An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity)

This bill was previously introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Randall Garrison  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

In committee (Senate), as of June 5, 2014

Subscribe to a feed of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-279.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination.

It also amends the Criminal Code to include gender identity as a distinguishing characteristic protected under section 318 and as an aggravating circumstance to be taken into consideration under section 718.2 at the time of sentencing.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • March 20, 2013 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
  • March 20, 2013 Passed That Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression), {as amended}, be concurred in at report stage [with a further amendment/with further amendments].
  • March 20, 2013 Passed That Bill C-279, in Clause 1, be amended by adding after line 21 on page 1 the following: “(2) In this section, “gender identity” means, in respect of an individual, the individual’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex that the individual was assigned at birth.”
  • March 20, 2013 Passed That Bill C-279 be amended by replacing the long title on page 1 with the following: “An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity)”
  • June 6, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

June 1st, 2012 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in the House today to support Bill C-279, which is An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code in regard to gender identity and gender expression.

This bill has had a long history, and I want to first of all thank the NDP member from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca for the tremendous work that he has done on this new version of the bill, as it has been in previous Parliaments. He has done an incredible amount of work within Parliament and by talking to individual members of Parliament and helping people understand the importance of this bill and what it means. He has also done significant work in the community, not just in the trans community but in the broader community, to bring about a better understanding of this bill. I certainly want to pay tribute and give respect to the work that my colleague has done.

This bill has actually had a long history. It was first introduced in the House in, I believe, 2005, and again in 2006 and then again in 2008 by Bill Siksay, who was the former member of Parliament for Burnaby—Douglas. He too did an incredible amount of work. It was a great day when the bill actually did pass in the House of Commons, as the member for Vancouver Quadra just noted a few minutes ago.

In February 2011, it did actually go into the Senate. Had it not been for the election, it is very possible that the bill would have gone through the Senate and would now be law. That history is interesting because it gives a sense of the importance of private members' business, bills and motions and of how we have to keep plugging away and working at an issue. Sometimes it can be a very long and difficult road, with barriers and frustrations and sometimes elections arising before the goal of having a bill finally approved is reached.

This bill and its history have been quite remarkable. I want us to reflect on that today, because this is the fourth time around with this bill. It has already passed in a Parliament. We have an opportunity here today to do something historic, which is to affirm the rights of transgendered, transsexual and gender-variant Canadians who do not have the same degree of protection for their rights and freedoms as all other Canadians. That is why this bill is seeking to remedy that gap in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.

I know some Conservative members may just oppose the bill outright. I would have serious questions about that, because it is a bill based on establishing our understanding about human rights and protection under the law. Other members may support the issue in principle but may believe that the bill is possibly not necessary and that somehow that protection already exists. However, I think we need to be very clear that although other minority groups do have protection under human rights and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, those rights are not guaranteed specifically to transgendered, transsexual and gender-variant Canadians because they are not identified as an identifiable group. While the charter now spells out race, nationality, ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted, it does not include transgendered persons. Therefore, it is really important that we actually make this move.

I would point out that the Canadian Human Rights Act review panel in 2000 recommended that these changes take place. In other words, an independent evaluation beyond this bill in Parliament came to the same conclusion, the conclusion that these changes are needed.

I would also point out that gender identity and gender expression are grounds for protection under the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, to which Canada was a signatory back in 2008, so we can see the international frame for this as well as see that our own experts in Canada are saying that this change needs to take place.

The bill is very timely. It is warranted. It has already been approved by a previous Parliament, so I am very hopeful that we will see our way here, on all sides of the House, to have the bill go through at second reading and pass on to committee.

The support in the community has been quite magnificent. A lot of people have worked very hard on this bill. They include the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, as I pointed out earlier, and also groups like Egale Canada, Jer's Vision, Gender Mosaic, Ottawa Trans PULSE Project and Trans Pride Canada.

