Tag Archives: gender expression

C-279 amendments made, in afternoon of impassioned speeches.

Update / Correction: The amendments were given a voice vote, but not actually passed.  Because there was visible opposition, it’s subject to recorded division, and the amendments will be voted on, on March 20th.

More twists and turns than a mangled slinky.

It’s official, the amendments to drop gender expression and define gender identity have been made.  To me, whatever happens, it will all be bittersweet.

The debate, however, was very good.  Keep the kleenex close by.  From Hansard, here are the highlights:

David Anderson brings up the obligatory “bathroom bill” panic:

One concern is that the bill is unsettling to people. The author has really refused to talk about or deal with the potential implications and consequences of such wide-ranging and undefined legislation. My constituents, I have to say, do not see this as benign legislation because of the things we just talked about, in particular the fact that there is such a lack of definitional framework to the bill. What I am getting from my riding is that the constituents oppose it, but they do have some questions that I will pose on their behalf.

The first question to the member opposite is this: does he actually believe that there is no one who will try to abuse the situation that would be created by his deliberately vague legislative agenda?

That is what the member seemed to be saying when he spoke, but he has refused to address this criticism in his speech. It remains out there in the public’s mind, and I have heard that from my constituents.

Second, especially with regard to minors and adults, my constituents have questions about the power relationship that would exist in what in the past were basically private facilities that would now become very public facilities. They are asking what their obligations and rights would be. The failure to address these issues is really why the bill has become known as the “bathroom bill”. I do not think we can just brush off people’s concerns.

Sean Casey chided him for it while touching on the key points:

So in the context of this debate, which has at times been a vigorous debate and at times a debate with moments unworthy of this House, there are some who, contrary to evidence and facts, choose another path to make their case. They choose fear and innuendo, all the while claiming a moral high ground. They claim for themselves exclusivity to that which is right and decent, using language that is hurtful and demeaning. How can anyone claim to be of good heart or claim the virtue of “love thy neighbour” yet reduce this bill to gutter language when they call it “the bathroom bill”? It is an entirely offensive and erroneous implication to suggest that transgendered people would be lurking late at night in bathrooms should this bill pass.

Megan Leslie gave an emotionally charged speech, and since I don’t see a video to post yet, I’ll include it all right here:

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Charlottetown for his speech. That was really incredible.

I am a trans rights activist. I have been working on the issue of transgender rights for many years in my community of Halifax, and I am an ally to the trans community. Years ago, when I was a law student, and then later when I was working at Dalhousie Legal Aid, I worked with NSRAP, the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, and we developed a trans rights awareness program.

I had the opportunity to work with transgendered Nova Scotians to develop a presentation on trans rights. We actually presented to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission on the realities of being trans people, their experiences, day after day, within their communities, our communities, within their/our legal institutions and within their/our government institutions, because we do not realize, when we are cisgender, which is when our gender identity matches our biological sex, how often we get to take for granted our gender rights.

I had a transgender client who once asked me to write a letter on official legal aid letterhead that gave a legal opinion about her right to use the bathroom, based on case law. She would keep it in her purse and use it if she ran into problems. Imagine walking around with a legal document, a legal opinion, in one’s purse or wallet to settle disputes about the right to use a bathroom. Imagine the indignity of arguing this with mall security, with a bouncer, with classmates or co-workers, just to heed the call of nature. It could be at any time. It could be this afternoon. It could be tomorrow. It could be every day. It could be never. One just does not know when it is going to happen.

Imagine being pulled over by the police for speeding and answering questions about why the sex listed on one’s identification does not match one’s gender identity. Perhaps one’s birth name is called out at the doctor’s office, because one has to have sex reassignment surgery to change identification. Imagine what that would feel like. These small indignities happen every day to members of our community.

The bill does a small thing by adding trans rights to the Canadian Human Rights Act and by adding trans motivated hate to the hate crimes list. It is a small thing, but it is a magnificent thing.

I am pretty close to the trans advocate community at home, and we have had long discussions about the idea that adding trans rights to human rights legislation may not actually grant protections that members of the trans community do not already have. As we heard, there is ample case law to show that human rights commissions will fit trans rights into different categories that already exist. For example, when Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project made our presentation to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, it was strong and steadfast in its commitment to protecting trans rights and said that it would find a way to make it fit under another ground, but what ground? How do we protect the dignity of trans Canadians when we are asking them to fit their problem into the margins? How do we protect the dignity of trans people by making them look for their rights under another category, such as sex, when it is not about sex, or gender, when it is not about gender, or disability, when it is absolutely not a disability?

It is meaningful to look at rights and see ourselves there. It is important to know that we are protected, that we can hold up a human rights act and say, “I am protected. I am here in this document”.

Further to this argument, we heard evidence from the Canadian Human Rights Commission that fitting trans people into the margins now is not a guarantee that they will be fit into the margins in the future. Enshrining rights in legislation protects those rights, and trans Canadians need this protection.

The Canadian Police Association agrees. Today, president Tom Stamatakis spoke out in favour of this bill with a simple and beautiful statement that equality under the law is an important principle for Canada’s front-line police personnel to uphold. It is that simple.

My home province of Nova Scotia has had this debate in our legislature. I want to share a letter from Kate Shewan about how things have changed since this legislation was passed in our province.

I think we can learn from the Nova Scotia example, and I think we can learn from the members of our trans community who have had this experience.

She writes:

      I’m a board member of Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, an organization that advocates for the rights of the LGBT community. I’m also a trans-identified person. I’m writing to you in support of Bill C-279.
      As a member of the trans community in Nova Scotia, where provincially we’ve benefited from the changes to the human rights act, I’ve seen first hand how this change can benefit individuals within the trans community, a community which has suffered significant discrimination.
       The immediate change that I saw following the Nova Scotia legislation was a change in attitudes and a new confidence. Members of the trans community who had almost taken it for granted that they would be discriminated against in the employment market and other areas of society felt empowered and more confident, knowing with certainty that their rights were protected, and seeing that the challenges our community faces had been formally acknowledged. In a group that suffers significant unemployment, underemployment and disengagement from society in general, I believe this empowerment and confidence will help to give trans Canadians a better opportunity to reach their full potential, improve their employment and economic situations and become more engaged in the community.
      It is important that these protections are also in place at the federal level, so that all trans Canadians can benefit from these changes….
Today is International Women’s Day, and I heard a lot of statements in the House about how far women have come in our fight for equality. I heard a number of references today to the Persons Case, a court case that ruled that we, women, were persons under the law.
The result of that case probably did not do much for women that week. It probably did not change their day-to-day experience. It did not mean that the next day all of a sudden women got to sit at the tables of decision making. It did not mean that the next day they started working outside the home and were paid wages equal to men’s, and it did not mean that domestic violence ended.
However, not long after that, some women got the right to vote. A woman could look at that document and know that in the eyes of the law, she counted.
In the lead-up to today, I got a lot of calls and emails from my community telling me why they thought I should support this bill. Of course everybody knew that I would, but they sent me such interesting things that I wanted to share a couple of them.
I had one community member who contacted me to say:
      I’m trans, but have a good job, house, car, money in the bank…by all measure successful in most people’s eyes. (Not to boast) just trying to show that we are like most other people, just are part of a gender spectrum that is finally being recognized.

I also want to share a letter I received from the sexual orientation and gender identity division of the Canadian Bar Association. I was a member of that group when I was a law student. This is from the chair of the equality committee and the co-chairs of the sexual orientation and gender identity community. Here is just a shout-out to Amy Sakalauskas and Level Chan who are actually from Nova Scotia. I was happy that they have taken up this issue. They wrote:

      Transgender Canadians are a minority who suffer profound discrimination, such as job losses, alienation from their communities, ridicule, harassment and inadequate health care services. They also disproportionately fall victim to hate crimes, including homicide.

