What Nikita Dragun’s placement in a male jail unit can teach us about Canada’s trans inmates’ safety

Our institutions need to do better

Influencer Nikita Dragun was arrested at the beginning of the month at the Goodtime Hotel in Miami, Florida for felony battery on a police officer, and disorderly conduct.

According to hotel security guards, Dragun had allegedly been “causing a disturbance” and “walking around the pool area unclothed.” Afterwards, “Dragun flung an open water bottle toward the officers and the hotel staff, wetting one of the officers.”

When she appeared in a bond court video the following day, it was revealed that she had been kept in a men’s unit. In the video, Dragun asks judge Mindy Glazer, “Do I have to stay here in the men’s unit, still?”

It has obviously sparked a number of negative reactions on social media. However, what follows is even more shocking.

In the court video the judge seems to be writing something down, hearing but not really listening to Dragun’s request — or at least showing very little interest. Glazer then proceeds to say, “Yeah, I don’t make the rules up there but, they should make a proper accommodation for you.”

What does that mean? There shouldn’t be any accommodations, just put her in a women’s unit. The way it’s phrased also makes me furious. Is Dragun’s right to be in a jail that houses inmates of the same gender as her really an “accommodation?” Because we all know it would not be an accommodation if the inmate was cisgender. It would simply be their right.

According to Florida law, transgender inmates’ housing situations are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. A “transgender committee” made of medical and mental health professionals meet with the inmate to evaluate and make recommendations to the state as to where the person should be housed. These are however only recommendations, and it shows that transgender people’s rights are not fully protected in those cases.

Transgender inmates are over-represented as victims of many forms of abuse in prison. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, they are ten times more likely to be sexually assaulted in prison.

If this is what happens to a popular figure in the US, imagine what can happen to any other trans person in our own country.

In January 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised trans inmates that they would be housed based on their gender identity, stating that “trans rights are human rights.”

Up until then, Correctional Service Canada (CSC), which governs the federal penitentiary system, had a clear policy regarding the placement of inmates according to their gender assigned at birth.

According to a report on trans prisoners’ safety, “the CSC policy dictated that trans prisoners be assigned to either men’s or women’s penitentiaries based on their pre-operative sex. Consequently, trans women who had not undergone gender affirmation surgery were forced to live in men’s prisons instead of with the gender they identify with. This CSC policy has led to extreme difficulties for these women, who are often subjected to sexual harassment and assault.”

The day following Trudeau’s speech, the CSC stated that they would “consider” inmate placement based around gender identity and expression rather than gender assigned at birth.

Adopted in June of that same year, Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, protects transgender individuals against gender discrimination. The Bill amended section 3(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act and added “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the prohibited grounds of discrimination.

The Bill also amended the Criminal Code “to extend the protection against hate propaganda set out in that Act to any section of the public that is distinguished by gender identity or expression.” The amendment prevents the federal government from discriminating on the basis of gender, including in its prisons.

Then, in December 2017, the CSC adopted an interim policy to “accommodate based on gender identity or expression, regardless of the person’s anatomy (i.e. sex) or the gender marker on identification documents.” Included in the policy is the right of the inmate to be addressed by staff with the correct pronouns and, if a strip search were to be performed on them, the right to choose whether it be conducted by a male or female staff member.

This sounds really good and progressive in theory. But I have a hard time imagining an institution like the prison — that is founded on militarism, punishment, humiliation, racism and discrimination — to completely change its course of operating because they truly believe that trans lives matter.

My research proved me right on that point. In the 2019 case of Boulachanis v. Canada (Attorney General), the applicant had requested to be transferred from a male institution to a female institution after identifying as a woman. The CSC refused her request on the basis that the inmate would “pose too great a risk, in particular a risk of escape, to be placed in a women’s institution.” Although Justice Grammond of the Federal Court granted her the transfer and recognized that “keeping her in a men’s institution is discriminatory,” violating the interim policy, it is important to highlight how he got to that conclusion.

After clearly stating that Boulachanis is legally a woman, Justice Grammond then questioned whether she should be treated as one: “Stripped to its essentials, the issue is to determine whether Ms. Boulachanis should be treated as a man or as a woman.”

Blatant heteronormativity aside — if Boulachanis is a woman, why are we questioning her right to not only be seen as one, but also be treated as one by the law?

Probably for the same reason that Nikita Dragun was put in a male unit in Florida. It doesn’t matter what Bills, promises or policies they establish on paper, our institutions, governments and society still fail to protect transgender people.


Concordia in solidarity for the release of Homa Hoodfar

Announcers demand Hoodfar’s release after 107 days of imprisonment

Concordia students, faculty and community members gathered across the street from Bethune Square to raise awareness of the incarceration of former Concordia professor, Homa Hoodfar, who has been jailed in Evin prison in Iran for 107 days.

Hayley Lewis, the event organizer, said not only is it unclear what Hoodfar is being charged with, but it is also unclear as to what condition she is currently in. “All that we know is she’s a 65-year-old woman who we love, who has been in prison for 107 days and who is in extremely bad health,” Lewis said.

“Please keep talking about Homa Hoodfar,” Lewis announced to a group of over 100 protesters. “Post about her, write about her—do not let her disappear.” Lewis emphasized the importance of pressing the Canadian and Irish governments to see to Hoodfar’s safe and definite release.

