Excerpts from the 1st day of debate (May 10)

Read the entire debate (Parliament of Canada)

Bill Siksay (Burnaby-Douglas, NDP):

The bill is about explicitly ensuring full human rights protection in areas of federal jurisdiction for transgender and transsexual Canadians. It does that by adding gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act, and in the sentencing and hate crime provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada. This is the first time gender identity and gender expression have been debated in the Canadian Parliament. It is a historic debate that is overdue. The actions proposed in this bill are also overdue.

This is a debate that will take place without the direct participation of trans people because at this time there is no openly trans member of Parliament. I feel their absence acutely at this moment. Not having someone who can speak directly and personally to the experience of being trans will mean that important things will remain unsaid and other points will be made awkwardly. It will be a day to celebrate when an openly trans person is first elected to the House. It will be another step toward ensuring that the House of Commons is truly representative of the diversity of Canadians. […]

[Trans people] are regularly subjected to discrimination, prejudice and violence. They face well documented discrimination in the workforce, housing, health care, and in obtaining services. Obtaining appropriate identity documents are often extremely problematic. Trans people face significantly higher rates of violence including sexual assault and murder. […]

When I was elected in 2004, in my capacity as NDP gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and transsexual issues critic, I undertook a series of consultations with the trans community. In person consultations were held in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, and there was a vigorous email consultation with others across Canada. Those consultations confirmed that amending the Canadian Human Rights Act, to include gender identity and expression as prohibited grounds, was the key priority for the community. With similar amendments to the sentencing and hate crime provisions of the Criminal Code, they also ranked very high. As a direct result of the consultations, legislation was drafted and tabled leading directly to today’s Bill C-389.

Including trans people explicitly in human rights legislation can have a profound effect. A trans person makes the point this way saying, “How can I feel part of society if I cannot point to human rights legislation and say, there, I’m included?” […]

Clearly, there is a need for this legislation. There is no doubt about the prejudice, discrimination and violence faced by trans people. There is no doubt that their experiences of gender are part of our human experience, broadening our understanding of gender and exposing our full humanity. There is no doubt that trans people are beloved members of our families, our co-workers and our neighbours, who enrich our lives. There is no doubt that trans people should be able to lead happy, healthy, secure and productive lives. There is no doubt that discrimination and prejudice are costly to any society.

That is why, plain and simple, we need this legislation. We must be absolutely and explicitly clear that trans Canadians are a valued part of our families and our communities.

Rob Oliphant (Don Valley West, Liberal):

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise and speak in support of this bill. I thank the member for Burnaby—Douglas [Bill Siksay] for his tenacity and persistence in presenting issues with respect to transgendered people, transsexual people and the trans community in general. His work speaks well of all parliamentarians. We like to take credit for it at times and we thank him for doing that work. […]

Members of Parliament are human beings and citizens. As we stand in this House, we recognize that we represent all people. As we gather in this place and discuss legislation and changes to the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act, we are standing with our constituents. No matter how small the group is who may be affected by any one piece of legislation, ours is to ensure that freedom, justice and fairness extend to all Canadians. […]

At a personal level, this affects friends of mine. I know people who have gone through the transition process to change their gender. That process has been difficult not only for them and their families, but it has been difficult for me as a friend. Each of us has a boundary that we sometimes come up against in our own understanding of human sexuality and human identity. It is absolutely critical that we take the time to converse with people who may be different from us. That may frighten some people. It may cause them to have to open their minds and expand their experiences, but it is absolutely critical to understand that we are talking about real human beings. This is not an issue. These are people. They come to us with complex issues and complex problems and they should not have to face simple discrimination. This bill would uncover some of that problem. […]

Not only does this issue have a personal side for me, but there is a pastoral side as well. In my previous career as a United Church minister, I had the opportunity to preach a sermon on transgender issues. As it was a relatively small-c conservative congregation, I was nervous about raising issues that people perhaps were not aware of. Perhaps they had not encountered people who were different from them in terms of sexual orientation, sexual gender, gender identity or gender expression. However, even though I was nervous, the congregation was not nervous. The congregation welcomed that sermon as one which opened their minds. There were 350 people at church that Sunday, and after the sermon three individuals came up to me and said that the sermon had touched them personally. Two of them had transgender family members and one of them knew a transgender co-worker. They were looking for help and were glad that someone finally had the courage, or at least the reason, to raise that issue so that they could talk about it. It could be an open discussion and people could address their fears of people who may be different from them.

