Canada’s Trans Rights Bill C-389 Passes

Bill C-389, An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression) passed at Third Reading, on a vote of 143 for to 135 against.

Third Reading took place nearly a month sooner than originally scheduled, because Olivia Chow traded her Private Member’s Bill spot so the bill could be read earlier.  This was due to concerns that a Spring election will be called, which would kill all bills still in the legislative process.

After the fold: what they said at debate on Monday, and what happens next (because it’s not enacted into law just yet):

Bill Siksay (MP for Burnaby-Douglas), the Member of Parliament who advanced the bill, introduced it once more in Parliament:

… At earlier stages of the debate and in committee, the key concerns raised were about the need to define gender identity and gender expression and the question of redundancy.

On the matter of the definition, the Canadian Human Rights Act does not define each of the prohibited grounds of discrimination that it contains. This is intentional. It encourages living definitions, grounds that are defined by common usage, experience, jurisprudence, tribunal decisions and science. In keeping with that feature of the act, there is no definition of gender identity and gender expression in this bill. I hasten to point out that gender identity and gender expression are not new terms or new ideas. They have been in use for many years.

Also, while there have been successful human rights complaints launched by transpeople using the current law’s provisions on “sex” and sometimes “disability”, we should never forget the fact that successful challenges to discrimination have been made by transfolks using current law, including an explicit reference to gender identity and gender expression, which is still important. It is important for absolute clarity. Transpeople should not have to think their way into protection using other categories originally intended to cover other groups in our society.

It is also important that a group that is marginalized in our society and that suffers significant discrimination and prejudice actually see themselves in the law, and that those who would discriminate against them know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that their actions are not acceptable.

It is also important that the Canadian Human Rights Commission has an explicit educational mandate on issues related to the experience of transsexual and transgender Canadians….

MP Brent Rathgeber (Edmonton-St. Albert, CPC) restated the Conservatives’ position that the terms were undefined and unnecessary:

I respectfully submit to all members of the House that, as a result, we are left with uncertainty and vagueness about what these concepts mean. As all members know, if undefined important terms such as “gender expression” and “gender identity” would create a lack of clarity and a real problem for the bill and for those who will be called upon to interpret the bill…

Our neighbours to the south in the United States at the federal level passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. hate crimes prevention act and it uses the term “gender identity”, which is define, but does not use the separate term “gender expression”. In my view, this shows that the bill is deficient by failing to provide definitions of these integral and important terms.

MP Megan Leslie (Halifax, NDP) related several personal stories that had been told to her:

… Another constituent of mine wrote: “I am a resident of Halifax and am a transgendered person. While I have spent much of my career advocating for the rights of others (e.g. African Nova Scotians, persons with disabilities, new Canadians, single parents, gay, lesbian and bi) within my community, I have never been able to find the courage to identify that I am transgendered or to advocate for myself. It was only a few years ago that I disclosed to my wife and adult children that I am transgendered. Perhaps the reasons for keeping this a secret have been numerous. For example, not wanting to distract attention from the groups I worked with. Also, there was certainly fear. The fear of discrimination, loss of employment, hurt to my family and friends, etc. There was also the fear of being labelled sick, as I have heard others refer to transgendered people so many times…

MP Marlene Jennings (Notre-Dame-de-Grace-Lachine, Lib.) spoke to what she described as the 8 principal myths being used to oppose the bill, although she was only able to get through 7 before time ran out:

… Myth number six is that Bill C-389 is being advanced for a tiny group of sexual activists. Again, this is completely false. Transgendered individuals face an unacceptable amount of discrimination in their everyday lives and are likely to become victims of violence. We have heard it again and again, whether it be from testimonials, which were read by the member sponsoring the bill, or from the letters the member for Halifax has received from transgendered individuals, or from friends or relatives of transgendered individuals expressing the kind of violence that transgendered individuals face in our society today.

Although transgendered individuals constitute a small minority of the Canadian population, all Canadians have an equal right not to be subjected to discrimination. This bill is being advanced in the name of equal rights. It is not because there is one, or ten or a hundred that discrimination is justified. It is not justified. All Canadians, regardless of their sexual orientation, their gender expression or identity have a right to be safe, to work, to equal access to health services, to lodging and to move about in our society without fear of being victims of violence because of their gender expression or identity. If adopted, the bill will go a long way to ensuring that…

(And if you missed it, Hedy Fry’s speech from Second Reading in December is still on YouTube)

Before the vote, Xtra columnist Dale Smith tweeted:

Sun Media around the Foyer asking loaded questions about #C389 and “special rights.” #cdnpoli #canqueer #trans

Way to go, Sun Media.  It seems like every day, the spectre of a FoxNewsNorth draws closer.  Don’t get me wrong, there are writers with Sun who I do respect.  They could get it.  They could focus on getting to the facts, instead of giving platforms to fearmongers like Charles McVety, who was dropped by a Christian television network after being reprimanded for distorting and outright lying.  Right?

Nope.  I guess not.

If Sun is counting on a move toward distortive and wingnut journalism to help with sales, then it’s betraying its contempt for mainstream Canadians.

What Happens Now

Bill Siksay is retiring at the end of his term.  There is a Facebook-based Thank You Card for the one who did come back.

Bill C-389 now goes to the Senate (h/t to Dale Smith again), where it must go through three readings.  Readings in the Senate don’t take months-to-years as they do for Private Members Bills in Parliament. However, as far as I know, a Senator still needs to be found who is willing to bring the bill to the floor.

There could be some perils in the Senate.  In the past, the Senate has mostly just ratified and tweaked legislation passed by Parliament, but as Harper has packed more conservatives into the Senate (rather than reforming it to create an elected Senate, which he once campaigned on), it has been sometimes used more undemocratically.  In one recent such move, he used a lack of attendance of Liberal senators to kill a climate change bill.

It is also still entirely possible that an election call could kill the bill before it is enacted into law.  What would happen then is that as a community, we would need to press candidates and parties to pledge to finish what was started, and also to address other glaring omissions such as the absence of sex / gender from the hate crimes provisions from the Criminal Code of Canada.

But that starts tomorrow.  For today, we celebrate something historic.

(Crossposted to The Bilerico Project)

14 thoughts on “Canada’s Trans Rights Bill C-389 Passes”

  1. While I’m happy that the HOC has seen fit to pass this bill, it still has to pass the Senate, and it’s no secret that Harper has been stacking it with cronies who will do his bidding.

  2. Update: Helen Kennedy at Egale reports:

    The Bill is up for 2nd reading in the Senate next week, Tuesday, Feb. 15th.

    Unlike Parliament, no snail’s pace here, apparently.

    1. And a correction to the update: although it is scheduled for second reading in the Senate on the 15th, that is not a guarantee that it will happen on that day. That is the earliest it could take place, and will depend on how soon a Senator decides to sponsor and forward the bill.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s