Here’s the good news. Five Members of Parliament spoke up and every one expressed support for extending human rights protections to transsexual and transgender people, and in the voice tally that followed, the yeas were deemed in the majority (which makes it better than both tallies during C-389’s passage). Here’s the bad news:
Maybe there’s a master plan. Maybe there’s a definition that won’t eject anyone, though I’m skeptical that’s possible. The problem is, I’ve seen this before, several times, in the media that I monitor as a blogtivist. In 2011, it became one of the new “ways that you pass trans-inclusive legislation.” I’ll not name the other one, for fear of giving people ideas, but will say that it starts with “Maryland” and ends with a whole lot of schism.
Firstly, I want to be clear that I do not doubt Mr. Garrison or question his motives. I believe that he doesn’t fully realize the implications of both actions, and in his passion and dedication to secure human rights for trans people, sees these as the means to achieve them. We are all — during our moments of privilege — prone to making these kinds of errors. It’s the privilege of never having had to experience and cope with the many means that are used to disenfranchise us.
But if you want to be angry, save it instead for idiot bloggers living in the heart of Conservative country who have failed to change the hearts and minds of — and in most cases, even secure meetings with — people whose votes would have made the difference on this bill. Especially when they consider their own MP a likely no vote, despite once having had a verbal commitment to support the bill. It was whispered in the post-mortem of C-389, and I expect it will happen again. So be it, if it means that we don’t burn the bridges we’ll need in order to start over.
It’s important to recognize the efforts of someone like Randall Garrison (and Bill Siksay before him) who has taken up what is a difficult task in this Parliament, and has by all accounts worked tirelessly on it. I do however strongly urge him to reconsider.
We do not define terms in human rights legislation. We never have. The moment we start establishing definitions, we are placing limits and defining who can be excluded from those protections.
We do not define disability, for example, in a way that excludes certain kinds of mental disabilities that we might be uncomfortable with. Whether or not we are comfortable with any group, all humans are deserving of equal rights to employment, housing, and access to services. Whether we are comfortable with any group, all humans are deserving to be judged by the legality and ethicality of their actions, and not based on a characteristic that they happen to have.
Classes in human rights legislation are also typically open-ended to be inclusive of all people, in the spirit of granting equality to everyone, rather than defining terms to the point of exclusion.
Too, our understanding of the human experience changes as we learn more about it. To define transsexual people according to a 2012 understanding of transsexuality can easily become a conflict for Canadians in 2030. One very specific way I could see this happening is if the current medical diagnosis and classification of transsexuality — already a very volatile topic of debate in medical and social communities — changes and / or if transsexuality is declassified as a mental illness, which is certain to happen at some future date.
Gender identity is the gender a person identifies as, which may not always correspond with their physical sex. This usually refers to operative and non-operative transsexuals. However, in other regions in North America and the world, I have seen legislators attempt to define gender identity in a way that requires surgery. A person who is transitioned and has surgery is no longer between sexes (“trans-sex”) and is protected as the man or woman that he or she has become. Definition that includes a surgical requirement essentially excludes absolutely everyone who needs protections via gender identity.
That one is unlikely for Canada, I admit, and I certainly don’t believe that Mr. Garrison would abide such a definition. More often, though, I see attempts to define gender identity in a way that requires a diagnosis and some form of paper certification from a medical professional that a person is in transition. This automatically excludes everyone who is:
In theory, this could also introduce a reverse onus on a transsexed person to keep a carry letter on their person to prove their status as transsexed. This creates a “papers please”circumstance that no other Canadian has to endure in order to avail themselves of their human rights protections, and as such, it is an undue hardship. Carrying such papers could expose a person to discrimination or even violence if found by a significantly transphobic person.
In any case, a definition creates a reverse onus on a person to prove that they meet the criteria of the definition, and the opportunity for a court to deem a person unqualified for their own rights.