They go on. It is these kinds of examples that make us realize we have to do something about this.The bathroom panic argument just does not wash. We have laws against peeping Toms. It is an illegal act. That argument does not wash here.An argument that does wash here is that recently I was at a community event and a young person came up to me. I do not really remember it. I do not remember if this person was a young man or a young woman, blond or brunette, but this person came up to me, took my hand and opened it, put something in my hand and closed it up. Then they left.I opened my hand and there was a tiny little note. It said:

      Thanks for giving…[an eff] about trans people.

I think that is why we are here.

Michelle Rempel also gave an emotionally-charged speech.  As things were proceeding, folks on Twitter and news feeds were arguing over whether her words meant that she is or isn’t going to support the bill.  But in fact, it’s still not entirely clear.  Again, her comments are included here in full:

Mr. Speaker, I speak today to Bill C-279. I would like to thank the member for Halifax for some of her comments here today.

I have had the privilege of representing constituents in Calgary Centre North for nearly two years now. In this time, I have had the opportunity to review many pieces of legislation and debate both their merits and their flaws. As I have done so, I have been struck that oftentimes, we have to evaluate two components of legislation: the why of the bill and the how of the issue. Many times we disagree, sometimes vociferously, about the why. We have differing political ideology, thoughts on how public policy should be best utilized and thoughts on how this country should be governed. It is in this context that I first speak to the why of this bill.

After reading testimony from witnesses during this iteration of the bill and in the last Parliament, and after consulting with those who work with members of the trans community and members of the community itself, I am frankly shocked by the discrimination this group of people faces.

The member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca and witnesses to this bill at committee, and indeed members here today, have given this House so many examples that I cannot reiterate them. Suffice it to say that I would offer that the summary of evidence could read as follows: the trans community in Canada has, on frequent occasions, experienced elevated levels of sexual violence committed against members; frequent workplace discrimination and job loss based on gender; lack of clarity on health care provisions and sometimes access to health care; lack of clarity on processes related to obtaining identification documents; bullying in places of employment and educational institutions; discrimination in accessing housing accommodation; and numerous other incidents of discrimination.

Most importantly, they live with the consequences of these acts of non-compassion, of false assumptions that, simply by virtue of their state, they are sexually promiscuous, or more ludicrously, that they are criminal. In this, the trans community experiences very high levels of both depression and suicide. This is not acceptable to me, and this is the why of this bill. It is my hope that no one in the House, either on this side or the other side, could read the testimony, could talk to people in the community, and argue that this is acceptable or tolerable in our country.

The question set upon us as legislators is the how. How do we prevent these situations from occurring?

I have spent a lot of time on the how. I found that this bill seeks to address the how by addressing the following assumption, using the language of the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca during the bill review at the Standing Committee on Justice, that “transgendered Canadians do not enjoy the same protection of their rights as other Canadians”.

This is a very serious charge that is worthy of study, as the ideas and values that are the heart of how our country operates, the freedoms it affords to all groups to worship without persecution, to seek prosperity in one’s field of work, to choose whom we love, and to speak with conviction on issues that impact our communities, are all based on the assumption that Canadians have equality of rights in freedom of expression and can do so without the threat of discrimination or violence to their person. However, to assess whether this bill provides an adequate how, I first evaluated the validity of this assumption.

The member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca had an exchange with the member for Edmonton—St. Albert at justice committee about this assumption. The member for Edmonton—St. Albert said:

      Except now that the Canada tribunal has emphatically stated that there is no longer any doubt, I would suggest to you that your first hurdle has been cleared by precedent… There is now case law that supports the proposition that individuals who have a genuine gender identity disorder are entitled to human rights protection.

There have been numerous examples given in the House and at committee of case law that shows that this provision exists. I understand the member for Halifax when she says that she wants to see herself in that human rights bill. The case law does exist to show that it is there.

Mr. Ian Fine, the acting secretary of the human rights commission, stated the following, “the commission, the tribunal, and the courts view gender identity and gender expression as protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act”. Having said that, he also stated that “adding the grounds of gender identity and gender expression to the [Canadian Human Rights Act] would make the protection” of the transgender community explicit. The rationale that he stated for this necessity was as follows: “This would promote acceptance and send a message that everyone in Canada has the right to be treated with equality, dignity, and respect”. I do not disagree with the latter part of that statement. It gave me quite a bit of pause for thought, and that has been at the heart of my deliberations on the bill.

It could be argued that this is contradictory in some regard. Mr. Fine previously made a statement that the tribunal, the commission and the courts do view gender identity and expression as protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act, and that somehow even though this protection exists, it does not send enough of a message to Canadians on this issue. While this contradiction may be well intentioned, I feel there are many examples where serious issues arise when legislators equate symbolism with social action or when we inadvertently dilute the role of social activists by being reactive to an issue with legislative symbolism.

The member for Halifax has my playbook because she stole my speech on International Women’s Rights Day. I would like to speak on the social action process for the struggle for female gender equality.

Even after laws were passed to enshrine women’s gender equality within our laws, the member is right; we did not see those changes happen overnight. In fact, lawsuits still had to be fought and won, offenders had to be charged, battles had to be waged to change workplace codes of conduct, and awareness training programs had to be crafted. I would like to highlight that in the British parliament, even after women had been elected, as little time ago as 1993, a woman in this place did not make it to a vote because she could not find a bathroom.

I have also stood in the House to highlight that sexism does happen with frequency in this country in spite of these laws. I am not trying to imply that the struggle for trans rights is directly concurrent with the struggle for women’s rights, but in my deliberations on the bill, I found there is a burden of evidence which suggests that case law does exist to provide the trans community with protection under the law against discrimination and violence. Here is my concern. In this fact, the how of this legislation may not achieve the ultimate solution to the why, in that it may place too much of an emphasis on symbolism over direct social action.

As always, the member for Halifax makes a very compelling argument.

A question that I have struggled with in evaluating the validity of the bill is what guidance we, as legislators, are truly giving judicial organizations in how to carry out the intentions of Parliament in this regard. The way the term “gender identity” is defined in the preamble of the bill, even with the amendments, played a large part in my decision to vote to study the bill further. I am still not entirely clear on how parliamentarians, the human rights tribunal, criminal courts, sentencing judges and the broader community at large will be required to interpret this term.

I am also not clear on the following key issues. What constitutes the scope of discrimination against someone based on his or her gender identity in the eyes of my colleagues, as legislators, of members of the trans community and the courts? What kind of speech based on someone’s gender identity could be considered hate propaganda? What does it mean in defined terms to have a bias based on a person’s deeply held internal and individual experience of gender?

Admittedly, the evaluation of this legislation has been very difficult for me because I believe that the why it presents is concerning. Any time we as parliamentarians are faced with clear situations where fear of differences or lack of awareness allow hatred to mushroom, we have to take note and ask ourselves what role we play in breaking down these barriers. This legislation has opened my eyes to the plight of a group of people in this country who experience extreme discrimination. Both sides of this debate should agree that equality and protection against harm are two fundamental values that all Canadians of any gender, any age, any background are entitled to.

However, as legislators we are also tasked with deciding if the proposed legislation is sound. Given the lack of clarity that I found in the bill, I do have concern about its viability and if the how will achieve what the community and Canadians hope for in addressing the why.

Raymond Côté (after relating some personal experiences) presented the theological case for — yes, for — the bill:

All of my colleagues in the House will agree that human dignity is non-negotiable. It is very simple. I would even add that the sanctity of human life is something we value so highly—at least we should—that we cannot put a price on defending it. We must never tolerate pettiness or compromise.

I have spoken about my faith before, and I want to share some of the Catholic Church’s social doctrine. It very clearly states that every human being has the unalienable right to exist and to have dignity within society. That represents a tremendous challenge, because it means that we must allow the right to be different, the right to a certain degree of dissidence, the right to go against the established norm and the right to go against the stream.

This also means that people like me, who have the privilege to have a favourable—even comfortable—place in society, must make concessions. I am very pleased to be able to reach out to a group in our society whose rights are too easily violated and to offer them some progress. It may not be perfect, but it is still progress.