These groups, and many individuals as well, have worked very hard to bring about greater awareness of issues facing transgendered people and greater awareness that discrimination still exists in daily life. Whether we consider health care or employment, housing or social interactions and social acceptance, there is still discrimination, there is still persecution and there is still violence.

It is very interesting. When the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca spoke in the first hour of debate, he laid out very well some of the reports that have been done. One done by Trans PULSE Project Canada, for example, shows that the level of depression among transgendered Canadians is as high as 61% to 66%, and there are issues around mental health. This all has to do with people feeling they are excluded, that they are facing discrimination and harassment, so it is very important that we address this inequality.

A bill like this is really just the first step. Putting something into law, enshrining a right and improving and strengthening the rights that we have, is surely the most important and significant first step that needs to be done, but it is only the beginning. From there, we have to ensure continual vigilance to make sure those rights and protections are upheld because, unfortunately, much discrimination still takes place, so the application of the law and an understanding about the law are really important.

We as legislators, as parliamentarians, have a really important leadership role to play in making it clear that we live in a society where, in our own communities and our own constituencies, we have transgendered constituents and that all people have the right to protection and dignity and respect under the law.

We can begin at that place, but we have to go further. We have to make sure, for example, that there is equal access to health care. Transgendered Canadians often find it very difficult to access health care services and are often denied medically necessary care. They are forced to deal with the issue of their gender before they can access the service. There are many examples, including not having equal access to surgery, an inequality that certainly exists in the provinces where there are different variations and standards. Some very important issues need to be dealt with, but first and foremost we need to get the bill through.

I want to appeal to all members of the House. This is a vote on principle in this bill, and if we accept the principle of what the bill is laying out, then let us get it to committee. At committee we can have a very constructive discussion about the bill, and there may possibly be amendments. The member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, who brought the bill forward, has made it very clear and has shown in all of his work that he wants to engage, hear different points of view and find a way that the bill can be supported by all sides.

We have something very strong and healthy here. We are very close to getting this bill through, so again I want to appeal to all members of the House to consider the principles of the bill, which are about the protection of all Canadians in human rights and dignity and respect, and to allow the bill to go to committee so that there can be a further discussion in much more detail.

I am proud to be here today. Our NDP caucus, the official opposition, is 100% behind the bill, and we really hope other members of the House will find their way to support this bill as well and let it go to committee.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

June 1st, 2012 / 2 p.m.
See context

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House to support Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.

I am very proud to have the opportunity to speak to the bill introduced by my hon. colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. I would like to take a moment to congratulate him on all his hard work on this issue.

I would also like to congratulate the former member, Mr. Siksay, who worked very hard in previous years to get his bill passed, a bill that was very similar to the one before us here today.

At the time, his bill was supported by the Canadian Bar Association and the Public Service Alliance of Canada. Today, we also have the support of many other unions, such as the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

I am very proud of the fact that Canada's labour movement has given us its support so that we can finally pass legislation that will strengthen the rights of Canadians. I think that is very important. Canadians generally believe that our rights must be interpreted in a broad sense. However, when it comes to transsexuals' rights, there are limitations. I am very proud of the work done by the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

Passing this bill would be an important step in protecting the rights of all Canadians. As a member of Parliament and an openly gay man, I am very aware of the fundamental importance of the legal protection of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

In fact, had my rights as a gay man not been enshrined in the law, I would likely not be here before you today. If I was not able to express my identity, I would be living a very different life, likely a double life, a life filled with fear.

I would not be married. I would never have been able to openly share the joy of that relationship with my family and friends. I would likely never have developed the confidence needed to become a notary and a politician.

I support this bill. It will help transsexual and transgendered Canadians achieve a degree of freedom that they do not currently enjoy. It will be a freedom that will allow them to exercise their right to express themselves fully and freely as human beings, knowing that the law will protect them against bullying and discrimination.

Federal law does not provide specific protection for transsexual and transgendered Canadians any more than it provides protection against hate crimes.