Gender identity is not a new concept. The term was developed by the Johns Hopkins Medical Center in 1966. It has been in legal use in North America since the 1980s. Gender expression has also been in legal use in North America since the 1990s, for that matter. Inclusion has been made in the Northwest Territories and Cities of Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa — as well as many human rights commissions — without the lack of definition having caused any issues. A definition is simply not necessary, and there is ample case law in Canada, let alone other Western nations, to draw from when sorting out legal implications.
But maybe I’m wrong, and maybe there’s a magic definition that won’t exclude. I’d like to see it. Unfortunately, I suspect I’ll be able to cite examples of people it will disenfranchise.
Although popular nomenclature lumps everyone under the term “transgender,” transsexual people are only one of the groups that are popularly included in that term. Also included are individuals who are not transitioning, but consider themselves to be between gender. I’ve discussed gender expression in full previously. For example:
Without the inclusion of “gender expression,” they are most likely left out of human rights law. Even if a definition of gender identity were to have some aspect that mentions gender expression, it would create a reverse onus for someone — a genderqueer person, for example — to explain how genderqueer is a gender identity… which means it could be vulnerable to interpretation.
Additionally, without the inclusion of gender expression, transsexed people might still be subject to having their right to employment, for example, made dependent upon maintaining a gender expression that the employer considers acceptable (i.e. if you have a penis, you have to abide by the male dress code). There is at least one U.S. precedent in which a company dress code is given priority over gender identity protections, although since that time there has been a ruling in another state that likely supercedes it — however, it opens the possibility for such a situation in Canada. Requiring a transsexed person to dress according to their biological sex can be a cause of severe anxiety and distress, and also violate their conditions of a medical transition process.
There is more.
When reparative therapy is used to attempt to “cure” gay and lesbian people of their same sex attraction, it is very often their gender expression that is targeted. It is a part of the discrimination that is levied against many Canadians, some of whom might not identify as trans or even LGBT in any way, but can still be subject to this kind of discrimination. For example, when waitress Stacey Fearnall was fired from her job after she shaved her head to raise money for breast cancer research, that was an objection to her expression of gender.
And with growing attempts by anti-gay / anti-trans individuals and groups to separate characteristic identity from behaviour (i.e. “I don’t hate him because he’s gay, I hate him because he is shacked up with or married to a man,” or “It’s not the fact that she’s transsexual that offends me but the fact that she dresses like a woman”) in order to create a back door in human rights protections, it is prudent to clearly close that potential escape hatch.
Gender expression refers to the way a person expresses their gender, in terms of roles, physical characteristics, mannerisms and dress. The term has been used in legal arenas for at least a decade, and is discussed most notably in the Yogyakarta Principles, a statement on human rights developed by the United Nations, which Canada helped develop for use worldwide.
Dropping a term from legislation does not mean that courts will be required to consider that characteristic excluded, it will simply mean that it will be up to the courts to interpret — which is currently the status quo. It will however make it more difficult to pass a gender expression -only bill later.
Human rights legislation already provides a mechanism by which conflicting rights are balanced. Rights are granted up to the limit of undue hardship. This has been an equitable way to balance the rights of individuals with the freedoms of their employers and providers. A special limitation on specifically transsexual and/or transgender people once again singles people out for special additional exclusions.
Currently, the proposed changes are merely proposed, and sight-unseen. We don’t know yet what the proposed (let alone the eventually accepted) definition will be, and what ramifications it will have for Bill C-279. For this reason — and in the interest of avoiding schism — I am not actively opposing the bill, for the moment. In some ways, I’m still hoping that I’m wrong, and that there’s an equitable path forward. I’m also willing to work with or provide feedback for those crafting a definition (yes, I can do these things in confidence if needed). But it will take some convincing.
In the meantime, I await Wednesday’s vote and news about whether the bill will proceed to committee stage.
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS
[Private Members’ Business]
* * *
Canadian Human Rights Act
[Table of Contents]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have a few minutes today to discuss Bill C-279, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. Quite simply, Bill C-279 seeks to provide human rights protections to a group that remains a significant victim of discrimination in our society. Specifically, Bill C-279 seeks to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to add both gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination. It seeks to amend the Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression to the definition of identifiable groups in its provisions on hate propaganda. It seeks to add gender identity and gender expression to the Criminal Code’s list of aggravating factors that affect sentencing.