Jinny Jogindera Sims concluded the debate by again evoking the struggle for women to be recognized as persons under law:

My colleague articulated beautifully the struggle that women have had. When we look at history, it was not that long ago that women were not recognized as persons. I challenge anyone in the room to think that we could be sitting in the House as women representing our ridings if that legislation had not been enacted and we had not been recognized as persons. That did not automatically get rid of all the discrimination and all the barriers and glass ceilings that exist. However, what it did do was to open up a pathway, and it took away the greatest barrier, which was to not be recognized at all.

This bill, in turn, would do exactly that. It says to the members of our transgendered community that they are part of this society and they are explicit in our human rights code. They do not have to hide, nor do they have to go looking to see which corner of the human rights code they fit in, nor do they have to see if there is a judge who is going to be favouring looking for a spot or fear a day when the judiciary could turn around and say it is not explicit and cannot be found in here, so they are not covered. It is to avoid that very situation that we have to have legislation like this.

… I do not know if members are aware, but I was a classroom teacher for a very long time. In that role, one of the things I discovered very early on in my teaching is that for children to be successful in life, they have to see themselves reflected, but they also have to feel themselves protected. When we have transgender young people in our community who do not feel protected explicitly in our law, we leave them vulnerable.

… It would be fitting if we could all vote for this measure unanimously, especially when we are on the eve of International Women’s Day. We would celebrate the fact that we have enshrined those rights into our legislation and into human rights.

Following this, the amendments were given a voice vote and accepted into the bill, and the Speaker announced that proceedings will resume on March 20th:

Normally, at this time the House would proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded divisions at the report stage of the bill. However, pursuant to standing Order 98, the divisions stand deferred until Wednesday, March 20, immediately before the time provided for private member’s business.

Previous records or notes:

C-279: To amend or not to amend?

… aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand we still don’t know what Bill C-279 is going to be when it’s voted on at Third Reading.

The bill, which proposes to add trans people to human rights legislation, had an hour of debate at report stage.  Randall Garrison requested that amendments be added to the bill, and the Speaker decided that they should be debated and voted on by the House, prior to Third Reading.  This was the first hour of that, with a second to follow.  Consequently, we still didn’t get any yes / no answer on whether those changes would be made.  Garrison anticipates that the changes are needed in order to have enough multi-party support to pass the bill.

For folks confused by mention that there are nine amendments, that means that the text of the bill is amended in nine places.  What it accomplishes is to drop “gender expression,” to define “gender identity” (details and my take on those changes here), and to correct it by adding some classes that have already been added to existing legislation since Bill Siksay first composed the text of this bill (“marital status, family status, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered”).

Interestingly, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice (Robert Goguen) and two other Conservative MPs (Dan Albas and David Anderson) cite four examples to claim that inclusion is not necessary.  They all avoided talking about outcomes, by using phrasing like “the court dealt with the complaint[s] using the ground of sex.”  There is a reason for this, because one was ultimately decided against a trans woman in the B.C. Court of Appeal (Nixon v. RR), and another may have been arbitrarily ignored by a direct order from the Harper Government (Kavanagh v. Correctional Services of Canada)… although there’s some uncertainty about what policy is actually being practiced in the correctional system, right now.  Ironically, half of the Conservatives’ own examples actually demonstrate why clarity is needed.

Several commentators referred to the testimony of representatives of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, acknowledging that technically, transsexuals were already read into existing legislation.  Randall Garrison correctly notes that they (particularly Ian Fine) did so reluctantly, while also stating that clarification would be helpful.

MP Anderson kept falsely characterizing the bill as “expanding the definition of sexual orientation to gender expression and to gender identity.”  Anderson (who showed up to be part part of the attempt to filibuster the committee proceedings, despite the fact that he was not a voting member of the committee) had his speech cut short by the end of session, and he will be continuing when debate resumes.

Highlights and lowlights of the debate can be found in the Hansard (audio, starting after 4:30), but here are some excerpts:

Randall Garrison:

… As we have just heard, the package of amendments is quite complex, but it really only does two things. Nine amendments are required because of the complexity of legal drafting, but again, only two things are happening here.

The first is that the bill adds the definition of “gender identity”, which we just heard the Speaker read out in the House. The second is that the term “gender expression” is removed from the bill.

I hope this reassures those members who wanted a somewhat narrower bill, a bill that was somewhat easier to explain in public, and a bill that might rule out some of the more extreme concerns or fears that some people had. I believe that if we approve these amendments, we will have that bill in front of us.

There were some concerns about “gender expression” being less well defined in law and that this would somehow open the gates to abusive practices on the basis of the gender identity bill. I will be very frank and talk about the main one of those, which was the concern that somehow people could use this bill to gain illegitimate access to public bathrooms and change rooms in order to commit what would always be criminal acts of assault.

I contacted the jurisdictions in the United States that have had these provisions in place for a very long time. Four of those did reply, those being California, Iowa, Colorado and the state of Washington. All of them reported the same thing: there have been no instances in any of those states of attempts to use the protections for transgendered people for illegal or illegitimate purposes—no incidents, zero, none.

There have been concerns on the other side from members of the transgendered community or those who have gender variant expressions that they wish to carry out. To them I would say that this is a somewhat narrower bill, but we believe that it preserves the essence of the protections we are seeking here, which is that transgendered and gender variant persons should have the same rights as all other Canadians.

If these amendments are adopted, it would be a somewhat narrower bill than that passed by the previous Parliament.

I have to take a moment to pay tribute to former MP Bill Siksay, who brought that bill forward through the minority Parliament. However, the bill died on the order paper of the Senate as a result of an election call.

If we approve these amendments and we go on to adopt this bill, what is it that we would actually be doing here? I am arguing that we are simply completing the Canadian human rights agenda. This bill would create no special rights, no additional rights and no unusual rights, but would simply provide the same rights, no more and no less, to transgendered and gender variant Canadians.

Another argument against the bill has been that it is not necessary to have it, that somehow people are already protected in Canada. I have a legal answer to that, and then I have a practical answer to it.

The legal answer is that we heard from the Canadian Human Rights Commission in committee that it would be very useful to clarify the law by having this explicit mention of transgendered rights in the Canadian Human Rights Act and in the hate crime section of the Criminal Code. It is true that in the past the Human Rights Commission and the tribunal have decided cases involving transgendered Canadians on the basis of sex discrimination; however, as they have pointed out, that is no guarantee that all future cases would meet the test of sex discrimination. Therefore, in order to make sure that all the possible issues that might arise are covered, it would be better to have an explicit statement in both the Canadian Human Rights Act and in the hate crime section of the Criminal Code….

Robert Goguen (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice):

… As I have said, the ground of sex is already in the act and has been used to address instances of discrimination against this group. The addition of gender identity is therefore unnecessary.

However, if its addition is not purely symbolic, as the sponsor tells us it is not, then we would ask ourselves this. If this ground were to be added to the Canadian Human Rights Act, what sorts of new complaints of discrimination will be brought before the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Tribunal? How will employers know what kinds of workplace behaviour and expression would be prohibited? The answers to these questions are not clear to me and they are questions that we should carefully consider…

Irwin Cotler:

… As I mentioned with respect to the exclusion of “gender expression”, it was initially my preference that both terms remain in the bill. Again, I am cognizant of the possibility that even in the absence of “gender expression”, the term “gender identity” might, through case law and through an appreciation of travaux préparatoires, eventually come to encompass part or all that would have been protected by the former.

