur la question des sexes non normatifs et des sexualités dans le contexte du monde complexe des procédures criminelles. S'appuyant sur une lecture de Forrester v. Peel (Regional Municipality) Police Services Board et al., soit une décision récente où une prisonnière transsexuelle alléguait avoir subi une discrimination en raison de son sexe, cet article fait le lien entre les fouilles à nu et un système plus large de pouvoir corporel. Les corps « trans » sont ciblés non seulement parce qu'ils sont perçus comme différents mais aussi parce que cette différence symbolise quelque chose de particulier, à savoir un échec des régimes qui réglementent les corps à partir d'une construction binaire, rigide et essentialiste du sexe. Ainsi, les corps « trans » deviennent à la fois la cible d'observations, de normalisations et d'examens non seulement de la part de la police, mais aussi de la société dans son ensemble.

Research Article
Copyright © Canadian Law and Society Association 2009


1 [2006] H.R.T.O. 13 [Forrester].

2 R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19.

3 R. v. Golden, 2001 SCC 83, [2001] 3 S.C.R. 679, (2002) 207 D.L.R. (4th) 18 [Golden].

4 Ibid. at paras. 27–36.

5 Ibid. at paras. 49–117.

6 Ibid. at paras. 118–19.

7 Ibid. at para. 47.

8 Ibid. at para. 90.

9 Forrester at para. 3.

10 Ibid. at para. 1.

11 Ibid. at para. 4.

12 Ibid. at para. 5.

13 Ibid. at para. 6.

14 Ibid. at para. 16.

15 Ibid. at para. 22.

16 Ibid. at para. 24.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid. at para. 476.

19 Ibid. at para. 431.

20 Ibid. at para. 476. Unfortunately, the Human Rights Commission's opinion is silent as to what sorts of cues might lead police officers to seriously doubt the detainee's self-identification.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid. at paras. 440–42.

23 Golden at para. 94.

24 Forrester at para. 459 [emphasis added by the Human Rights Commission].

25 Ibid. at para. 463.

26 Ibid. at para. 476.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 Foucault's method has received considerable scholarly attention, and debates are ongoing. See, e.g., Foucault, Michel, “Questions of Method,” in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, ed. Burchill, Graham et al. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991)Google Scholar; Brass, Paul, “Foucault Steals Political Science,” Annual Review of Political Science 3 (2000), 305CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Dean, Mitchell, Governmentality: Power and Rule in Modern Society (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1999)Google Scholar; Foucault, Michel, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” in Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984, vol. 2, ed. Faubion, James D. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006)Google Scholar; Brown, Wendy, Politics Without History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001)Google Scholar.

30 Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans, by Sheridan, Alan (New York: Vintage Books, 1977)Google Scholar.

31 For an interesting discussion of the relationship between Foucaultian agency and power see, e.g., Butler, Judith, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993)Google Scholar. As Butler puts it, there is no position outside the field of power. She poses a number of questions about the relationship between power and individual agency:

Given that there is no sexuality outside of power, how can regulation itself be construed as a productive or generative constraint on sexuality? Specifically, how does the capacity of the law to produce and constrain at once play itself out in the securing for every body a sex, a sex position in language, a sexed position which is in some sense presumed by any body who comes to speak as a subject, an “I,” one who is constituted through the act of taking its sexed place within a language that insistently forces the question of sex? (Ibid., 95)

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33 For an in-depth discussion of homophobi c violence in Canada see, e.g., Janoff, Douglas, Pink Blood: Homophobic Violence in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Fleming, Thomas, “Criminalizing a Marginal Community: The Bawdy-House Raids,” in Deviant Designations: Crime. Law and Deviance in Canada, ed. Fleming, Thomas and Visano, L.A. (Toronto: Butterworths, 1983), 37Google Scholar.

34 2004 ONCJ 121, 7 M.V.R. (5th) 89, 62 W.C.B. (2d) 41 4 [Grenke].

35 2002 O.J. No. 1170, 93 C.R.R. (2d) 261, 53 W.C.B. (2d) 275 [Hornick].

36 For a discussion of reporting problems and the difficulty of evidentiary burdens in the context of racial profiling claims see, e.g., Tanovich, David M., The Colour of Justice: Policing Race in Canada (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2006)Google Scholar.

37 Grenke at para. 19.

38 Ibid. at para. 24.

39 Ibid. at para. 27.

40 Ibid. at para. 29.

41 The Court rejected Grenke's argument that the only remedy capable of addressing the breach of his Charter rights was a stay of proceedings, as the breach had no impact on the fairness of his trial. However, the Court held, at para. 40, that “[b]y being illegally strip searched, the applicant has, in a sense, already paid a penalty for the offences. Sentencing courts routinely take such extra-judicial consequences into account in determining appropriate dispositions.”