As the Ontario Human Rights Commission has noted:
|| There are arguably few groups in society today who are as disadvantaged and disenfranchised as the transgendered community. Transphobia combined with the hostility of society to the very existence of transgendered people are fundamental human rights issues.
Given that the purpose of the Canadian Human Rights Act is to provide protection to the most vulnerable groups in Canadian society, it is my sincere hope that all members of the House will join the Liberal Party in supporting these logical and necessary modernizations of our existing laws. It is our belief that the amendments contained in Bill C-279 are an appropriate way to improve the human rights protections of a socially and economically marginalized group.
I would like to briefly comment on human rights in Canadian society.
Thirty years ago, Canada established the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It was a very, very important initiative. At the time, the protection of Canadians’ rights was not as strong as it is today. The charter was the means used to strengthen these basic rights.
The charter also protected Canadians’ rights by being entrenched in the country’s Constitution.
Why did the other political parties, such as the NDP and the Conservative Party, not celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Why did they ignore its anniversary in March 2012?
At the time, it took courage to promote the creation of this charter. Today, it is up to our society to respect the rights and freedoms of Canadians. This is not a divisive or a shocking issue. Why did the other political parties not say a few words to celebrate the 30th anniversary of such an important event in the history of our country?
Moving back to Bill C-279, this is the culmination of years of effort and already represents the will of the House. Since 2005 this bill has been introduced on six occasions by the member for Burnaby—Douglas of the NDP. It was introduced once by my hon. colleague from Vancouver Centre and most recently by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
In 2010 the bill, which at the time was Bill C-389, was passed by the House of Commons without amendment, only to die on the order paper after being referred to the Senate.
The statistics on transphobia, which my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca eloquently pointed out in his remarks, are as striking as they are disturbing. Indeed, 95% of transgendered students feel unsafe at school and 9 out of 10 have been verbally harassed due to their gender expression. If this were one of our sons or daughters, feeling unsafe in school, all of us would take action to protect those rights.
Furthermore, statistics from the United States reveal the significant incidence of de facto discrimination experienced by transgendered individuals. A recent national survey found that transgendered respondents experienced unemployment at twice the rate of the general population and were significantly more likely to be homeless and low-income earners. This is just wrong. Attitudes in society must change and this bill is directed to that result. As well, a shocking statistic is that 97% of transgendered respondents in a recent survey reported experiencing harassment or mistreatment at work on the basis of gender identity or expression. I am quite certain we can all agree that this too is simply wrong.
As gender identity and gender expression refer not to an individual’s biological sex or sexual orientation but rather the individual’s inner knowledge of being male, female, both or neither, it is essential that Parliament send a clear and unambiguous message that this is a crucial equality rights issue. Adopting the amendments proposed in Bill C-279 is not just about ensuring transgendered Canadians enjoy the legal protections accorded to other targeted groups. It is also an opportunity for Parliament to send an unequivocal message of support to transgendered Canadians that we in this House affirm their identity and acknowledge their struggles. This would be a humanitarian step that would cost nothing. It is in alignment with the basic principles of fairness, humanity, equality, inclusion and respect. It is an opportunity for all parliamentarians to really look into their hearts and to express their values and principles of inclusion.
As my hon. colleague from Mount Royal noted, a failure to explicitly refer to gender identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act leaves transgendered people invisible. By amending the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination, Parliament would enable the Canadian Human Rights Commission to keep statistical accounts of incidents of discrimination against transgendered individuals. The ability to compile and analyze such data would be crucial in confronting the scourge of discrimination that transgendered people continue to face in our society and might also guide educational efforts in the broader community.
We know well that having clarity and being able to measure and compile statistics has been essential in Canada’s efforts to reduce other forms of discrimination against Jews, against people who are other-abled and in many other cases. What we do not measure, we cannot have objectives to improve. When we do not have objectives, we will be unlikely to achieve that goal.