… To start, they [opposing Conservatives] came with their own amendments, including a handful that only reinforced the status quo formula of “sex” and “disability”. Then there was a frivolous amendment exempting official Canadian sports authorities from the provisions of the bill, as if to contain some fictional mass of men trying to compete in women’s sports, and vice versa. Finally, there was an out-of-context amendment that sought to ensure that no part of the Canadian Human Rights Act could infringe upon the rights of aboriginal peoples. While I firmly believe that we should only enact legislation that is mindful of the rights of Canada’s aboriginal peoples, I found there was no reason to codify this specific protection into the act, as the charter supersedes any statutory act, which is clearly set forth in section 52 of the Constitution Act. It appeared that this, too, was a diversionary item…

Kennedy Stewart:

… Passing the bill into law would be an important step forward for Canadians expressing themselves as transgendered. Trans people have regularly been shown that they are denied things that we all take for granted, such as adequate access to health care and housing, the ability to obtain or change identification documents, access to washrooms and other gender stations, as well as very fundamental rights such as the ability to exercise the right to vote and to acquire and maintain meaningful employment…

… We need to do this in the spirit of the anti-bullying pink shirt day that we are seeing here in Canada. Wearing a pink shirt is a good thing. It shows that Canadians care. However, this is an opportunity to actually do something concrete, to change the laws of our country to make sure that people who are facing discrimination are no longer discriminated against, or if they are, that they have remedy within our legal system, whether it is the Canadian Human Rights Act or the Criminal Code, in order to make sure that they obtain justice and are able to pursue their lives as they see fit.

What we need to take into account also is how the trans community is suffering under the current circumstances. Worldwide since 1970, 717 trans people have been reported as murdered. However, this of course is a severe undercount, because many countries do not collect adequate statistics in this area, nor do they correctly record violence against the trans community….

Dan Albas:

… By adding the proposed definition for the term “gender identity” in Bill C-279’s preamble, it remains unclear what situations it would cover and how the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, or the criminal courts and the sentencing judges, would interpret these terms. This gives rise to the potential for subjective interpretations. These interpretations do not provide clarity nor certainty. In the absence of having greater certainty and a clear definition, it is important to recognize that existing laws already do apply to discrimination against transsexuals…

Mylène Freeman:

… Dr. Shuvo Ghosh, who is a trailblazer in this field is a pediatrician, a developmental-behavioural pediatrician to be specific, and an assistant professor at McGill University and at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, noticed that he was seeing more and more transgendered children and decided that he would open a clinic to specifically support their needs. It is the first one of its kind, in fact. I am very happy and proud that it is in my province of Quebec and so close to my home in Montreal.

Dr. Ghosh wrote me this letter to share with the House:

 (quoting) To the Honourable Members of the 41st Parliament of Canada:

Last year when Bill C-389 passed its third reading in the House of Commons, many questioned the wisdom of enshrining “gender identity” or “gender expression” in the Canadian Human Rights Act and whether this was redundant given that “sex” is already protected. With the NDP’s Private Member Bill on Gender Identity now up for debate, these questions are once again being raised. As a paediatrician who cares for gender non-conforming children, adolescents and their families who are part of the roughly 1-2% of all Canadians with differences in their gender expression, I would like to highlight the main reasons why this issue is crucial for Canadian society.

While “gender identity” and “sex” are related terms, they are no synonymous. The most obvious example of this dichotomy is in children born with medical intersex conditions who identify more with one gender of another, or rarely, neither or both; but their physical sexual characteristics frequently do not correspond with their identity. Are we to conclude, then, that they fall outside the protection of the Human Rights Act because their “sex” is indeterminate or incongruent with their behaviour? Youth with any variation in their gender identity…have been shown, in numerous studies and in various clinical databases, to be the group most vulnerable to extreme and violent bullying, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

Adolescents with gender variance are 14 times more likely to attempt suicide than any other sub-group of teens, including other recognized and protected vulnerable populations. They are also the most likely to be rejected by peers and family members, and often lacking even any legal recourse to simply “be” who they are, frequently enter a spiral of self-harm that can lead to substance abuse and alcoholism. This heartbreaking distress is seen and reported even in children as young as 4 years old who simply recognize that their gender identity does not correspond with their anatomic sex, and have asked their parents to help them die. So many families of gender variant kids experience severe discrimination, societal rejection, and serious psycho-social difficulty. This translates to higher levels of divorce, greater school and emotional problems in siblings, and severe marginalization. These families need their children to be recognized, included and protected, just as any family does.

Isn’t it fair for Canada to stand up and to stand together, to say that our most vulnerable children and teens deserve to be specifically protected for the very characteristic that makes them vulnerable? Do we as a nation not have the responsibility to enshrine gender identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act? It is imperative. The medical evidence supports it; and these young Canadians, slipping through the cracks of our society, deserve to have their tears of loneliness and rejection wiped away so that instead of living and dying in fear, they may grow up to share and contribute to this wonderful country in which we are so privileged to live… (still quoting)

David Anderson (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board):

… The desperate attempt, I would say, by member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca to amend the bill shows that the bill itself is not adequate. The bill is just not up to the level it needs to be in order for anyone to support it in this House. The amendments to the act as proposed by Bill C-279 are largely symbolic and vague, and I would say that they risk introducing confusion to the law. I would suggest as well that the amendments he is making do not add anything to it.

The bill is not properly designed to remedy the supposed social problem that it is aimed at addressing, and I would argue that it is largely unnecessary as well. For those reasons and a couple of others, I will be opposing Bill C-279.

… I understand that the member is now starting to try to put definition into some of these things because he is afraid he is going to lose the bill, and I think that he should lose it. Expanding the definition of sexual orientation to gender expression and to gender identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code makes who and what is being protected even less clear than it is. If the member’s purpose was to clarify the existing grounds, which I would maintain is unnecessary, he could have proposed adding an appropriate definition to the Canadian Human Rights Act. He did not do that. He has come back lately with an attempt to do that, but it was not his intention at the beginning.

… I would suggest that even with the definition he is trying to add today, he probably is still thinking that hopefully the courts and the human rights commissions will define it. However, I would argue that it is inadequate for a legislator to proceed in this way.

If our role is to bring laws forward, they should be brought forward with enough content that the courts and commissions are not the ones who are defining what those bills are and what they say. I believe that is inappropriate. It is an abdication of our parliamentary responsibility to pass laws that would leave us in a situation like that. For parliamentarians to leave new and undefined terms to the courts and human rights tribunals, I would argue, is risky and irresponsible.

I also want to point out—and I think this is probably something that the member hopes will happen—that when the courts rule on these grounds, they usually assume that the old language was inadequate and that they should make new and broader interpretations and that such broader interpretations must be sought…

Previous records or notes:

Amendments Submitted to Canadian Trans Human Rights Bill C-279

iPolitics is reporting that sponsor Randall Garrison has submitted a package of amendments to the trans human rights bill C-279 (h/t Jill Page):

“Garrison’s amendments target some of the more contentious elements of the bill by removing the term “gender expression” and giving a definition of “gender identity,” which forms the basis of the bill. The legislation seeks to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code to protect and prevent discrimination of transgender people.”

There’s no word on whether Speaker Andrew Scheer will accept the amendments, and in fact, we may not know until the bill is reintroduced at report stage, which is tentatively scheduled to happen on February 27th.  If passed at that time, the bill would then move on to Third Reading, two more hours of debate and a final vote.

During the committee process, a number of Conservatives successfully filibustered the proceedings, to ensure that the bill would proceed without amendments.  Bill sponsor Randall Garrison (NDP, Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca) believes that two amendments are necessary in order to get the Conservative votes needed to pass the bill.  Those amendments (as mentioned above) are to remove the term “gender expression” and to add a definition of the term “gender identity,” based on the one found in the Yogyakarta Principles.  There’s no indication whether the package being reported by iPolitics contains anything different, but it’s considered likely that it’s limited to these two.  It’s expected that with those amendments, the bill may have a narrow chance at passage.

If these two changes are accepted, then the resulting bill would merely clarify inclusion for the people who are already most certain to be read into the legislation currently, and leave the situation vague for those who are most uncertain about inclusion:

… transitioning people are mostly considered read into existing legislation already, although there is some feeling of precariousness to that, and it takes some effort to demonstrate inclusion in each case (which was one of the reasons the acting CHRC secretary general, Ian Fine, agreed that explicit inclusion would be helpful).  Because of this… Canadian trans people have the luxury of taking the time to pass a comprehensive trans human rights bill, without anyone falling through the cracks in the meantime — and I believe that this is far preferable to trying to fix a flawed or abbreviated bill later.  For that matter, the more discussion that happens about trans people, the more that hearts and minds can be (and are) changed… so taking longer to pass a bill is not all bad.