For me, this issue has a professional side as well. For a time I served on a human rights commission. We wanted clarification about issues. We were not afraid of expanding the legislation at all. We were not worried about having to expand our context of work because we knew anecdotally and somewhat statistically that people who are different from the mainstream majority continually face discrimination. It is important for us to take the time to make those small changes to those two pieces of legislation to ensure that discrimination does not happen.[…]

Fifty-one per cent of the people in my riding come from outside Canada and 49% were born in Canada. I hear regularly from the people who have chosen Canada as their home that they chose it because Canada is the country that enshrines human rights in the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. In that charter we have welcomed the world to this country and have set ourselves up as a model of understanding, a model of expression and a model of ensuring that every minority group is afforded absolute protection.

This will stretch people in this House. This will stretch people in my own party. We have had our discussion about this. I think we have reached consensus that this is an important piece of legislation to further the discussion, not only to enshrine something in two pieces of legislation, but to open up the doors so that Canadians in every part of this country can have this discussion as well. We can stop being afraid of the discussion. We can stop being afraid of people who may be different from us, but who also may be members of our families, members of our communities, and neighbours on our streets. […]

I look forward to more debate on this issue. It is important that more members of the House take the time to talk to trans people, to hear their stories, to express to them that their story is our story. Together as a community we share in both their pain and their joy as they reach full expression of the identity that I believe very personally God has given them. We must help them express that fully and safely and enjoy the full rights of being citizens in this country.

Meili Faille (Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Bloc Québécois):

The Bloc Québécois supports the principle of Bill C-389. Other jurisdictions in Canada already have policies on gender diversity. The bill fosters the promotion of and respect for human rights by prohibiting any form of discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. Therefore, it is appropriate to support the principle of this bill because gender identity and expression will be protected under the Human Rights Act. It will no longer be necessary to refer to ambiguous interpretations of the term “sex” to establish that all transgender people are protected by the law. Public incitement of hatred targeting gender identity or expression will be recognized by the Criminal Code.

Does this law address a problem? That is what members will attempt to explain today. Discrimination and harassment of transgender people can take different forms. For example, a transsexual woman’s right to be searched by a female police officer may be breached.[…]

It is difficult to estimate how many people are victims of such discrimination in Quebec annually. However, the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse noted the following in May 2009: Sexual minority individuals and families with same-sex parents are not receiving services adapted to their situation because of heterosexist attitudes, which are often subconscious, because of continuing homophobic prejudices and behaviours, especially within institutions, and because of service providers’ silence on the issue of sexual diversity.

In the United States, where the Human Rights Campaign organization addresses cases of discrimination involving sexual identity, it is estimated that one homicide in 1,000 is a hate crime against a transgender person.[…] These people, who are frequently victims of discrimination at the workplace, in the healthcare system, when looking for housing, and so on, would benefit directly from guaranteed protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.

Megan Leslie (Halifax, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise to speak to Bill C-389 today. I am so proud to have seconded the bill that was introduced by my colleague the member for Burnaby—Douglas, who is an incredible advocate for trans rights and human rights for Canadians. The bill would bring Canada closer to providing the respect owed and the recognition of rights owed to the transgendered community by adding the terms gender identity and gender expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act as prohibited grounds of discrimination.

Human rights continue to be contentious in the country. Equality for all is somehow seen as a threat to the few and compassion is sometimes a very scarce commodity. We need to reframe the debate around human rights in Canada. Words like tolerance and accommodation, which imply some sort of undesired obligation, need to be replaced with words like respect and dignity. In short, we need to be kinder to each other. We need to respect differences. Equality should be fostered through social, economic and environmental justice. Our human rights codes should reflect our pursuit of justice and we have the opportunity in this parliamentary session to do just that.