42 Hornick at para. 5.

43 Ibid. at paras. 20–55.

44 For a fuller discussion of contemporary clashes between those dwelling in non-normative genders and sexualities and the police see, e.g., Whittle, Stephen, Respect and Equality: Transsexual and Transgender Rights (London: Cavendish Publishing, 2002)Google Scholar, especially “The Praxis and Politics of Policing: Problems Facing Trans People,” 203.

45 Foucault, , “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” 148Google Scholar.

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47 Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble, 10th anniversary ed. (New York: Routledge, 1999), 175Google Scholar.

48 Foucault, , Discipline and Punish, 135Google Scholar.

49 Ibid., 135–36.

50 Ibid., 137.

52 Ibid., 30.

53 Butler, , Bodies That Matter, 34Google Scholar.

54 Ibid. Note that “being” belongs in quotation marks, so as not to imply that ontological weight is presumed. Instead, ontological weight is constantly being conferred, such that it is always being constituted within and by an operation of power.

55 Forrester at para. 392.

57 Ibid. at para. 393.

58 Foucault, , Discipline and Punish, 170Google Scholar.

59 Of course, there may be some dispute as to whether the overtly abusive strip searches forced upon Forrester are the sort of modest, suspicious episodes Foucault was interested in or whether they actually exemplify what Foucault would call “majestic rituals of sovereignty or the great apparatuses of the state.” Ibid., 172.

60 For an interesting discussion of “working on ourselves” as a product of Foucaultian normalization of the body see, e.g., Heyes, Cressida J., Self-Transformations: Foucault, Ethics, and Normalized Bodies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

61 Foucault, , Discipline and Punish, 173Google Scholar.

62 Ibid., 201.

63 Kaplan, Laura Duhan, “Physical Education for Domination and Emancipation: A Foucauldian Analysis of Aerobics and Hatha Yoga,” in Philosophical Perspectives on Power and Domination: Theories and Practices, ed. Bove, Laurence F. and Kaplan, Laura Duhan · (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1997), 6970.Google Scholar For a thoughtful discussion of contemporary regimes of self-regulation see, e.g., Cossman, Brenda, Sexual Citizens: The Legal and Cultural Regulation of Sex and Belonging (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007)Google Scholar.

64 For a discussion of the gender politics implicated in policing see, e.g., Martin, Susan Ehrlich, “Police Force or Police Service? Gender and Emotional Labor,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 561 (1999), 111CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Cooper, Frank Rudy, “Who's the Man? Masculinities and Police Stops” (Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 08-23, 2008), Scholar.

65 Forrester at para. 40.

66 Ibid. at para. 53.

67 Ibid. at para. 361.

68 Ibid. at para. 54.

69 Foucault, , Discipline and Punish, 183Google Scholar.

70 Ibid., 184.

71 Forrester at para. 436.

72 For a discussion of the class politics of gender reassignment surgery see, e.g., Roen, Katrina, “‘Either/Or’ and ‘Both/Neither’: Discursive Tension in Transgender Politics,” Signs 27 (2002), 501CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Butler, Judith, Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004)Google Scholar, in particular her discussion of “Undiagnosing Gender,” 75; Hardie, Alaina, “It's a Long Way to the Top: Hierarchies of Legitimacy in Trans Communities,” in Trans/Forming Feminisms: Trans-Feminist Voices Speak Out, ed. Scott-Dixon, Krista (Toronto: Sumach Press, 2006), 122Google Scholar.

73 Foucault, , Discipline and Punish, 184Google Scholar.

74 Ibid., 184–85.

75 Ibid., 187.

76 Ibid., 187–89.

77 Ibid., 189.

78 Ibid., 189–91.

79 Ibid., 191.

80 Forrester at para. 37.

81 Ibid. at para. 38.

82 Ibid. at para. 39.

83 For an excellent discussion of “homosexuals” as a species produced by eighteenth-century discourse, see Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, vol. 1, trans, by Hurley, Robert (New York: Vintage Books, 1978)Google Scholar.

84 Ibid., 101.

87 Chambers, Lori, “Unprincipled Exclusions: Feminist Theory, Transgender Jurisprudence, and Kimberly Nixon,” Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 19 (2007), 305Google Scholar.

88 [2002] B.C.H.R.T.D. No. 1.

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