It’s also worth pointing out that Bill C-279 applies to federal contractors and federal institutions.  It would provide an important signal to provinces, employers and Canadians in general as well, but it doesn’t of itself provide total protection to everyone across Canada.  There are a lot of emotions wrapped up in this bill, as though all our lives depend on it, and maybe we need a reality check on that.  It’s important, but not to the level of the emotional involvement people currently have with it.  This is another reason why… we can afford to be pragmatic and seek something comprehensive.

I’ve written previously about why I oppose these amendments, but at the same time would not actively oppose an amended bill:

In theory, if gender expression is dropped, it could in fact still work the way that Randall Garrison and many others believe — that gender expression would be read into the legislation, anyway.  It’s not an ideal situation, and I could not in good conscience actively support that bill.

But I don’t think I’d stand in its way, either.

I don’t like incrementalist approaches, given that we’ve been on the short end of that stick enough times to recognize the harm of them.  I will not participate in an incrementalist effort that could potentially exclude some trans people.

… But I’ve also watched the divisions and rifts that have happened in other places where trans-inclusive initiatives fall apart.  It can get very bitter very quickly, and in a way that will never help us develop the infrastructure that trans people (as a movement) need.  I don’t want to be responsible for something similar, especially if I can’t be certain any actual harm would happen.

Others have suggested that they would actively oppose the bill if gender expression is dropped:

Newfoundland trans activist Jennifer McCreath has created a website to voice her opposition to federal trans rights Bill C-279, saying that if “gender expression” is not included, the bill should be thrown out completely.

… “If you’re going to do it, do it right. If you’re going to offer human rights and protection, make sure it’s absolute,” she says. “I don’t see any value in building a weak foundation.”

So now, it’s a waiting game to see whether the amendments will be made.  Which is unfortunate, as this time would be better spent actively lobbying for an inclusive bill.

NARTH-affiliated doc lobbies against “special right” to be equal for trans people, calls them “deluded, psychotic.”

Joseph Berger is a past Chairman of the Toronto district of the Ontario Medical Association, and past President of the Ontario branch of the American Psychiatric Association.  He was also affiliated with NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, an organization formed specifically to “cure” people of being gay), although his bios scrub this fact and it’s not certain if he is presently affiliated with the group (He was a Scientific Advisory Committee member in 2006, and a speaker on behalf of NARTH in 2010).  While a scientific advisor, Berger garnered notice when he recommended bullying as a solution to gender diverse youth (original now offline):

“I suggest, indeed, letting children who wish go to school in clothes of the opposite sex – but not counselling other children to not tease them or hurt their feelings.

“On the contrary, don’t interfere, and let the other children ridicule the child who has lost that clear boundary between play-acting at home and the reality needs of the outside world.

“Maybe, in this way, the child will re-establish that necessary boundary.”

At the request of Gwen Landolt of R.E.A.L. Women of Canada, he sent a submission to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (JUST) to oppose the trans human rights Bill C-279.  ARPA Canada has now forwarded this submission to every sitting MP, in anticipation of Third Reading of the bill.

Berger urges MPs to oppose C-279, because according to him, trans people don’t exist:

Scientifically, there is no such a thing. Therefore anyone who actually truly believes that notion, is by definition deluded, psychotic.

He then goes on to explain that what trans people experience is “just unhappiness,” as if risking losing everything — family, spouses, children, employment, friends, assets — in order to make a whole life change is simply the path of least resistance for unhappy people.

He takes some special pains to assert that he is “speaking now about the scientific perspective – and not any political lobbying position that may be proposed by any group, medical or non-medical.”  So he’s putting aside his role as a champion of ex-gay therapy, as he presents a scientific argument that contains absolutely zero authoritative citations.  Ironically, he concludes:

As a psychiatrist, I see no reason for people who identify themselves in these ways to have any rights or privileges different from everyone else in Canada.

I say ironically, because that is not what the Canada Human Rights Act does.  Despite Berger’s often-repeated reference to C-279 as granting “some special allowances or attitudes or possibly even ‘rights’,” what it would actually do would be to assure that trans people can’t be denied employment, housing and access to services simply because of who they are.  Which would put them on the same level as everyone else in Canada.


It was pointed out that on the submission, contact info was retained.  Be aware that abusing that info will simply feed a neo-conservative’s persecution complex and give them the opportunity to spin the response as proof that we’re “psychotic.” I really do recommend that people keep the response public, professional and responding to the ideology, not the person.  This is important.

Bill C-279: Where it stands.

The Parliamentary process has more twists and turns than a bloody mangled Slinky.

By now, I’d hoped to write about how the Conservatives’ filibuster of the committee process meant that the trans human rights Bill C-279 would be returning unamended for Third Reading, but then I found out that there’s a possibility that the two amendments arrived at in committee might still be accepted for introduction by the Speaker of the House.  So I can’t make any certain statements about the bill, or what it will be. Others have already begun branding it the “Gender Identity Bill.”  Barring some unforeseen disruption of process, Bill C-279 should be back before Parliament in late February or early March (the Parliamentary process on Private Members’ Bills is quite long), and we will probably know by late this month whether Randall Garrison will ask the Speaker to include the two amendments decided on in committee.

But in the meantime, people have still been asking about what my position on the bill would be if it does somehow proceed with the amendments.  Others have already stated that they would actively oppose a bill if gender expression is dropped.

Having been one of the people who early on expressed concern about the consequences if gender expression were dropped from Bill C-279, and if definitions were added for gender identity which potentially excluded people, I feel some obligation to say something publicly about the mixed sentiments happening around the bill that might have been (and may yet be).  I’d said at that time that if either took place, I didn’t believe I could support the bill, although whether I’d oppose it would have to depend on the specifics that emerged.  There has been some near-division that has resulted, and I feel some responsibility to address it (and am late doing so, as it is).


I think it’s important to remind folks that transitioning people are mostly considered read into existing legislation already, although there is some feeling of precariousness to that, and it takes some effort to demonstrate inclusion in each case (which was one of the reasons the acting CHRC secretary general, Ian Fine, agreed that explicit inclusion would be helpful).  Because of this, I do personally believe that Canadian trans people have the luxury of taking the time to pass a comprehensive trans human rights bill, without people falling through the cracks in the meantime — and I believe that this is far preferable to trying to fix a flawed or abbreviated bill later.  For that matter, the more discussion that happens about trans people, the more that hearts and minds can be (and are) changed… so taking longer to pass a bill is not all bad.

It’s also worth pointing out that Bill C-279 applies to federal contractors and federal institutions.  It would provide an important signal to provinces, employers and Canadians in general as well, but it doesn’t of itself provide total protection to everyone across Canada.  There are a lot of emotions wrapped up in this bill, as though all our lives depend on it, and maybe we need a reality check on that.  It’s important, but not to the level of the emotional involvement people currently have with it.  This is another reason why I believe we can afford to be pragmatic and seek something comprehensive.

Would I oppose an amended C-279?

This question may be moot.  The committee process was deliberately filibustered by Conservatives, who sabotaged a motion to ask for an extension to finish considering the bill — something that was only supposed to be a few minutes for a y/n vote — with over an hour of debate that actually runs afoul of Parliamentary policy.  As a consequence it should be the unamended bill that proceeds onward, but apparently, this isn’t certain.  So for now, we’re only talking about something that might be.  Theory.

However, trying to reintroduce those amendments for Third Reading would probably provide the political opportunity to bring up the committee chaos and portray the bill as confusing, risky, vague, and everything else that opponents have claimed thus far.  It could also reopen a debate about adding a different definition, etc.