Why would we add these terms as prohibited grounds for discrimination? Gender identity is a person’s innate feeling of being male, female, both genders, neither or in between. It is not a reference to people’s biological sex or their sexual orientation. Identity is something to be respected and honoured and gender identity is no different. Gender expression is the expression of that inner identity. It is the freedom to be, plain and simple, one’s self.

These terms, though they seem very simple on their face, are difficult for some people to grasp. Inclusion of these terms aims to address issues of sexism in the country, issues of homophobia and of transgressing traditional teachings.

It is telling that this is the first time that legislation of this kind has been debated in the House of Commons. There has not been equal progress toward equality for the trans community as there has been for other marginalized groups. Fear and prejudice has delayed this human rights journey and delay has meant that trans people have been discriminated against. They have been subject to discrimination. They have been subject to prejudice. They have been subject to harassment and violence every day.

Trans people are victims of violent acts, such as assault and murder, for no justifiable reason. They are regularly denied things we all take for granted, like access to health care and housing, the ability to obtain identification documents, access to washrooms and other gendered spaces and the ability to acquire and maintain employment. I have a friend who asked me to write a letter explaining the case law on the use of washrooms for transgendered people. She carries this letter around in her purse so she can pull it out and use it whenever she needs. Imagine the indignity of having to have a letter in one’s purse or wallet explaining that the use of the washroom is allowed. Imagine the indignity of being challenged to use a washroom and having to dig out a letter that has some official law firm logo on the top so someone will take him or her seriously and recognize that the individual does have a right to use the gendered space.

All of this can be addressed through human rights protections and a concerted effort to eradicate and shed light on the lives and struggles of the trans community.

On March 30, 2000, the Ontario Human Rights Commission published a policy on discrimination and harassment because of gender identity, noting, “There are, arguably, few groups in our society today who are as disadvantaged and disenfranchised as transgendered community. Transphobia combined with the hostility of society to the very existence of transgendered people are fundamental human rights issues”. This is a very powerful statement about what goes to the very core of how we choose to treat and respect one another. Trans people are members of our families and our communities. There is no them here, only us.

I used to do education workshops on trans rights when I worked and volunteered with the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project. Gender expression and gender identity are not included in the human rights act in Nova Scotia. Therefore, we worked with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to help it understand the day-to-day realities faced by transgendered people in Nova Scotia, the discrimination and the hate they experienced. At the end of one of these workshops, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission assured us that it would “fit” trans discrimination under sex, even though it technically was not sex discrimination.

This is exactly the kind of thing trans people face every day. They do not quite fit here or there, but somehow they are expected to cope and to be happy with filling the space of the cracks. Now is the opportunity to right one of those wrongs. It is a small legislative change that would have tremendous impact on the dignity of trans people in Canada.

The addition of gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act is, without question, a very positive first step to achieving equality for the trans community. Make no mistake. This is just an initial step in a continuing journey, but it does lay the groundwork for the work that remains. Hopefully, by entrenching the rights of the trans community, it will act as a catalyst for change as well as a protection and recourse as the trans community navigates what will not likely be an obstacle-free path, even with the inclusion of these terms in our human rights legislation.

As we move forward, we should ask ourselves what equality for the trans community would look like. Equality would mean that gender reassignment procedures would be reimbursed by provincial health insurance everywhere in Canada. There would be policies implemented to combat discrimination and exclusion faced by transgendered persons in the labour market, education and health care. It would include education and training programs, as well as awareness raising campaigns. There would be better training to health service professionals, including specialists and general practitioners, with regard to the rights and needs of transgendered persons and the requirement to respect their dignity. Trans voices would be represented in government, in schools, in the media, on equality bodies and in national human rights structures.

With the bill, Canada can lead by example. We can demonstrate the inclusiveness of our communities and the strength we find in breaking down barriers and in insisting that discrimination become something of the past. I plan to vote in favour of the inclusion of trans rights in the Canadian Human Rights Act, as well as its inclusion on the hate crimes list in the Criminal Code of Canada. I encourage every member of the House to join me in entrenching protections for gender identity and gender expression.


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