Excerpts from the 2nd day of debate (June 8)

Read the entire debate (Parliament of Canada)

Mario Silva (Davenport, Liberal):
Mr. Speaker, in this House and across this country, we are privileged to be able to express ourselves freely and to live to our fullest potential as citizens of Canada. It is important, however, that we remain forever vigilant in our work to ensure that all Canadians enjoy the human rights which our citizenship rightly bestows.

I am reminded of a statement by Nobel prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, who said, “Please use your freedom to promote ours”. These are simple words, but they are invested with tremendous meaning and substance. Several of my colleagues have noted during these debates that this bill, dealing with equality and human rights protection for transgender and transsexual Canadians, lacks the benefit of first-hand experience. This is true. There are indeed no transgender or transsexual people currently serving as members of Parliament. However, in keeping with the spirit of the words of Aung San Suu Kyi, we are given the unique opportunity and privilege to promote the freedom of others as outlined in the provisions of this bill.

Human rights are precisely as the term states. What the bill is addressing is a right, not a privilege. Canadians are, by virtue of our democratic traditions and our commitment to equality, protected with respect to our most basic human rights and freedoms.

When contemplating the provisions of this bill, it can be reasonably surmised that what has been proposed should really not require debate. In essence, this bill ensures that transgender and transsexual Canadians are afforded protection under the law with respect to their basic human rights in a manner consistent with that which is enjoyed by every other Canadian. It is simply a reaffirmation that all Canadians share the same rights and opportunities, and that these require equal protection under the law. Indeed, it is remarkable, if one were to think about it, that in this day and age we continue to find ourselves in a position of having to debate the need to include a specific group under the umbrella of human rights law as well as protection under the Criminal Code. […]

In debates of this kind, we are often tempted to resort to statistical data to make our case. We may, at times, focus too much on these numbers. Indeed, several members have referred to statistics when speaking about the actual number of Canadians who are transgender or transsexual and living in Canada. I believe that while it is important to reflect upon the statistics, we must also be vigilant when doing so. Human rights do not need to be measured in numbers simply because they are universal in character. As someone who has held a long and abiding commitment to human rights issues, I recognize that there is little currency to be found in debating numbers. The reality is simply this. All human beings, regardless of their numbers, are invested with basic human rights, freedoms and protection under the law, which are inalienable and non-negotiable.

I recognize that there are those who may argue about the need to amend our laws to specifically protect transgender and transsexual Canadians. The reality is that there is a clear and pressing requirement for such action. There is ample evidence, both statistically and anecdotal, that confirms that transgender and transsexual Canadians experience disproportionate discrimination and even violence based on who they are and how they choose to live their lives. This is unacceptable.

The bill we are debating today may not eliminate these realities, but it will most certainly offer greater protection to those who are victims of such discrimination and lead to that day when transgender and transsexual Canadians will enjoy the freedom and security that they so rightly deserve.

Nicole Demers (Laval, Bloc Québécois):
I want to remind hon. members that if you have never walked a mile in the shoes of someone who is discriminated against, if you have never done what someone has to do to assert themselves, be seen as a whole person and enjoy the same rights as everyone around them, if you have never done that, then it is hard to understand the despair and the problems experienced by people who live with a sword of Damocles constantly hanging over their heads, the sword of Damocles that is discrimination. […]

Unfortunately, until now, very few people have been aware of this reality or realized how much they are harming their child when they do not want a boy to dress up as a girl, or a girl to play with a boy’s toys. Our society does not view that as normal, but what could be purer, more natural and more whole than a child? If their [gender] identity seems natural to them, then why should we, as adults, not accept that? If children instinctively understand who they are and who they want to be for the rest of their lives, why is it so difficult for adults like us to understand and accept that?

Why is it so hard for us to give people an opportunity to be heard when they report discrimination, hate propaganda or violence because they have chosen to express their [gender] identity? I do not know. Maybe some of us think that we have all of the answers, that we know better because we make the laws. That is what we do here in the House. However, before we make any decisions about people’s rights, we should think long and hard. We may well be putting the lives of our own children into the hands of people who will discriminate against them. In many cases, such decisions will affect people we know but who have kept their true selves hidden because there is still shame associated with expressing one’s [gender] identity openly. […]

If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that our understanding of all of the dimensions of human beings is medieval. I am glad that my colleague introduced this bill, which will put an end to years of injustice.

Before coming here today, I received a message from Brian Rushfeldt [of the Canadian Family Action Coalition] urging me not to vote for this bill because it would have terrible consequences and result in abnormal and abominable sexual activities. What is so abominable about a man who identifies as a woman or a woman who identifies as a man? Can anyone tell me? I see nothing wrong with that at all. Mr. Rushfeld’s concerns are exaggerated, and it will be my pleasure to vote alongside my Bloc Québécois colleagues in favour of this bill.

Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
I note that the bill was seconded by 12 other members of Parliament from different parties. That is really significant. It tells us something about this bill that deals with fundamental human rights for transgender and transsexual people who have been denied rights for a very long time. When we see members across the floor supporting the bill and speaking from a personal point of view, it tells us this is something that is very powerful. […]

I do feel very proud that we have this bill in the House and the work that has been done by the member for Burnaby—Douglas [Bill Siksay]. He has held consultations across the country. He has brought this issue forward not only in our own caucus but in the queer community overall, as well as in the broader Canadian society. That is one of the good things we can do as members of Parliament.

Often we are told that we do not count, that we are not part of the government, that we are not this, that we are not that. This bill is a reflection of what an individual can do in building those kinds of alliances and expression of understanding and education to actually move something like this forward and to say that there is a problem in that the Canadian Human Rights Act does not yet contain a prohibited grounds of discrimination that would protect transgender and transsexual members of our society. […]

Here in Canada we believe that we are very advanced, and we are at many levels. As was noted earlier, the Canadian Human Rights Act provides protection based on sexual orientation. Our former colleague, Svend Robinson, a member of Parliament for over 25 years, did outstanding pioneering work on this issue. His private member’s bill was brought into law to ensure that sexual orientation was protected under the Criminal Code as a hate crime. A lot of work has been done.

Those of us who have been working on this issue and are aware of what is going on in the community know that the most significant protection that has not happened is for transgendered and transsexual members of our communities. Back in 2004 two students from Carleton University, Langdon and Boodram, undertook a survey to determine what is taking place in the trans community. Not surprisingly, they found significant levels of discrimination in housing, employment services, including unwelcome comments at work, unwelcome comments while living in accommodation, discrimination in bars, restaurants, schools, universities and colleges. Other surveys have taken place since then.

There is no question that these protections are needed. This bill needs to be brought into law. Then we need to raise the bar on education and awareness if we truly believe that we are a diverse society and that all people have the right to protection, rights and opportunities.

I hope that the bill will pass second reading and go to committee. It is important that we hear from witnesses firsthand because no trans people have spoken in the House. It is important that they be heard at committee so that their experience can be brought forward and that this bill can be passed into law.

Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre, Liberal):
[A]s a physician, I really want to speak to the fact that we are denying certain members of our society, based on their group and identities, access to good care when they need it.

I have had many patients who struggled to decide if they did have a gender identity problem or if they needed to move into the next stage, which is to have whatever medical care they need to help them to deal with this issue. They were the transgender patients. Not only did they not have access to the health care they needed, or access to the ability to deal with a lot of psychological as well as the physical trauma they underwent during that period of time, many of these people faced a totally different kind of discrimination.

They faced discrimination from the heterosexual community and, in many instances, from within their own communities sometimes because no one knew who they were. They did not have access to simple things like washrooms because they were considered neither fish nor fowl. No one had decided who they were. That kind of discrimination is psychologically devastating to a person, if we put aside the medical needs for a minute. […]

As a physician, as an MP and as a Vancouverite, I have been around the community and I have seen the pain, the discrimination, the isolation and the inability to be welcomed anywhere by anyone because of the concept of people not accepting people for who they are. This is an extraordinary thing to live with. We need to look at the number of suicides and the different addictions people have to help them get out of the place where no one accepts them. We need to deal with this issue because it is of profound importance to a group of Canadians.

If we believe in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and we buy into our Canada Health Act, we must take every step necessary to, first, make every Canadian equal under the law, and, second, by being equal under the law, the law and the nation makes a statement that we will not accept people being discriminated against in this country where we have chosen to set up a charter that speaks in section 15 to the issue of minority rights.[…]

We are talking about basic human rights and with human rights comes access to all of the things that human beings can enjoy: the ability to live in freedom and seek opportunity and potential wherever we can; to have access to justice, education, health care and all of the things that allow us as human beings to realize whatever it is that lies within us and in our potential to live meaningful lives; and to be a part of communities that accept and embrace us. […]

Those are fundamental things that we all want. We can deny other people for all sorts of trumped up reasons. There are always great reasons. We can cite legal precedents and discuss the fact that we do not understand the meaning of the words and what they pertain to, but that is a red herring. […]

Therefore, we need to start thinking about the people who live in our country and what kind of government and Parliament we are that we would allow people to live in fear with discrimination and without access to the basic human rights that other people have. I support this bill and I will be voting for it to go to committee.