Without Gender Expression

In theory, if gender expression is dropped, it could in fact still work the way that Randall Garrison and many others believe — that gender expression would be read into the legislation, anyway.  It’s not an ideal situation, and I could not in good conscience actively support that bill.

But I don’t think I’d stand in its way, either.

I don’t like incrementalist approaches, given that we’ve been on the short end of that stick enough times to recognize the harm of them.  I will not participate in an incrementalist effort that could potentially exclude some trans people.

(For that matter, gender expression inclusion is not something to be afraid of, when you know more about trans people, diverse as they may be.  All the fearmongering that has arisen about gender identity and gender expression is based on assumptions of illegal or inappropriate behaviour projected onto trans people, with the belief that human rights inclusion will somehow absolve someone of said behaviour.  Human rights legislation does not absolve people of responsibility for their actions, or give people an excuse to conduct them.  It never did.)

But I’ve also watched the divisions and rifts that have happened in other places where trans-inclusive initiatives fall apart.  It can get very bitter very quickly, and in a way that will never help us develop the infrastructure that trans people (as a movement) need.  I don’t want to be responsible for something similar, especially if I can’t be certain any actual harm would happen.


In theory, if gender identity is defined, it could easily be a bigger issue, if that definition excludes people.  Especially given that two of the definitions proposed (both by Brent Rathgeber, I believe) would have required a diagnosis in order to be eligible for human rights protections.  But the definition that was accepted was the one in the Yogyakarta Principles, and I’m relatively comfortable that it does not do that:

“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…”


A question was also raised whether gender identity and gender expression were even the right terms to work with, and asking whether “gender” would be the better term.

Personally, I’d be concerned that “gender” would still result in the same uncertainty that exists with the read-in inclusion under “sex.”  I’d also be very worried that this is a bad stage to be changing terminology, especially when there is a lengthy track record for gender identity and gender expression, which are used and understood in many international documents.

But there’s no value in being closed-minded to discussion, so I’m interested in hearing the reasoning.  The questions I’d ask are:

  1. Are there any areas that focusing on “gender” would address that the current approach doesn’t?
  2. Are there failures of the current approach, and are they serious enough to necessitate a late detour?
  3. Wouldn’t a definition be necessary in order to assure inclusion using “gender,” and isn’t this as problematic as the status quo?

But there could be some value in including gender, and defining it in contrast to sex.

This is, however, a longer-term discussion, and I don’t know that it affects the current path of C-279, unless there is something particularly problematic about the bill.


For the time being, there is still some uncertainty about which bill will be proceeding.  We will probably know in late January, and then the Bill will come up in late February.

For those who would like to see the original bill move forward, my suggestion is to lobby those who supported it thus far (this is a good time to, since Parliament is out of session for a couple weeks and legislators are likely to be in their ridings), and let them know why a comprehensive bill is important and why “gender identity” fails to cover all trans people on its own.  And if they pledge to support the bill regardless of whether the amendments are included, please let Mr. Garrison’s office know.

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.[205] 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.[206] If the House agrees to grant the extension, then the committee has an extra 30 sitting days to complete its consideration of the bill.[207] 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.[208] 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.

C-279 Committee Roundup: The Necessity of Inclusion

On Tuesday November 27th, the Standing Committee for Justice and Human Rights (JUST) met for a second of three meetings to examine the trans human rights bill, C-279. I’ll be discussing the filibuster that occurred in the third, shortly.  However, it’s worth paying attention to the discussion on the bill’s necessity in the second meeting, as it was one of the Conservatives’ key arguments for opposing the bill.

In the first hour, it heard from representatives from the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT), and a representative from R.E.A.L. Women of Canada, Diane Watts.  Which, if you were listening to the webcast, was something like listening to Peter Mansbridge, Pamela Wallin, and then this person:

Watts made news because rather than speaking much about trans people and human rights issues, she mostly ranted at length about pedophiles.  Then, when she was cut off and told her remarks were offensive, the floor was turned over to a member of the committee, Robert Goguen, who bade her to continue in the same vein for another five minutes.

A lot was said about Watts testimony, although the coverage glossed over some things.  R.E.A.L.’s “lead researcher” tried to frighten the committee about inclusion leading to the correctional system having “to provide treatment for those inmates,” even though Canada already has a ruling on that in Kavanaugh v. Canada (2001). Committee members referred to it several times in that meeting, in fact.  Watts also cited the American College of Pediatricians, which is an organization founded by reparative therapists and has been repudiated by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is the actual recognized authority in ACP’s field.

But the overlooked testimony of the CHRC and CHRT representatives is far more significant.

The Conservative Party argument against Bill C-279 has long been that they believed the bill was not necessary, and that the terms were not defined.  And yet, after the second meeting of the Standing Committee for Justice and Human Rights to discuss the bill, some of the opponents of trans human rights inclusion switched tactics by dropping the argument about necessity, and focused emphatically on defining the terms narrowly, such as by tying them to a diagnosis.  The use of the “not necessary” argument came to an end.  So what happened during the meeting?

The anti-gay spin machine LifeSiteNews has deliberately distorted the testimony of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Canadian Human Rights Tribunal folks in order to validate the idea that clear human rights inclusion is unnecessary.  But it only works if you cherry-pick little snippets from Canadian Human Rights Commission acting secretary general, Ian Fine, and Canadian Human Rights Tribunal acting chairperson and chief executive officer, Susheel Gupta, out of context:

Fine, responding to Goguen, admitted that “strictly speaking, I suppose the legislation isn’t necessary…”

Gupta was more adamant about not taking a position either way, but here are full quotes from Ian Fine from the transcript.  See if you come to the same conclusion that LSN did:

“To answer your question, as I said at the outset, we currently accept complaints—and have forever—from transgendered individuals under the ground of sex, and sometimes under the ground of disability, and we will continue to do so. To answer your question, strictly speaking, I suppose the legislation isn’t necessary, but we see other reasons why it would be important to include these two grounds under our act, and we do support them.

“For one thing, it would provide the clarity that I think we believe is missing at this point, because as much as it’s true that the commission and tribunals and courts do accept transgender issues as falling under the ground of sex, parties still debate that issue before those very tribunals and courts and question whether or not transgender issues fall under sex. In one case I know of, an issue was raised as to whether or not you could even raise the issue under sex and instead should raise it under disability.

“There continue to be these debates, so for clarity reasons, we believe it would be a good thing to add these two grounds. Also, as I said at the outset, it would be a recognition of the discrimination that this group faces: the sometimes hostile and violent acts that this group faces in our society. So it would recognize the vulnerability of this group, of these individuals.


“It is true that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal certainly has held that these matters fall within the existing prohibited grounds. There’s no doubt about that. Other courts and tribunals across the land have done so. As I have said, we receive complaints on transgender issues under the ground of sex and sometimes disability.

“But the reality is that even though the courts have accepted that and we accept that, parties still go before those tribunals and courts and raise arguments about whether or not they are included. So clearly there are some Canadians who aren’t in agreement with that notion, who are still fighting about it, who feel that the protection is not explicit or shouldn’t be covered by one of the other grounds.

“We’re simply suggesting to add these grounds to provide more clarity to all Canadians, to make it explicit, and then there’s no doubt.”

Spin attempts to the contrary, Conservatives can’t justifiably call clear trans human rights inclusion unnecessary, anymore.

Trans Human Rights in Canada: Progress, Stalls and Confustication.

The Province of Nova Scotia passed Bill 140, the Transgendered [sic] Persons Protection Act, today.  The Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project (NSRAP) commented on Facebook:

“Bill 140 passed today with unanimous support in the Nova Scotia Legislature. “Debate” isn’t the right word to express what happened – it was an outpouring of support for adding gender identity and gender expression to the Human Rights Act.”

Meanwhile, things haven’t gone as well in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  Jennifer McCreath reports that:

For the third year in a row, members of the Newfoundland NDP party asked the governing Conservatives to add Gender Identity and Gender Expression to the Human Rights Code. This year, not only did they ask via Question Period, but did so via signed petition – that contained over 400 signatures of NL citizens.  In addition, a speech was read to commemorate transgender day of remembrance – which included a thank you to the various organizations working on behalf of trans rights in NL.

