Excerpts from the third reading debate (February 7)
Bill Siksay (Burnaby-Douglas, NDP):
The bill arose from in-person consultations with members of the transgender and transsexual communities in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, and with many trans folks online in communities all across Canada. It is routed in their hope of full and equal citizenship and their experience, often daily, of discrimination, prejudice, misunderstanding and violence. It is my hope that with this bill this House and Canadian society will take a stand against transphobia and for the full equality of trans Canadians. […]
I want to point out that this is not a bid for special rights but for equal rights for a very marginalized community in Canada.
[…] While there have been successful human rights complaints launched by transpeople using the current law’s provisions on “sex” and sometimes “disability”, […] it is important [to have] absolute clarity. Trans people should not have to think their way into protection using other categories originally intended to cover other groups in our society.
It is also important that a group that is marginalized in our society and that suffers significant discrimination and prejudice actually see themselves in the law, and that those who would discriminate against them know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that their actions are not acceptable. It is also important that the Canadian Human Rights Commission have an explicit educational mandate on issues related to the experience of transsexual and transgender Canadians. […]
Another group of critics focus on one issue, the issue of public bathrooms. I will state clearly and emphatically that nothing in this bill would allow inappropriate conduct in public washrooms. It would not change criminal and other sanctions that exist for assault, sexual assault, pedophilia, indecency, harassment, exhibitionism or voyeurism. For example, peeping Toms or men disguised as women who enter a women’s washroom to harass or assault women or girls would still be subject to criminal charges. This bill does nothing to change the sanctions against such inappropriate behaviour. Raising this issue in the way it has been raised is purely and simply alarmist. It implies, too, that trans people are somehow criminal by nature, an idea that is patently false. […]
In reality, it is transpeople who face serious problems in public washrooms. They are the ones who have been assaulted, insulted and denied access. This is the actual problem and it is a serious problem that should demand our attention. Transgender and transsexual people should be able to go about the activities of daily living without fear or discrimination. […]
In conclusion, I want to paraphrase a statement from the Canadian Labour Congress and an earlier work by the Canadian Auto Workers Union in their handbook called To our allies a handbook on LGBT rights and how people can work in support and solidarity of those rights:
Until we’re considered equal, and not simply ‘tolerated’.
Until our youth aren’t forced to leave home for the streets.
Until our partners are welcome at all family, social and workplace events.
Until the police are there to protect us, not harass us.
Until sex workers are not seen as criminals.
Until our children see our families reflected in school curriculum and story books.
Until our differences and our cultures are celebrated not denied.
Until it’s safe to come out at work.
Until it’s safe to come out at school.
Until hospitals, banks, travel agents, and insurance companies see us as people, not diseases, problems or profits.
Until we’re not stereotyped into certain jobs or denied others.
Until parents aren’t freaked out by having transgender children.
Until we don’t have to justify, explain, or expose our private lives.
Until harassment at work stops.
Until our streets are safe for trans people.
Until religions open their doors to our celebrations and expressions of faith.
Until we can express our gender without fear of reprisal or ridicule.
Until gender stereotyping stops and we are all free to be wholly human.
Until the cure for transphobia is discovered.
Until we can love and be loved, with joy and abandon.
Here in the House this week we can ensure that at least in part “until” becomes now for transgender and transsexual Canadians.
Megan Leslie (Halifax, NDP):
I was here for the first hour of debate at second reading when my colleague, the member for Burnaby—Douglas, moved the bill and spoke to it. He pointed out what a historic moment it was, a moment to actually have a debate on transgender issues in Parliament and that it was the first time that this issue had even been discussed within these four walls, in the House of Commons. The member for Burnaby—Douglas, who is a tireless advocate for issues in the rainbow community and also the NDP critic on sexual orientation and gender identity policy, pointed out that while it was a historic moment in the House, his one regret was that, to our knowledge, there were no transgendered MPs in the House who could speak to this bill and provide a first voice perspective to the importance of this legislation.
[…] nothing that I can say about our trans rights bill in this House could be a replacement for hearing from the lived experiences of transgendered Canadians. I am going to use my time today to bring the voices of people, some from Halifax and others from around Canada, who contacted me about this bill. […] I want to share their voices with everyone in this House, so that these people have an opportunity to be heard by all MPs in this important debate.
Sandra Bornemann is a young woman with whom I have had the privilege of working with in Halifax. She works for the youth project in Halifax. We worked on some projects together. We worked on some issues together. Sandra wrote to me and said quite simply, “Trans people are often victims of discrimination, harassment and violence. They are all too often denied employment, housing, access to health care and face difficulties obtaining identification. Trans people are workers, citizens and beloved members of our families. They deserve respect, equality and protection from discrimination and violence.”