Jim Maloway (Elmwood—Transcona, NDP):
Bill C-389 would add gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act and sections of the Criminal Code dealing with hate propaganda and sentencing for hate crimes. We are following up on a recommendation made as early as 2000 by the Canadian Human Rights Act Review Panel.

The bill would help protect transsexual, transgender and gender non-conforming people in Canada from the very severe discrimination they face in numerous aspects of life such as discrimination in employment, a staggering unemployment rate, housing, obtaining government and social services, including health care, official identification with consequences for banking, education and other services, business and other areas, as well as incitement to hatred, assault, sexual assault and murder.

Various studies have quoted in detail the discrimination by which trans people are subjected. Currently the Northwest Territories is the only legislature in Canada to have passed such a measure, while other cities of Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver offer certain protections.

Although some provincial human rights commissions have found that transsexuals are already protected under grounds such as section disability, it leaves the issue invisible and it may not cover everyone who is discriminated against because of the gender identity or expression. Explicitly prohibiting discrimination on both grounds, gender identity and gender expression, will ensure a broad coverage of people who are discriminated against due to their nonconformity with social ideas of gender. It would also conform to Canada’s international statements on the issue and would follow the lead of more than 100 U.S. jurisdictions that offer such protection.

In 1986 in Manitoba, the attorney general of the day, Roland Penner, attempted to introduce initially to the NDP government caucus […] a bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in the Human Rights Code. […] We had to convince people that we were simply bringing in a human right, that we were including this measure in the Human Rights Act and that people were not allowed to be discriminated against in terms of employment, finding an apartment and other areas.

The opposition, however, became very nervous about all of this and suggested that somehow the government would, at the end of the day, be promoting. Well, the world did not come to an end because of what we did in 1986. If anything, more jurisdictions adopted what we did then. After six and a half years in government as premier of Manitoba, I believe Howard Pawley, as the premier today, will tell us that what he did in terms of including sexual orientation in the human rights code of Manitoba was one of his proudest achievements of his six and a half years. […]

Doing the right thing is often difficult but, when it comes to human rights, they are fundamental in a democratic society. We cannot take any shortcuts when it comes to human rights. […]

There are more open-minded people today than there were in the 1960s. I think of lot of it has to do with the educational process. When people have issues explained to them and when they understand the issues better, they will be more accepting.

The fact is that the world did not come crashing down because of what we did in 1986. There are many other jurisdictions that are dealing with issues like this.

Bill Siksay (Burnaby-Douglas, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to conclude the second reading debate on my private member’s bill. […] Two concerns were raised in the debate that I would like to address.

The first was that the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” were not defined in the bill. This is true, but it is also entirely consistent with the Canadian Human Rights Act which does not define other listed prohibited grounds of discrimination. That is no accident. It was deliberate. These terms are widely used here in Canada and around the world, and Canada, including the current government, has supported international agreements and statements where they are used. They are accepted terms, defined both in practice and in jurisprudence.

The second concern was that explicit coverage in the Canadian Human Rights Act and in the hate crimes and sentencing provisions of the Criminal Code was redundant, given the fact that decisions had already been made supporting the full human rights of transsexuals and transgender Canadians and the fact that the provisions of the Criminal Code were open-ended.

This, too, is true, but a strong argument can be made for the importance of adding to the existing list. Those who are subject to discrimination and prejudice in our society need to see themselves clearly in our laws. This confirms their place in our society. It confirms that they are valued members of our society. Without explicit recognition, the lives and struggles of transgender and transsexual people remain invisible and their issues remain unaddressed.

Accessing these protections through a convoluted process using other possibly related categories, usually the categories of sex and disability, diminishes the protection and limits our understanding of the causes and effects of the particular discrimination. A right that has to be explained is not a particularly effective right.

Clarity is also helpful in terms of public education. The clearer the law, the easier it is to explain who is protected and why. […]

This has been a historic debate. For the first time, this House has considered the situation of transsexual and transgender Canadians, the prejudice and discrimination and violence they face as they live their lives, and one of the most important remedies to those circumstances. There can be no doubt that trans Canadians face significant challenges and that they do not yet enjoy full equality in our society. Progress is being made. Some jurisdictions have acted to explicitly protect the human rights of trans Canadians. Some employers have acted to prevent discrimination. Some landlords, some health care providers, many unions, institutions, organizations and religious groups have acted. Many families have come to know and love their trans children, siblings, and parents in ways they would never have imagined.

However, there is more to be done. This bill would ensure full and explicit human rights protection in all areas of federal jurisdiction.

A word to members of the transgender and transsexual community: no matter what ultimately happens with this bill, please know that there are many in this place and thousands — no, millions — across Canada who love you and know you as you are, who recognize your experiences, your gifts and your full humanity. We stand in solidarity with you until our goals of justice and equality are achieved.


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