William Hébert

Study program:
Ph.D. Social-Cultural Anthropology
Current affiliation:
Université de Toronto

William Hébert is identifying the lessons that Canada might learn from Brazil’s experience with the rights and conditions of transgender people both inside and outside of prison settings.

Doctoral research

Life at the Margins: The Criminalization and Incarceration of Trans People in Canada and Brazil

In Canada and elsewhere, the social stigma experienced by trans people is understood to contribute to a heightened likelihood of arrest and prosecution. Once incarcerated, this population is known to face physical and sexual violence and denials of gender-affirmative care. While Canada is often considered an international leader in LGBT rights and inmate rehabilitation, trans people remain a vulnerable population within Canada’s correctional facilities. This situation can only worsen in the face of important shifts towards “tough on crime” policies and punitive prison reform.

William’s dissertation research is an ethnographic investigation of trans criminalization and incarceration in Canada that draws from comparative research insights from Brazil, where, paradoxically, a relative protection of trans inmates is emerging amidst long-established practices of punitively incarcerating the poor and vulnerable. William’s project asks what the case of trans inmates reveals about national values and practices related to crime, incarceration, and the provision of human rights protections, and how social actors are and should be mobilizing to offer trans people better life conditions within and beyond prison walls.

William Hébert is a PhD student in socio-cultural anthropology at the University of Toronto. In the fall of 2015, he was a visiting scholar at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Canada graduate scholarship, William’s ethnographic dissertation aims to address the over-representation and vulnerability of trans people in correctional facilities, and to highlight cross-national similarities and differences in norms and practices relating to crime, the role of punitive institutions, and (social) justice in Canada and Brazil.

As an engaged researcher and activist, William has focused on sexual and gender minorities’ demands for social change and on their relationship to institutions that shape and govern their lives. He has worked and volunteered on numerous community-based projects, notably as the project manager of a research and intervention initiative on elderly trans people and their access to healthcare and social services in Quebec. William’s interest in linking theory and practice has also inspired him to participate in research evaluating the implementation of policy on addiction services offered in primary care clinics, to contribute to a project investigating the use of research evidence in sex work legislation and policy, and to assist a multi-sited research-action project on women’s movements for the Women's Empowerment in Muslim Contexts Consortium. He has moreover made a point of contributing his research and writing skills as a research collaborator on a project on trans parents, as a community representative in policy consultancy, and as a volunteer with such community groups as Action Santé Travesti(e)s et Transsexuel(le)s du Québec (ASTT(e)Q), Stella, and AIDS Community Care Montréal.

William’s aspiration to become a public intellectual has led him to disseminate his work through academic publications and international conferences, as well as in professional and community journals, web-based platforms, and events. Dedicated to transcending linguistic barriers and bridging the distance that often exists between academia and social justice movements, he hopes to foster networks between researchers and activists located in Canada, Brazil, the United States, and beyond.

Internal publications