I am proud that in 1996, guided by the principles of equality, justice and the fundamental need to protect vulnerable groups in Canadian society so we may prosper together, the Liberal Party amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination. It is now time to carry on the fight against discrimination by making it clear that gender identity and gender expression are also prohibited in our society. Our job, as members of Parliament, is to do our very best for the common good and our very best to show respect, inclusion and humanitarian care for all members of our society.
For the group that this bill addresses, its turn has come. That is why I encourage all members on the opposite side of the aisle to also support this bill.
[Table of Contents]
This bill has had a long history, and I want to first of all thank the NDP member from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca for the tremendous work that he has done on this new version of the bill, as it has been in previous Parliaments. He has done an incredible amount of work within Parliament and by talking to individual members of Parliament and helping people understand the importance of this bill and what it means. He has also done significant work in the community, not just in the trans community but in the broader community, to bring about a better understanding of this bill. I certainly want to pay tribute and give respect to the work that my colleague has done.
This bill has actually had a long history. It was first introduced in the House in, I believe, 2005, and again in 2006 and then again in 2008 by Bill Siksay, who was the former member of Parliament for Burnaby—Douglas. He too did an incredible amount of work. It was a great day when the bill actually did pass in the House of Commons, as the member for Vancouver Quadra just noted a few minutes ago.
In February 2011, it did actually go into the Senate. Had it not been for the election, it is very possible that the bill would have gone through the Senate and would now be law. That history is interesting because it gives a sense of the importance of private members’ business, bills and motions and of how we have to keep plugging away and working at an issue. Sometimes it can be a very long and difficult road, with barriers and frustrations and sometimes elections arising before the goal of having a bill finally approved is reached.
This bill and its history have been quite remarkable. I want us to reflect on that today, because this is the fourth time around with this bill. It has already passed in a Parliament. We have an opportunity here today to do something historic, which is to affirm the rights of transgendered, transsexual and gender-variant Canadians who do not have the same degree of protection for their rights and freedoms as all other Canadians. That is why this bill is seeking to remedy that gap in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.
I know some Conservative members may just oppose the bill outright. I would have serious questions about that, because it is a bill based on establishing our understanding about human rights and protection under the law. Other members may support the issue in principle but may believe that the bill is possibly not necessary and that somehow that protection already exists. However, I think we need to be very clear that although other minority groups do have protection under human rights and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, those rights are not guaranteed specifically to transgendered, transsexual and gender-variant Canadians because they are not identified as an identifiable group. While the charter now spells out race, nationality, ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted, it does not include transgendered persons. Therefore, it is really important that we actually make this move.
I would point out that the Canadian Human Rights Act review panel in 2000 recommended that these changes take place. In other words, an independent evaluation beyond this bill in Parliament came to the same conclusion, the conclusion that these changes are needed.
I would also point out that gender identity and gender expression are grounds for protection under the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, to which Canada was a signatory back in 2008, so we can see the international frame for this as well as see that our own experts in Canada are saying that this change needs to take place.
The bill is very timely. It is warranted. It has already been approved by a previous Parliament, so I am very hopeful that we will see our way here, on all sides of the House, to have the bill go through at second reading and pass on to committee.
The support in the community has been quite magnificent. A lot of people have worked very hard on this bill. They include the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, as I pointed out earlier, and also groups like Egale Canada, Jer’s Vision, Gender Mosaic, Ottawa Trans PULSE Project and Trans Pride Canada.
These groups, and many individuals as well, have worked very hard to bring about greater awareness of issues facing transgendered people and greater awareness that discrimination still exists in daily life. Whether we consider health care or employment, housing or social interactions and social acceptance, there is still discrimination, there is still persecution and there is still violence.
It is very interesting. When the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca spoke in the first hour of debate, he laid out very well some of the reports that have been done. One done by Trans PULSE Project Canada, for example, shows that the level of depression among transgendered Canadians is as high as 61% to 66%, and there are issues around mental health. This all has to do with people feeling they are excluded, that they are facing discrimination and harassment, so it is very important that we address this inequality.
