Trans comedian livetweets her harrowing detention at Toronto airport

Avery Edison had visa issues, but that's not why she was treated this way.

Mar 2, 2020, 9:05 am*

Internet Culture

 

Aja Romano

“Okay, my ride’s here.” The words were innocuous, but they were anguishing for friends of British comedian Avery Edison. They were the last words she tweeted before security at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport escorted her to jail for overnight detainment Monday.

Being detained was bad enough; but Edison, who is transgender, was being taken to an all-male correctional facility, where she would await solitary confinement.

Edison was planning to return to Canada from Britain for three weeks, where she had previously lived with her girlfriend, according to her Twitter account. However, Canadian customs flagged her for overstaying her visa on a previous trip. Although she knew that returning was risky, Edison tweeted about wanting to see her cats and her girlfriend, who was waiting for her in the arrivals area.

Instead, she underwent an ordeal that would last more than 12 hours.

Edison tweeted that she’d already been confined in customs for over six hours, and expected to be sent home. 

Instead, customs officials decided to detain her. Edison’s tweets swiftly grew more urgent:

And then they realized she was trans.

Ever the professional comedian, Edison tried to stay upbeat, jokingly tweeting about how she was to be given a “wet cell.” But as she continued to undergo hours of invasive questioning her frustration was evident.

Ultimately, Edison chose to be detained overnight rather than fly home so that she could actually visit with “the two people who waited in arrivals for me all day;”

Throughout the night, Edison marveled at the fact that no one had actually taken her phone away from her during the incident, or realized that she was live-tweeting the entire experience:

Meanwhile, concerned friends tried to get the word out to press and any available lawyers in the vicinity who could help represent Edison, whose follower list ballooned to more than 10,000 horrified onlookers. 

As Edison was finally carted off to detention, she found the energy for one last snark:

Edison’s friend, Twitter user @rahrahtempleton, tweeted updates from Toronto after Edison left the airport, noting that Edison was still seeking a lawyer. Rahrahtempleton also tweeted that she had spoken with the British consulate and was on her way to see Edison at the detention center.

But shocking as the idea might seem, the question of placement is just one of many obstacles that trans individuals face when they encounter the prison system. A 2006 study published in the Tulane Journal of Law & Sexuality found that for Australian, U.S., and Canadian prisons, “A primary concern that prison administrations must take into account when determining placement is whether or not a transgender prisoner has undergone sex reassignment surgery prior to incarceration.” 

In other words, since Edison was a pre-operative woman, there was little precedent for placing her in a women’s correctional facility, even just for an overnight stay.

With trans offenders comprising less than 1 percent of Canadian prison populations, Canadian officials have little pressure or impetus to rethink the way they identify and place trans individuals.

As grueling as Edison’s experience was, ultimately there might be one thing for which she can be grateful: She only has to stay one night.

Update: Edison will be held overnight and then return home, and she has the possibility of entering Canada again in the future with “a lot of red tape,” according to a friend who is currently running Edison’s Twitter account.

Photo by Lucius Kwok/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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*First Published: Feb 11, 2014, 3:38 pm