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Quebec transgender inmate asks for transfer to women’s prison

Boulachanis is making her second bid for a transfer to a women's prison, with a hearing getting underway this week at the Montreal courthouse.
Boulachanis is making her second bid for a transfer to a women's prison, with a hearing getting underway this week at the Montreal courthouse. File, EPA/JENS SCHLUETER

Speaking via video-conference from Port-Cartier Institution near Sept-Iles, Jamie Boulachanis said she suffers from anxiety being in a men’s prison, that she is groped at, stared at and feels generally uncomfortable in the maximum-security men’s prison.

Boulachanis is making her second bid for a transfer to a women’s prison with a hearing getting underway this week at the Montreal courthouse.

Boulachanis was convicted in 2016 of first-degree murder in the death of Robert Tanguay, a former criminal associate. The murder happened in 1997 in Rigaud. Boulachanis buried Tanguay’s body in a sandpit, where it remained hidden for many years.

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Boulachanis went on the run for almost 15 years, living in Ontario, Greece and the United States. She was arrested in 2011 and then transferred back to Quebec. While in custody, Boulachanis tried to escape several times, and escape tools were also found in her cell. She was also convicted of obstructing justice for inducing witnesses to lie during her murder trial.

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Soon after her conviction, she told medical staff at the Donnaconna Institution she was suffering from gender dysphoria. Boulachanis, who was assigned male at birth, met with several psychologists and medical staff, and a doctor eventually signed off on her starting the process of transitioning to a woman. In August 2018, a psychiatrist diagnosed her with gender dysphoria. At the end of 2018, she legally changed her name from John to Jamie, and on her act of birth, she changed her sex designation.

She started undergoing hormone therapy in January 2019 but has yet to have sex reassignment surgery. A Corrections Canada medical staffer testifying at the hearing said the surgery is complicated, and it was not easy finding a doctor and clinic to perform the surgery near the prison.

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Last year, Correctional Service Canada became aware of threats against Boulachanis and segregated her.

Boulachanis made her first legal transfer attempt in April 2019. A judge ruled that not transferring Boulachanis resulted in “gender discrimination based on identity of expression.” That same month, Correctional Service Canada transferred her to Port-Cartier Institution.

During the hearing, Boulachanis testified that she was suffering from mental anguish because she was in a men’s prison. She said she was having issues with the sector she was in.

“People expose their penis to me,” she said. “I am isolated mentally.”

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She also said she had been suicidal.

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Correctional Service Canada argues it has made accommodations for Boulachanis. She can shower at 5:30 in the morning before the men shower. She was also offered a cell with a toilet in it. She is allowed to visit the gym at separate times from the men. She is housed in a small mental health unit with only 11 other prisoners.

She would like to be transferred to a women’s prison in Joliette or Grand Valley, but those prisons have said they do not want to accommodate her, and CSC argues it’s too much of a risk to move her.

Boulachanis’ lawyer Sylvie Bordelais argued she was living in a place where people did not accept her situation. She said she does not have a lot of moral support from the prison. She said finding proper psychiatric care is difficult, given that Port-Cartier is an eight-hour drive from Montreal. She said placing her in isolation at that prison was difficult for her mental health.

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“The situation should not be tolerated,” Bordelais said.

As for CSC’s assertion that Boulachanis is a flight risk and dangerous, Bordelais argued the murder happened many years ago when Boulachanis was much younger. She also said she hasn’t tried escaping from prison for several years, and is going through the legal system.

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The trial is expected to last all week.

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