And for the federal trans human rights bill, C-279, it’s looking like it might be at risk of becoming mired in committee stage by a triple threat of “confound, confuse and confusticate.”  The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (JUST) will be hearing 8 proposed amendments to the bill, and so far we’ve only seen the first, which proposes to drop the term “gender expression” from the bill and also to correct a technicality by adding in some classes which have already been added to the Canada Human Rights Act since the bill was first drawn up.  Some on the committee are questioning the move to drop gender expression, with a couple instead calling for it to be narrowly defined.  Stay tuned.  The committee meets again on Tuesday December 4th at 3:30 EST / 1:30 MST, and there is a webcast (Meeting 55) that can be listened to live on Parliament’s website when it happens.

Nova Scotia is the fourth region in Canada to pass trans-inclusive protections.  The NorthWest Territories added gender identity to human rights legislation in 2002, and the Provinces of Ontario and Manitoba both added gender identity and gender expression to theirs in 2012.  Similar proposals have been put forward in other provinces, but have met resistance.  Alberta Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, for example, proposed an amendment which would have added gender identity to that province’s update of human rights legislation in 2009, but the Progressive Conservative majority voted it down.  The cities of Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa have also passed non-discrimination ordinances.

Nova Scotia: Progress

From the Hansard (transcript) of today’s Legislative session notes that the Nova Scotian Minister of Justice Ross Landry introduced the bill for Third Reading, and MLAs Michel Samson, Jim Morton, Kelly Regan, Gary Burrill and Gary Ramey all spoke compellingly in favour of the bill.  Here are some highlights:

Hon. Ross Landry:  “I hope that this bill is the beginning of a new era for our province; one in which transgender Nova Scotians don’t have to worry about threats, fears, or discrimination; one in which they know their community will accept them without question, and one where they know all Nova Scotians support them in their desire to live full, happy and healthy lives.”

Mr. Jim Morton: “There are reasons why people are invisible and stay that way. Sometimes staying invisible is about not being able to find the language to share, but I think more often it’s the risk of ridicule, the risk of physical harm – actual harm, not just emotional harm, but harm to one’s physical being – and the risk of being isolated, but in a new and yet more painful way. All of those risks help people stay silent.

“One of the consequences of that experience, and one of the reasons why I think Bill No. 140, although it’s only a few words, is so important is shame. One of the consequences of keeping the core of oneself private involves a sense of shame, and that shame, in turn, reinforces the invisibility. And I think shame robs individuals of their potential; shame steals capacity from communities and can give rise to thoughts of self-harm or anger, or certainly it can contribute, in the mental health world, to depression.

“… So Bill No. 140, the Transgendered Persons Protection Act, is an acknowledgement that transgendered persons exist, that they have a right to exist and to be part of our society, to live openly and to live, as the Minister of Justice said in his remarks, without fear, but not only without fear, but can and must be welcomed as part of our larger community.”

Mr. Gary Burrill: “What progress, we might just think to reflect for a moment, what advances there have been, just over the course of the last few decades. A person thinks about this naturally in terms of contrasts. I think about the world, for example, which I inhabited as a child and my memories of the inhuman ridicule in the community where I was raised, to which a person who was identified there as transgendered, was exposed. I think of the claustrophobic homophobia which prevailed in the closed gender and sexual expression environment of the high school that I attended. I contrast this with the much more open high school world in my own experience of Musquodoboit Rural High School – the high school world from which my own children, in the last decade, have graduated. This high school, which has its vibrant chapter of the Gay-Straight Alliance and defying in the process, I might say, a lot of stereotypes about rural communities with its vibrant chapter of the Gay-Straight Alliance…”

Newfoundland: Stalls

In Newfoundland, the story has been much the opposite, with NDP MLA Gerry Rogers reading a petition on behalf of 400 signatories, calling upon that government to add human rights protections for trans people, on November 20th, to coincide with the Transgender Day of Remembrance. The Minister of Justice for Newfoundland, Darin King, responded with the same claim that federal Conservatives have made, that inclusion was unnecessary (something that representatives of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Canadian Human Rights Tribunal effectively refuted, but more on that later).  King said (as he often has) that “we are advised, through our legal advisors and through the Human Rights Commission, that there are no gaps in the current legislation and that provisions that the member is asking for are currently there.”

Ms. Rogers also questioned the Minister of Health, Susan Sullivan, about the province’s requirement that trans people travel to Toronto’s Centre for Addictions and Mental Health for diagnosis and recommendation for surgery, when there are skilled medical professionals in Newfoundland who are capable and willing to address trans health.  Sullivan responded that her department was “willing to sit and talk and have conversations around those issues,” so the news might not be all bad (time will tell).

Jennifer McCreath has been following this effort closely.

The uncertain future of Bill C-279

The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (JUST) has had two meetings so far to discuss Bill C-279, Randall Garrison’s Private Member’s Bill proposing to add transsexual and transgender people to federal human rights legislation and to protected classes in hate crimes laws.  Meeting one was predominantly testimony.  Sara Davis Buechner and Hershel Russell spoke of their experiences, followed by representatives from Egale Canada, Ryan Dyck and Erin Apsit.  Highlights of this meeting include:

Sara Davis Buechner: “After graduating from the Juilliard School in 1984, I gave a very successful debut in New York. In 1986 I was the top American prize winner of the international Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow. I received a lovely letter from President Ronald Reagan at that time. Some years later, I also played at the White House for President and Mrs. Clinton. I have a very nice photo of the two of them congratulating me on that.

“At the age of 37, after a lifetime of questioning and fear, I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and I transitioned to my correct gender, which is female. My pianistic skills did not change one bit, but suddenly my concert schedule went from about 50 appearances per year to two or three, and the conservatory in New York where I was a popular teacher decided my skills were no longer needed.

“With limited means of supporting myself, I took a job teaching small children at an upstate private school for about $600 a month. I counted myself lucky, as most of the transgender friends I knew were completely unemployed. Some of them were homeless.

“I learned to endure frequent verbal and occasional physical harassment as part of the price of that integrity, even in a city of such a cosmopolitan nature. One evening I was the victim of an attempted date rape at the hands of a man who assumed, since I was transgendered, I must be a sex worker. I didn’t bother to report that to the police, because I didn’t want to be harassed by them either. I believe they would have assumed I was a trannie sex worker and deserved everything I got.

“In an effort to find meaningful employment, I applied to about 30 American colleges and universities with music openings. I received no answer from most of them, and rejections from the others. One professor from Rutgers university asked a colleague of mine if it was safe to leave me alone in a room with undergraduates.

“But when I was called for an interview for the open piano position at UBC in Vancouver, I was pleasingly astonished to find that their music department was interested about two things only: one, my musical ability; and two, my teaching ability.

“When I did get the job in a competitive audition, I was overcome by emotion on two levels. One, I would be able to pay my bills for the first time in many years. And two, I realized that Canada was far ahead in terms of its understanding and support of basic human rights…”

Hershel Russell: “Some of the information I would really like you to grasp in terms of this bill is that both studies show very clearly that we are an exceptionally highly educated community. We have more education than almost any other community, and we are a community that suffers from extraordinary poverty. I would like to argue that this combination of things can only be explained by discrimination. There really isn’t another way to explain it. Both of these documents also really show the terrifying, heartbreaking levels of suicidality in our community, and certainly, as a mental health professional, I have to work with these painful, painful issues over and over and over…”

(later): “… The shortage of doctors for all Ontarians is bad; the shortage of doctors who have any idea how to work with our community is horrifying. There are very few weeks in which I don’t have a client for whom I am desperately seeking medical care.

“We’re working very hard to expand the numbers of doctors who have the knowledge and the connections, in terms of protocols and so on, to undertake that care—we are not very complicated, we are much easier to care for than folks with diabetes—but that is proceeding slowly. It is very, very hard for us to access the most basic health care.