[…]Another constituent of mine wrote: “I am a resident of Halifax and am a transgendered person. While I have spent much of my career advocating for the rights of others (e.g. African Nova Scotians, persons with disabilities, new Canadians, single parents, gay, lesbian and bi) within my community, I have never been able to find the courage to identify that I am transgendered or to advocate for myself. It was only a few years ago that I disclosed to my wife and adult children that I am transgendered. Perhaps the reasons for keeping this a secret have been numerous. For example, not wanting to distract attention from the groups I worked with. Also, there was certainly fear. The fear of discrimination, loss of employment, hurt to my family and friends, etc. There was also the fear of being labelled sick, as I have heard others refer to transgendered people so many times. I have become aware of Bill C-389, an Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code and I am asking that you support this bill.” […]
John Ross and Rev. Warren Schell co-wrote a letter to me, and it reads: “We are writing to you today to ask you to support Bill C-389. We are very aware that transsexual and transgender people are among the most marginalized persons in our society. They often encounter great difficulty in finding places to live, employment and services.” […]
I would like to read another excerpt from a letter I received from Mercedes Allen, who said, “I would like to express my deepest appreciation for your support of Bill C-389 at second reading, and hope that you will continue to do so when the bill comes up for discussion and final discussion and vote on Wednesday, February 9th”. […]
I will read from another letter that I received, which states: “I am writing today to contribute my support for Bill C-389. Currently, transpeople are only protected implicitly, and often face extreme violence and discrimination. Many people live in poverty and have difficulty paying for the daily costs of living and health care. This is largely due to the discrimination and violence that they are subjugated to, including difficulty in finding employment, residence, support networks, and services. It is a testament to the strength of many transpeople who have overcome all odds to stand up for their rights. Currently, transpeople are underrepresented in governments worldwide. There have been only two openly transsexual members of Parliament in the world, Georgina Beyer (New Zealand) and Vladimir Luxuria (Italy). While a few places in the world offer explicit protections to trans people, Canada does not. I feel it is time for Canada to again become a leader in human rights and offer explicit protections for transgender, transsexual and gender-variant members of our community. I urge you and your colleagues to be a voice for members of your constituency whose protections are at stake and support Bill C-389”. This letter was from April Friesen.
Another constituent from Halifax, Stephanie Ehler, wrote to me and stated the following: “It’s an unfortunate travesty that more hasn’t been done before now for the rights of persons who are transgendered. The current situation really puts the pressure on you to do all you can to make positive steps forward and you have my support and encouragement in doing so.”
Matthew McLauchlin and Susan Gapka, two utterly tireless trans rights advocates […] pointed out that the areas of federal jurisdiction covered by the bill are some of the most sensitive areas where trans people are affected and where they are more likely to be harassed: banks, air travel, immigration, customs, prisons, and the list goes on. These are really important areas that we need to address. Matt dispelled the so-called bathroom argument pretty succinctly when he said to me, “On the bathroom scare, it’s pretty hypocritical considering that this has never happened in any of the more than 100 U.S. and overseas jurisdictions with protection, but washroom harassment has happened to nearly every trans person”. That is a good point.
The letters that I have shared with MPs in the House do not even come close to the number of face-to-face contacts I have had with trans people from Halifax and their allies, who thank me for our support of this bill and share with me their stories of courage, fear, bravery, anger, terror, love, hate, pride, power, and stories about themselves or people that they love. I really believe that if every MP had the opportunity to hear the stories and look people in the eye while listening to them, they would have no choice but to support this bill.
Marlene Jennings (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, Lib.):
[…] There are a number of myths surrounding this bill and the impact it will have. I would like to speak about the eight main myths and show that they are not based on truth or fact. […]
Myth number one is that Bill C-389 would provide an opportunity for pedophiles to hang out in bathrooms, waiting for young girls. This is completely false. Pedophilia is an heinous crime in all circumstances, without exception. Pedophilia is punishable under the Criminal Code of Canada […] In no way whatsoever would the bill permit any form of sexual exploitation, including pedophilia. I find it offensive to characterize all transgendered individuals as pedophiles, as some have done in their opposition to the bill.
Myth number two is that the bill would expose our children to perverts in public showers and changing rooms. […] This is, again, a completely false statement. As indicated above, in no way whatsoever would the bill permit any form of sexual exploitation. Any form of sexual exploitation is punishable under our Criminal Code. Therefore, for people to claim that the bill would legalize sexual exploitation, in certain cases, is completely false. They know it is false, and shame on them for trying to use that as an argument against the bill.