A bill like this is really just the first step. Putting something into law, enshrining a right and improving and strengthening the rights that we have, is surely the most important and significant first step that needs to be done, but it is only the beginning. From there, we have to ensure continual vigilance to make sure those rights and protections are upheld because, unfortunately, much discrimination still takes place, so the application of the law and an understanding about the law are really important.
We as legislators, as parliamentarians, have a really important leadership role to play in making it clear that we live in a society where, in our own communities and our own constituencies, we have transgendered constituents and that all people have the right to protection and dignity and respect under the law.
We can begin at that place, but we have to go further. We have to make sure, for example, that there is equal access to health care. Transgendered Canadians often find it very difficult to access health care services and are often denied medically necessary care. They are forced to deal with the issue of their gender before they can access the service. There are many examples, including not having equal access to surgery, an inequality that certainly exists in the provinces where there are different variations and standards. Some very important issues need to be dealt with, but first and foremost we need to get the bill through.
I want to appeal to all members of the House. This is a vote on principle in this bill, and if we accept the principle of what the bill is laying out, then let us get it to committee. At committee we can have a very constructive discussion about the bill, and there may possibly be amendments. The member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, who brought the bill forward, has made it very clear and has shown in all of his work that he wants to engage, hear different points of view and find a way that the bill can be supported by all sides.
We have something very strong and healthy here. We are very close to getting this bill through, so again I want to appeal to all members of the House to consider the principles of the bill, which are about the protection of all Canadians in human rights and dignity and respect, and to allow the bill to go to committee so that there can be a further discussion in much more detail.
I am proud to be here today. Our NDP caucus, the official opposition, is 100% behind the bill, and we really hope other members of the House will find their way to support this bill as well and let it go to committee.
[Table of Contents]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by acknowledging the work of my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca for what he has been attempting to do here, including across the aisle, in a very effective and open way, and also the work of Bill Siksay, a former member of this House, who began the project over six years ago, and to remind everybody that this bill has in effect already passed the House once, only to stall in the Senate when the House was dissolved.
I have three main messages in my remarks.
First of all, I think it is really important that we see this bill as being centrally about recognition of humanity through recognition of distinct identity as part of our commitment to equality in Canadian society. I have found in the past the following approach to identity from an author south of the border, Audre Lorde, in her book Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference to be very informative, and it might help the members of this House.
Allow me to read, and I quote.
||…I find I am constantly being encouraged to pluck out some one aspect of myself and present this as the meaningful whole, eclipsing or denying the other parts of self. But this is a destructive and fragmenting way to live. My fullest concentration of energy is available to me only when I integrate all the parts of who I am, openly, allowing power from particular sources of my living to flow back and forth freely through all my different selves, without the restrictions of externally imposed definition. Only then can I bring myself and my energies as a whole to the service of those struggles which I embrace as part of my living.
The connection here between identity, its recognition and one’s ability to participate and contribute to society at large is extremely well put in this quotation, and I hope that we can all keep the ideas in that quotation in mind.
The second message I have is that this bill is hardly revolutionary. We already have an act in the Northwest Territories that reflects it. The Cities of Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver have already taken this step. We have a bill that has passed second reading, the bill known as “Toby’s law”, Bill 33 in the legislature of Ontario, and we have a recently tabled bill—I believe it is a government bill—in Manitoba.
Also, as has been mentioned several times, we have a declaration of the United Nations, the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity, which Canada has signed, which has to be used as some kind of a normative reference point for our domestic law. As well, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has recently tabled a report at the end of last year on gender identity and sexual orientation that makes clear that even at the United Nations level, with all the diversity of member states, this is now recognized in human rights terms, and in the European Convention on Human Rights community, where we have almost 50 European countries, gender identity, through the recognition of transsexuals’ rights in different parts of the European Convention on Human Rights, has for over a decade been recognized in that area of the world.