“It is also true, as my colleague Sara was saying, that a trip to the emergency room can be pretty alarming. There is no reason to assume even that you’re going to be treated respectfully. We still have far too many stories of people going in for a flu shot and somehow it’s necessary to have their genitals examined….”

Ryan Dyck (Egale Canada): “My understanding, from speaking with our lawyers and given the way the Canadian system works, is that the phrase “gender identity” would be interpreted by the courts to include the expression of that identity. That would be in line with the Supreme Court’s repeated statement that “a broad, liberal and purposive approach is appropriate” when interpreting human rights legislation. From that perspective, I suspect that we would be on good legal grounds with just “gender identity”.

“However, I would be concerned that it does create some ambiguity, given that this leaves it up to the courts and we cannot guarantee that such would be the case. I would also be concerned as to what signal it would send if the committee were to remove it. In future cases, if the courts were to look at that as a signal that gender identity shouldn’t be included, or if were not Parliament’s intent, that would create a large concern for me.”

Hershel Russell: “To have identity documents that don’t match is a real problem for us. It means we can go through the kind of experiences I went through. We can have all kinds of difficulties with the police. It’s a constant source of anxiety and difficulty for us. It’s really big.”

The Evidence (transcript) of Meeting 2 hasn’t been posted yet.  When it has, I’ll likely discuss that further.  However, a quick synopsis is that the Committee heard from representatives of the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) and Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT), as well as from a last minute addition to the agenda, Diane Watts, a researcher for R.E.A.L. Women of Canada.  Ms. Watt went on at length about pedophiles, obviously conflating trans people with predators, and turned the first hour into a bit of a circus.  But there was also some important testimony from the CHRC and CHRT representatives that dismantled the argument that explicit inclusion is “unnecessary.”  Although there was a mix of statements on that subject, there seemed to be more or less agreement that visibly codifying trans people in human rights legislation would be not only helpful for the public at large, but for the legal system as well.  After that, there was some initial discussion of the first of 8 proposed amendments to the bill, none of which have been voted on or decided on, yet.

Stay tuned.

MP’s trans predator fearmongering escalates.

On Friday, Sun News commentator Brian Lilley interviewed Rob Anders, the Member of Parliament who has drawn condemnation for conflating transsexual and transgender people with sexual predators in a petition he has been circulating on his website, and to at least one church in his riding. In “Children’s bathroom bill reaches Parliament Hill,” both doubled down on conflating trans people with sexual predators, and suggested that granting human rights inclusion will somehow enable and legally absolve predatory acts.  Anders claims there is “all sorts of examples of this going on.”  Which is news to anybody else.

Lilley introduced the interview by once again calling for the defunding and privatization of CBC, the network which first broke the Anders story, and which Lilley has tried to portray as ludicrous for taking note of the petition.  During this time, though, Lilley has also been taking note of a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) policy that accommodates trans kids.  Like fellow Sun News Network commentators Michael Coren and Faith Goldy, he’s made that all about washrooms.  While discussing the TDSB policy with Anders, they arrive at this exchange:

LILLEY: We are going and changing all kinds of things that… I agree with you, could put people at risk of being exposed to perverts to fix something that is, what, one percent of one percent of one percent of a subset of a subset?

ANDERS: Yeah.  You know, why would we lower peoples’ natural defenses of a man going into a woman’s bathroom in order to “accommodate” [scare quotes added because at this, Anders appears to grin mockingly or suggestively]  this very very small, you know, part of the population.  In order to expose all sorts of women and girls to this…?

At that point, Rob Anders relates a phone call that told an anecdotal story of a crossdressed peeping tom who allegedly peered over stalls in the Canterra building in downtown Calgary four years ago.  Searching various media online, there appears to be no corroboration that it even occurred, let alone that it happened as related.  The network sensationalistically underscores this story with staged photos that are supposed to be representative of trans people in restrooms, including one featuring a urinal covered in police tape, and another showing someone with a long wig and a dress standing at a urinal.  Or at least I’m assuming they’re staged, because it would be concerning if someone is snapping candids in washrooms.

At an earlier point in this interview, Brian Lilley also points to one of the men accused of chaining and abusing a Nova Scotia teen — the attacker was said to have occasionally dressed in womens’ clothing.

Most Canadians either don’t know someone who is transsexual or transgender, or else aren’t aware that an acquaintance is trans (and given my experience as a community advocate, I suspect it’s more often the latter).  For this reason, Anders and Lilley float these examples as being representative of all trans people, and as justification for excluding those entire characteristic classes from basic human rights protections.

LILLEY: “Then he’s free and clear.”

Enter Bill C-279, An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (Gender Identity and Gender Expression), which is a human rights bill addressing employment, housing, access to services and discrimination.

The bill says nothing about washrooms, which Lilley briefly acknowledges before calling washrooms a side effect of the bill, and then continuing to focus on them at the expense of all else.  C-279 also wouldn’t change the fact that trans people have already been using washrooms appropriate to their gender identity for decades.  But it’s at this point that Lilley and Anders claim that the bill would somehow essentially absolve the people in their examples of any culpability for their actions.

ANDERS: “Then he’s free and clear, that’s right.”

Readers are invited to find any example in which rape, molestation and other illegal and inappropriate behaviours were suddenly excused because the perpetrator was a member of a class listed in human rights legislation.  As equal human beings, we are all still responsible for behaving ethically and respectfully toward our fellow human beings, and to face the legal consequences if we don’t.

We also don’t exclude entire groups of people from public washrooms (let alone human rights) on the off-chance that one of them might be a sexual predator.

When I wrote about the history of the “Bathroom Bill” meme, one thing I didn’t mention is how opponents of trans rights initiatives tended to conflate trans people with predators, and then when called on it, would habitually backtrack to say it wasn’t trans people they were worried about, but that they thought trans-inclusive legislation could provide cover for actual predators to commit acts of sexual predation.  And then they’d go on talking about “transgenders” with hairy legs and skirts stalking children and doing unmentionable things in washroom stalls, as a reason to block human rights legislation.

But with the way Lilley’s interview is presented, there’s visibly no effort at all to make any kind of distinction.

And all of this, of course, completely overlooks the dangers to safety of going the opposite direction and forcing transsexual women to use a men’s room.  Or whether women would be happy having trans men in theirs.

Which brings us to Brian Lilley’s bottom line:

LILLEY: “Why do we have all these groups mentioned to get special treatment in the Human Rights Act, in the Criminal Code?  I thought we believed in treat all people equally and fairly in this country.  And why don’t we just get rid of all this nonsense and say all people are equal above and beyond [sic] before the law?”

Overlooking the fact that you just referred to equality as “special treatment,” Mr. Lilley, it is most likely because there is ample evidence that there are clearly bigoted attitudes and beliefs about entire groups of people, conflating them with abhorrent actions and behaviours — even to the point of circulating petitions, making comments on the floor of the House of Commons, and reporting them on television as fact — in ways that make discrimination against those groups likely or even inevitable.

Sun Media’s Brian Lilley interviews Rob Anders

(Crossposted to Rabble.ca)

The Mask of Gender

Normally, I’m not one to promote something if I’m in it.  That kind of thing is horribly self-aggrandizing.  So I’ll apologize right off for doing that here.

But given the recent focus on trans issues due to the comments made by Rob Anders, I thought it would be a good moment to give average Canadians a chance to get to know a little bit about trans people, and why clear human rights inclusion is necessary.  This is a documentary that was put together last year, and features people in Calgary and the greater Calgary area.  It’s called The Mask of Gender (link is to the producer’s website):

There’s only so much that can be covered in a short 16-minute documentary, of course.  For example, from just my own experiences, the film understandably doesn’t go into the complicated details about why I accepted unreasonable conditions to return to the paint store job after my transition (hint: one of the big reasons had to do with the prospect of losing 19 years’ employment to a name change). So there are a lot of layers below the surface one could explore.

But it is an introduction, nevertheless, and of real Calgarians.