Lewis said Hoodfar suffers from a degenerative neurological disorder that requires medication, but she has not been getting said medication while imprisoned. “She is sick, she is unwell and we need her back,” said Lewis.

Lewis invited guests from the Concordia community to speak—Concordia faculty members, personal friends of Hoodfar and Green Party Leader and Concordia student Alex Tyrrell spoke at the demonstration. They all stood in solidarity for the immediate release of Hoodfar. Lewis also invited the Bread and Puppet theatre, a Vermont-based group, who presented a theatrical political performance to spectators in support of Hoodfar’s safe return home.

Photo by Alex Hutchins.

“We have a moral responsibility to get her home,” said Kimberley Manning, principal of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute and a member of the recently-organized Homa Hoodfar working group. She said that since Hoodfar’s arrest, the Concordia union faculty association, the Concordia administration and two of Hoodfar’s closest friends have been supporting efforts to free her. However, Manning said they still need lots of help.

“Homa taught here for 30 years, nurturing several decades of students and contributing [in] countless ways to the wellbeing of this institution,” said Manning. “Now it’s our turn to help her.”

Photo by Alex Hutchins.

Manning said action is being taken in Dublin as well, as Concordia professor Emer O’Toole from the department of Irish studies helped mobilize the protest for Hoodfar in front of the Iranian embassy, which took place in Dublin on Sept. 7. “[O’Toole] has been working tirelessly to place pressure on the Irish government to do all they can do to get Homa free,” said Manning.

“Members of the Concordia community and the public should not underestimate the gravity of what’s taking place here,” said Tyrrell. “Her life is on the line.” He added that she has been held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer.

Tyrrell said Hoodfar’s research aimed to help develop an understanding of Muslim women, one of the most discriminated against groups locally and globally. Tyrrell said the community has an obligation to stand up for imprisoned peers and to defend academic freedom around the world.

Photo by Alex Hutchins.

Margie Mendell, Professor and Graduate Program Director for School of Community and Public Affairs and a friend of Hoodfar said we must get Hoodfar home and out of Evin prison. “We will not gather again to say that she has been in Evin prison for 200 days,” Mendell said to the crowd. “We will gather together to welcome her home and to celebrate her freedom.”

Fay Devlin, one of Hoodfar’s former students, said “I do not think this is going to do anything,” emphasizing that the community needs to do more for this cause. She suggested students should use social media and share photos to help spread awareness. “Sign the petition,” she said.

Former student of Hoodfar, Fay Devlin, stands in solidarity for her release. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

“I think public demonstrations of this type are very necessary, but they’re not sufficient by any means,” said Peter Stoett, the director of Loyola Sustainability Research Centre and political science professor at Concordia University. He said Hoodfar’s release depends more on the negotiation between the governments involved—namely, the Canadian, Irish and Iranian governments.

Photo by Alex Hutchins.

“We can’t fool ourselves into thinking it’s going to change the government of Iran—their perspective is pretty hardened on this, and that’s going to take some serious diplomatic maneuvering,” said Stoett. Lewis, however, encourages people to get involved and write letters to the government.

“The final purpose of this [demonstration] is just to celebrate Homa’s work, and remember what an outstanding woman she is and the brutality of the situation she’s in right now,” Lewis said.  She said that the more people who are informed the better. “There are a lot of political prisoners all over the world—we want to stand in solidarity with them, as well.”

With files from Cristina Sanza


Concordia pleads for the safe return of Professor Homa Hoodfar

Former Professor Hoodfar remains detained in Iranian prison

Concordia Academics held a press conference on Sept. 7 in the EV building on the Sir George Williams campus, Concordia calling for the immediate release of Dr. Homa Hoodfar, a retired Concordia anthropology and sociology professor emerita.

“On June 6, our department changed forever,” said Marc Lafrance, a sociology and anthropology professor. “On this day, one of our most admired and beloved professors was arrested and held in Iran’s infamous Evin Prison in Tehran.”

Hoodfar, 65, was arrested three months ago and charged with collaborating with a hostile government against national security—charges her family denies.

Recent news of Hoodfar’s deteriorating health pushed the Concordia community to issue an official press release asking for help from the Irish and Iranian governments for her safe return.

“A week ago, Homa Hoodfar fell gravely ill and was hospitalized,” said Kimberly Manning, principal of Concordia’s Simone De Beauvoir Institute . She said Hoodfar suffers from a rare neurological disease that requires medical attention.

Manning pleaded that Hoodfar’s case is an emergency and that at the moment, “we don’t know if she is alive.” Lafrance raised the question about whether or not she is receiving her medication or basic needs, such as food and water.

Hoodfar, who holds Irish as well as Canadian and Iranian citizenship, has received a great deal of support from Irish scholars since her arrest, said Emer O’Toole, a Canadian Irish studies professor, at the press release.

Photo by Chloe Ranaldi.

“Over the course of the summer [more than] 5000 academics signed a petition which called for Hoodfar’s immediate release, including notable public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Orhan Pamuk,” said Manning.

On Wednesday morning, Irish academics gathered outside of the Iranian Embassy in Dublin to show their support for Hoodfar.

 Hoodfar is recognized for her studies on development, culture and gender in the Middle East.

“We encourage all Concordia students to sign the petition that calls for Homa’s safe return home,” Lafrance told The Concordian. “Students are invited to share her message on social media.”

To sign the petition or to learn more about Professor Homa Hoodfar, visit:

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