But my third, and most important, message comes from Ontario. It is to Ontario that I wish to focus, although what I am about to do is not very elegant or eloquent as a way of giving a speech. What I would like to do is share with the House some of the speeches that have already been given on Bill 33, Toby’s law, in Ontario. That is an act to amend the Ontario Human Rights Code with respect to gender identity and gender expression. I want us to see what is happening in the House today as part of a bigger picture and not to have the House end up falling behind the rest of Canada.
Central to what is happening in Queen’s Park is that it is a multi-party process, including Progressive Conservative MPPs who are as enthusiastically in support of the bill as Liberals and NDP members. Indeed, it is important to note that it is a co-sponsored bill, sponsored by Cheri DiNovo, MPP, of the NDP, Yasir Naqvi of the Liberals and Christine Elliott of the Progressive Conservatives.
My purpose in bringing this up in this way is to ask my Conservative colleagues to take notice of the developments in Queen’s Park, and to allow to happen here what has already happened in Queen’s Park, which is the bill has passed second reading and has gone to committee. Once this bill gets to committee, we can have a very different kind of discussion. I think it is very important not to cut this off before that stage.
Now allow me to do what I already indicated would not be very elegant or eloquent, and that is to dip in and out of some speeches.
First is a quote from a speech by Christine Elliott, who is the Conservative MPP for Whitby—Oshawa. She is referring to Susan Gapka, a trans rights activist from my area of Toronto, whom I also have the pleasure of knowing.
|| [W]hen I first met Susan, which was in 2006….as a member of the Standing Committee on Justice Policy….at that time Susan appeared and was making the same arguments that she has continued to make, which are that everyone is entitled to the dignity and protection of the Human Rights Code, and that the inclusion of gender identity and gender expression, along with race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, and all the other things that we talk about when we speak about the Ontario Human Rights Code, should be included. Gender expression and gender identity should be included with that, to clarify and make sure that the rights of trans people are included as well.
The Conservative MPP for Whitby—Oshawa continued:
|| Fundamentally, I agree that this is a matter of basic human rights, and that’s why I’m really proud to be able to co-sponsor this bill. I truly believe that everyone has the right to be fully included in our society, and everyone deserves the rights and protection of the Ontario Human Rights Code, period, end of sentence, no exceptions. That’s what I think we’re fundamentally dealing with here.
She went on to say:
|| There was a letter that was sent by Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Barbara Hall in 2007 on this issue, and she noted that “the lack of explicit inclusion in the legislation means that trans people’s distinct experiences of discrimination remain unacknowledged…. Amending the code would provide clarity and greater recognition of the dignity of transgender people, and would leave no doubt, in the eyes of the public or the law, that they are entitled to the same human rights protections as everyone else.”
The MPP for Whitby—Oshawa concluded:
|| I totally agree…and I think that some of the problems that people have encountered in terms of obtaining identification and obtaining travel documentation clearly show the fact that it hasn’t been completely accepted and understood by everyone. I hope that obtaining all-party support of this…would absolutely clarify the issue once and for all and we could move forward on this issue.
I think I only have time to move to one other speech in the Ontario Debates, and that is one by Mrs. Jane McKenna, Conservative MPP for Burlington, who stated:
|| I have said before that I believe we are all God’s children. I firmly believe this to be so. I have said before repeatedly that no one should suffer discrimination or persecution because of who they are and the road they walk in this life. We pride ourselves on being a modern society, a progressive place. We aspire to the ideas enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights….
|| And yet, under the current language of the Ontario Human Rights Code, the equalities and freedoms that most of us enjoy, and which far too many of us take for granted, are spelled out clearly for some and are implied for others.
|| If we truly want all Ontarians to enjoy these fundamental rights and freedoms, they should be extended to all Ontarians.
My intent in reading these two quotations from two members of the Progressive Conservative Party in Queen’s Park who are in support of the analogue bill in Queen’s Park is to plead to my colleagues in the Conservative Party to at least allow this bill to go to committee after second reading, where we can have a deeper discussion about the fundamental values of our country and the need to recognize the fundamental humanity of transgendered people.
