On June 8th, 2010, Bill C-389 moved onward from Second Reading in Canada’s Parliament to the next stage. On February 9th, 2011, it passed.
With Friday’s election call, Bill C-389, An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression dies. Although a CBC report confuses things by mixing up prorogation with election calls, Bill Siksay confirms on his Facebook page that Private Members bills do not carry over after an election, and will have to start from zero again.
I watched Second Reading unfold live last summer on CPAC (due to work, I ended up missing Third Reading). It was an inspiring moment — the first time, in fact, that trans issues were voted on in Parliament — with some powerful speeches by supportive MPs, including Bill C-389’s champion, Bill Siksay. And yet as Mr. Siksay concluded second reading debate, there was something that troubled me in his tone. It wasn’t a something he said, or a waver in attitude. It was the fact that in this moment where significant (though not unanimous) support was being expressed for trans rights, his closing seemed more like a speech conceding defeat.
“A word to members of the transgender and transsexual community: no matter what ultimately happens with this bill, they should know that there are many in this place and thousands–no, millions–across Canada who love them and know them as they are, who recognize their experience, their gifts and their full humanity. We stand in solidarity with them until our goals of justice and equality are achieved.”
I believe at that time, Mr. Siksay understood the challenges that were in store for the bill, and wanted to convey this message while he was still certain that he could. And indeed, the passage through Third Reading was a rollercoaster.
The ruling Conservative government was an amalgamation of the former Progressive Conservative party and the far right-wing Reform, with the former almost decimated among its ranks. Conservative MPs actually lobbied their constituents, other MPs and Canadians in general against the bill, with openly transphobic tirades online and in local media. Media gave ample voice to Charles McVety’s constant regurgitation of the irrational bathroom argument. Association for Reformed Political Action, the Catholic Womens’ League, REAL Women of Canada and just about every other organization in the Christian Nationalist industry launched letter-writing campaigns with the intent that incensed followers — armed with a lot of panic and no fact — could make a case that theologically-driven voters rejected the inclusion of transsexual and transgender people in human rights legislation (although this certainly wasn’t true of all faiths). ARPA automated the process so parishoners across the country could visit their front page, get panicky from the misinformation and just click a button online without looking into the matter further. Wingnuts even escalated the nuttiness to the level of talking about castration fetishes and casting out devils.
The official party line was that protections were unnecessary. But ultimately Bill C-389 did pass on a vote of 143 – 135, because enough legislators were rational, found out more about the subject and realized that the bat$#!ttery proved otherwise.
“Human rights protections are necessary exactly because this irrational fear persists. It’s necessary exactly because trans people still get conflated with sex predators and child predators, or labeled as “sick,” “perverse,” and “freaks.” It’s necessary exactly because people become so clouded with assumptions and myths that they argue for our deliberate exclusion from human rights under the pretext that granting that would be “dangerous” or “scary.” It’s necessary exactly because this bias is so entrenched that people think nothing about broadcasting it openly as though fact. It’s necessary exactly because this “ick factor” response is seen as justification for not allowing an entire group of people to share the same space, to terminate their employment or to evict them. It’s necessary exactly because it is so pervasive that discrimination becomes not only likely but inevitable — especially if there is no explicit direction in law to the contrary on the matter.”
Since then, the bill moved on to a Senate which couldn’t find someone to sponsor it, and which was buried in law and order bills solidly enough to prevent the relevant committee from hearing and discussing it. There was also the difficulty of delay in finding a sponsor for the bill in the Senate. Some of that amounts to issues about niceties:
Liberal senators I talked to said they hadn’t been approached and they weren’t about to jump up to support the bill unasked. Senators on both sides of the aisle resent being used as punching bags by the NDP; continually insulted for their appointed status, they have repeatedly cautioned MPs to be nice to senators if they want help shepherding their bills through the upper chamber.
There is some discussion that Bill Siksay didn’t do enough for the bill at Senate stage, but from this observer’s viewpoint, it’s more likely a case of being overwhelmed by the work to get the bill passed, combined with a whole lot of uncertainty that it would ever reach the Senate. Nobody can reasonably say that he didn’t work hard on this bill.
Plus, if we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board to advance trans rights in Canada, it’s not going to help anyone if we turn on each other during the post-mortem. We still need to be looking forward.
Either way, the Government of Canada has toppled, forcing an election. Along with other pieces of legislation in the works, Bill C-389 is dead. Bill C-393 — which proposed to ease restrictions so that lower-cost AIDS medications could be available in developing nations — had also been passed by parliament, and was the subject of last minute hearings in the Senate before sharing the same fate.
Bill Siksay, who is retiring, gives his perspective on Bill C-389’s trek through the Houses of Parliament to Ottawa Update.