Myth number three is that the bill would override other criminal laws. It is shameful that anyone would try to use that argument to oppose Bill C-389. Part V of the Criminal Code of Canada is clear on what constitutes a sexual offence. Nothing in Bill C-389 would supersede or override these provisions, regardless if one is transgendered or not. Therefore, for people to promote that myth, shame on them.
Myth number four is that teaching of gender expression in schools would become mandatory. There is not a single provision in the bill which would require the teaching of gender expression in schools. […]
Myth number five is that Bill C-389 would promote sexual confusion among vulnerable teens. […] The bill would not promote sexual confusion. If anything, it would promote sexual clarity. We have heard about how young teens who are transgendered are thrown out of their homes are subject to discrimination. For teens to feel safe about expressing their gender, sexuality and identity is necessary in a free and democratic society that promotes the rights of everyone and seeks to protect individuals and groups from discrimination. This bill would move that fight and that protection so much further in a positive way.
Myth number six is that Bill C-389 is being advanced for a tiny group of sexual activists. Again, this is completely false. Transgendered individuals face an unacceptable amount of discrimination in their everyday lives and are likely to become victims of violence. […] Although transgendered individuals constitute a small minority of the Canadian population, all Canadians have an equal right not to be subjected to discrimination. This bill is being advanced in the name of equal rights. It is not because there is one, or ten, or a hundred that discrimination is justified. It is not justified.
All Canadians, regardless of their sexual orientation or their gender expression or identity have a right to be safe, to work, to equal access to health services, to lodging and to move about in our society without fear of being victims of violence because of their gender expression or identity. If adopted, the bill will go a long way to ensuring that.
Myth number seven is that Bill C-389 would make any complaint against transgendered individuals a hate crime. Again, this is completely false. Not all complaints against transgendered individuals will be considered hate crimes. The Canadian Human Rights Act defines a hate message as “any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.” Only messages relating to transgendered individuals that fall within the above definition would be considered hate messages. This is currently the case for messages related to one’s race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, or sex.
I will have to end there because my time is up. However, I support the bill and I urge all my colleagues, including those of my caucus, to support it.
I would like to speak personally for a moment. As a gay man, I know that securing my place as a full and equal citizen has been a long journey and an often hard-fought struggle. As a gay man, I know that my liberation came about thanks to the hard work, risk-taking and sacrifice of many queer brothers and sisters, and many strong allies. As a gay man, I know that the battle for my equality in our society was often led, often championed, by members of the transgender and transsexual community. I know that it was the drag queens who helped us fight back, and perhaps taught us to fight back, against the oppression, discrimination, prejudice and violence that we faced.
At Stonewall, but also long before and long after Stonewall, it was members of the trans community who helped lead and motivate our fight, and who stood in solidarity with us time and time again. That is one reason why I am proud to stand in solidarity with the transgender and transsexual community, as we finally seek their full equality and seek to establish their full human rights in law in Canada.
I have been greatly honoured to have been taken into the confidence of the trans community to be an ally and to work in solidarity with the community. It has been an honour to hear their stories and learn of their struggles. I have learned to be a better ally, a better friend, a better citizen as a result.
I have met beautiful, strong, loving and articulate people who face challenges I can hardly imagine and I am sure I do not fully appreciate. I count as friends people who live proud lives and express their full humanity against many odds. My understanding of what it means to be fully human has been challenged and expanded greatly by what I have been taught.
I have seen and sometimes shared the frustration, the anger, the tears and the deep sadness of people who are not yet equal, who too often face violence, sometimes to the point of death, and who mourn the loss of friends and family for whom the pain was more than they could bear. I have been strengthened by their resolve to claim their true identity and their place in our society, to live full lives and to be fully human.
[…] Let us remember that things have changed since we began this particular project six years ago. Let us remember that this is not the only forum in the struggle for the full equality of trans people. Let us not forget the victories and progress we have made in other places. Let us bask in the support of the new friends and allies we have found here in this place and across the country, and let us get ready to resume our work with new strategies and new plans.
I am confident that the change we seek will come. Justice will be done, and perhaps very soon the open and proud voice of transgender and transsexual Canadians will be heard loudly and clearly in this place. I hope that very soon an open member of the trans community will be elected and be able to directly, and from personal experience, voice the concerns of the community here in the House of Commons. There are celebrations to come.