[Table of Contents]
I am very proud to have the opportunity to speak to the bill introduced by my hon. colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. I would like to take a moment to congratulate him on all his hard work on this issue.
I would also like to congratulate the former member, Mr. Siksay, who worked very hard in previous years to get his bill passed, a bill that was very similar to the one before us here today.
At the time, his bill was supported by the Canadian Bar Association and the Public Service Alliance of Canada. Today, we also have the support of many other unions, such as the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
I am very proud of the fact that Canada’s labour movement has given us its support so that we can finally pass legislation that will strengthen the rights of Canadians. I think that is very important. Canadians generally believe that our rights must be interpreted in a broad sense. However, when it comes to transsexuals’ rights, there are limitations. I am very proud of the work done by the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
Passing this bill would be an important step in protecting the rights of all Canadians. As a member of Parliament and an openly gay man, I am very aware of the fundamental importance of the legal protection of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
In fact, had my rights as a gay man not been enshrined in the law, I would likely not be here before you today. If I was not able to express my identity, I would be living a very different life, likely a double life, a life filled with fear.
I would not be married. I would never have been able to openly share the joy of that relationship with my family and friends. I would likely never have developed the confidence needed to become a notary and a politician.
I support this bill. It will help transsexual and transgendered Canadians achieve a degree of freedom that they do not currently enjoy. It will be a freedom that will allow them to exercise their right to express themselves fully and freely as human beings, knowing that the law will protect them against bullying and discrimination.
Federal law does not provide specific protection for transsexual and transgendered Canadians any more than it provides protection against hate crimes.
Often, the courts and human rights commissions consider these types of complaints as discrimination, but the legal arguments have to be made over again every time. Enshrining this right in our legislation would prevent such complaints from ending up in court and would prevent transsexual and transgendered people from always having to spend large amounts of money to protect rights that others take for granted.
It is time to stop doing things this way and to protect transsexual and transgendered Canadians against the discrimination, harassment and violence they experience in their everyday lives. It is time to protect transsexual and transgendered Canadians.
Some believe that terms such as “gender identity” and “gender expression” are poorly defined, but that is not true. These expressions are very clear in scientific research and in the law.
Gender identity is an individual’s self-conception as male or female, both or neither, as distinguished from one’s birth-assigned sex.
Gender expression is how a person’s gender identity is communicated to others through emphasizing, de-emphasizing or changing behaviour, dress, speech and/or mannerisms.
Some have argued that there is no need for specific protection of transgendered rights as sexual orientation is already included in the Canadian Human Rights Act and in the hate crimes section of the Criminal Code. This argument confuses sexual orientation (who one is attracted to sexually) with gender identity and gender expression.
Transgender, transsexual, gender non-conforming and gender variant individuals may profess any of a range of sexual orientations: attracted to people of their own gender identity, of the other binary gender or of several different genders. There is no scientific justification for forcing those with alternative gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation to assimilate. That kind of thinking is outdated.
Trans people are regularly denied things that we all take for granted, such as access to adequate health care and housing, the ability to obtain or change identification documents, access to washrooms and other gender-identified spaces, limits on the ability to exercise the right to vote, and on the ability to acquire and keep meaningful employment.
Canada is a signatory to the UN statement on sexual orientation and gender identity. To meet our obligations it is necessary to add gender identity to our own Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.
Transsexual and transgender Canadians currently have no explicit protection in the Human Rights Act leaving trans Canadians open to discrimination, prejudice, harassment and violence on a daily basis. Adding specific protections for the rights of transgender Canadians will close a specific gap in Canadian human rights law and will help raise public awareness about this important issue.
Since 1970, at least 645 trans people have been murdered worldwide. We know that this is only the tip of the iceberg as most countries do no keep records on trans identities or trans-related violence. This is an opportunity for all parties to join together to help complete basic protection of human rights in Canada by including protections for transgender, transsexual, and gender variant individuals in Canadian law.
