Trans Human Rights Bill C-279 Committee Roundup: The Filibuster.
In the third meeting of the Standing Committee for Justice and Human Rights to discuss Canada’s trans human rights Bill C-279, the clock ran out. When a bill is entered into Second Reading, it can either be forwarded on, or be given 60 days for clause-by-clause review and amendments. Thursday December 6th was the last possible day to review the bill.
There would have been a way to get a 30-day extension (given that 2 meetings devoted to C-279 were disrupted by Parliamentary votes), but
Republicans Conservatives filibustered the motion, against procedure. By that, I mean that an hour-long debate over procedural issues ensued (including a 15-minute off-webcast time-out so tempers could subside), even though a motion for an extension is not supposed to be up for debate, and the meeting ended before the vote on that motion could happen.
Here are the relevant sections from Parliamentary procedure (emphasis mine):
The committee is obliged, within 60 sitting days from the date of reference, to report back a private Member’s public bill with or without amendment, to present a report recommending that the bill not be proceeded with further, or to request a one‑time extension of 30 sitting days to consider the bill. In the last two cases, reasons must be given. Should a committee fail to report back to the House as required, the bill is automatically deemed reported without amendment.
If a committee feels it will not be able to complete its consideration of a private Member’s public bill referred to it within 60 sitting days, it may request an extension of 30 further sitting days. Only one extension may be sought. As soon as a committee report requesting an extension is presented, a motion to concur in the report is deemed to have been moved and seconded. No debate takes place, as the motion is deemed put to a vote right away and the vote is deferred until the next Wednesday sitting. If the House agrees to grant the extension, then the committee has an extra 30 sitting days to complete its consideration of the bill. When an extension is granted, it begins immediately after the expiry of the original 60 sitting day limit, rather than on the day the extension is granted. This means that the new deadline for reporting is 90 sitting days following the original referral of the bill to committee. If the House refuses to grant the extension, but the original 60 sitting day deadline has yet to pass, the committee may continue to consider the bill until the 60th sitting day. If the extension is refused and the 60th sitting day has already passed, the bill is deemed reported without amendment and an order for its consideration at report stage is set down on the Order Paper.
So the committee fails to report back as required, and the bill proceeds on without the amendments.
If you’re curious about what would have happened, we didn’t hear all of the proposed amendments, but there were two that were accepted and ten others that were tossed out because they were superseded by the two already voted. There was at least one other not yet considered, and an NDP amendment which was being withdrawn when the motion to request an extension was made. The ones that had been accepted by the committee were:
- NDP1 removed gender expression (plus adds some other unrelated classes which have already been added to human rights legislation since the bill was first written), and
- NDP2 established a definition for gender identity. That definition is from the Yogyakarta Principles:
“Gender identity is understood to refer to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body (which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical or other means) and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms.”
What was quoted in the meeting was just “Gender identity is understood to refer to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth,” so might even be shorter than what was above.
But as I said, given the way the meeting ended, it is very possible that the bill will return without these amendments, for a vote. Some of the Conservatives whose support Randall Garrison is counted on was depended on these two amendments. Which was obviously the intention.
The webcast for Meeting 55 is online, if you want to hear a couple of the members suddenly forget committee procedure and at one point even try to remember it by referring to the procedures of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. It’s a good lesson in confound, confuse and confusticate tactics. There is also a moment that perhaps hints at opponents’ next strategy (if you can get through the extra verbage used to turn a single sentence into three run-on paragraphs):
Mr. Brent Rathgeber: Speaking to the amendment, I understand, in response to Ms. Boivin’s query, that with respect to Bill C-273, this committee never had any opportunity to vet it clause by clause. In that situation I think it was automatic, or certainly more appropriate, that the committee vote and the House concur with the committee that there be an extension of time, because the committee had no opportunity to do clause-by-clause consideration of that important amendment to the Criminal Code.
We have a different situation here. We have a situation where the committee has met. Perhaps not as many minutes and hours have been dedicated to the clause-by-clause consideration as some would like, and certainly not enough to get through the bill, it would appear. However, that may be indicative of a problem: that is, this committee is going to be unable to adequately deal with what are certainly some controversial issues and some unclear definitions with respect to this bill.
Although this is not really speaking to the amendment, but more to the motion, I think we’re almost in a situation of—in law—a hung jury, where the committee has perhaps reached a point where it’s having difficulty proceeding in a particular meaningful way. As a result, although I know I’m still speaking to the amendment, which I still think is based on a factually incorrect statement, I will be voting against the motion, because I think these are issues that only the House will be able to deal with.
Stay tuned, and expect Mr. Rathgeber to be the point man for opposition next time, trying to represent the Committee’s position as being that the bill is too complex and controversial, and therefore not viable.
Update: A report in Postmedia papers now suggests that the two amendments could in fact return:
It will be up to Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer to decide whether he’d allow the same amendments passed at committee — but never reported back — to be raised again and debated in the Commons.
“It’s clear that both sides feel the bill can be improved,” said Liberal MP Sean Casey. “Why we would send it back to the House without having a chance to discuss those amendments is frankly beyond me.”
Does this madness ever end?
I’ll try to find out more about this.