We have seen this House pass similar legislation before. We had the support of many members from all parties. It would only make sense this time around to pass a bill on which this House has already spoken and for which it has given its approval.
Moving forward with a new bill today will simply confirm the state of Canadian law as it should be and as the House has already declared it to be in the past. Unfortunately, we have lost several months debating the bill again, only to come here today and end up where we were two years ago.
In closing, I think it is very important for us to move forward and confirm our support once again. I hope that all members here in this House who were here the last time will reaffirm their support for this bill and that the other MPs, those who are new like me, will also lend their support. Nearly a dozen Conservatives have even participated in the It Gets Better video project in response to high rates of LGBT suicides.
We hope that all those who have demonstrated their concrete commitment to making it better for transgender people will vote in favour of this bill.
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Mr. Speaker, I rise to close second reading debate on Bill C-279 with a great deal of optimism.
In the brief time I have available, I will not try to review all the arguments in favour of the bill. One reason is that this is essentially the same bill that passed in the House in the previous Parliament and stalled in the Senate. The second is that I had the privilege of opening this debate some weeks ago and laid out my arguments then. The third reason is the arguments in favour that have been ably put before the House today by my colleagues.
In the brief time I have available I want to deal with concerns we have heard from the other side of the House. I have listened carefully to speeches and I have talked a great deal with individual members on the other side. What I have heard is much goodwill on the question of protecting the rights of transgender, transsexual and gender variant Canadians despite some concerns about specifics of the bill.
One concern is a lack of definitions of key terms in the bill. I personally still do not believe a definition of gender identity is needed in the same way that we do not define other terms in the human rights code.
The other concern is with the breadth of the term “gender expression”. Again, this is not a concern that I share personally, but it is one that I have come to understand in my discussion with members on the other side. I will concede that this term is not as precisely defined in law as “gender identity”.
A third argument that has been made against the bill is that it is not needed because transgender rights are already protected in existing legislation. Once again, I do not share this opinion. I believe there is a gap in our law. As we just heard from my hon. colleague, one of the problems in law if it is not specifically mentioned is that those legal arguments have to be rebuilt in every legal case. Even if this were the case and transgender rights were covered in some general terms, there are still good reasons to proceed with this legislation and its specific protection of the rights of transgendered Canadians.
One good reason is to remove any doubt or ambiguity about the protection of those rights and to state very clearly that transgender, transsexual and gender variant Canadians are entitled to the same protections as all other Canadians, and that discrimination against transgender Canadians must end now.
Progress is being made in other jurisdictions, such as Ontario and Manitoba, and even in some unexpected places like Argentina, which now has perhaps the most progressive legislation in the world on transgender rights.
In response to that large measure of goodwill that I found on the other side of the House, I am committing today to support changes to the bill which I believe will preserve the essence of the bill while still meeting the concerns of many of those on the other side of the House.
If we can get support at second reading to get the bill to committee in the vote next Wednesday, we on this side will support amendments to do two things. We will support an amendment to remove the term “gender expression” from the bill, and we will support an amendment to add a definition for “gender identity” to the bill. I trust that this commitment will secure enough support to move forward on the protection of transgender Canadians.
I urge all members to join me in supporting this bill and helping to build a truly inclusive Canada where we can all live our lives as who we are, and we can each make our own special contribution to Canadian life.
I want to remind the House once again that transgender, transsexual and gender variant Canadians are our brothers and our sisters, our children, our parents, our grandparents, our family, our co-workers and our friends.
I urge everyone in the House to join together, let us move forward together to make progress for the protection of rights of all Canadians, including transgender Canadians, transsexual Canadians and gender variant Canadians. The time to act is now.
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The time provided for debate has expired.
The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton): All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
Some hon. members: Yea.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton): All those opposed will please say nay.
Some hon. members: Nay.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton): In my opinion the yeas have it.
And five or more members having risen:
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton): Pursuant to an order made on Wednesday, May 30, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, June 6, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.
It being 2:18 p.m. the House stands adjourned until next Monday at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).
(The House adjourned at 2:18 p.m.)