Often, the courts and human rights commissions consider these types of complaints as discrimination, but the legal arguments have to be made over again every time. Enshrining this right in our legislation would prevent such complaints from ending up in court and would prevent transsexual and transgendered people from always having to spend large amounts of money to protect rights that others take for granted.

It is time to stop doing things this way and to protect transsexual and transgendered Canadians against the discrimination, harassment and violence they experience in their everyday lives. It is time to protect transsexual and transgendered Canadians.

Some believe that terms such as “gender identity” and “gender expression” are poorly defined, but that is not true. These expressions are very clear in scientific research and in the law.

Gender identity is an individual's self-conception as male or female, both or neither, as distinguished from one's birth-assigned sex.

Gender expression is how a person's gender identity is communicated to others through emphasizing, de-emphasizing or changing behaviour, dress, speech and/or mannerisms.

Some have argued that there is no need for specific protection of transgendered rights as sexual orientation is already included in the Canadian Human Rights Act and in the hate crimes section of the Criminal Code. This argument confuses sexual orientation (who one is attracted to sexually) with gender identity and gender expression.

Transgender, transsexual, gender non-conforming and gender variant individuals may profess any of a range of sexual orientations: attracted to people of their own gender identity, of the other binary gender or of several different genders. There is no scientific justification for forcing those with alternative gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation to assimilate. That kind of thinking is outdated.

Trans people are regularly denied things that we all take for granted, such as access to adequate health care and housing, the ability to obtain or change identification documents, access to washrooms and other gender-identified spaces, limits on the ability to exercise the right to vote, and on the ability to acquire and keep meaningful employment.

Canada is a signatory to the UN statement on sexual orientation and gender identity. To meet our obligations it is necessary to add gender identity to our own Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.

Transsexual and transgender Canadians currently have no explicit protection in the Human Rights Act leaving trans Canadians open to discrimination, prejudice, harassment and violence on a daily basis. Adding specific protections for the rights of transgender Canadians will close a specific gap in Canadian human rights law and will help raise public awareness about this important issue.

Since 1970, at least 645 trans people have been murdered worldwide. We know that this is only the tip of the iceberg as most countries do no keep records on trans identities or trans-related violence. This is an opportunity for all parties to join together to help complete basic protection of human rights in Canada by including protections for transgender, transsexual, and gender variant individuals in Canadian law.

We have seen this House pass similar legislation before. We had the support of many members from all parties. It would only make sense this time around to pass a bill on which this House has already spoken and for which it has given its approval.

Moving forward with a new bill today will simply confirm the state of Canadian law as it should be and as the House has already declared it to be in the past. Unfortunately, we have lost several months debating the bill again, only to come here today and end up where we were two years ago.

In closing, I think it is very important for us to move forward and confirm our support once again. I hope that all members here in this House who were here the last time will reaffirm their support for this bill and that the other MPs, those who are new like me, will also lend their support. Nearly a dozen Conservatives have even participated in the It Gets Better video project in response to high rates of LGBT suicides.

We hope that all those who have demonstrated their concrete commitment to making it better for transgender people will vote in favour of this bill.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

June 1st, 2012 / 2:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to close second reading debate on Bill C-279 with a great deal of optimism.

In the brief time I have available, I will not try to review all the arguments in favour of the bill. One reason is that this is essentially the same bill that passed in the House in the previous Parliament and stalled in the Senate. The second is that I had the privilege of opening this debate some weeks ago and laid out my arguments then. The third reason is the arguments in favour that have been ably put before the House today by my colleagues.

In the brief time I have available I want to deal with concerns we have heard from the other side of the House. I have listened carefully to speeches and I have talked a great deal with individual members on the other side. What I have heard is much goodwill on the question of protecting the rights of transgender, transsexual and gender variant Canadians despite some concerns about specifics of the bill.

One concern is a lack of definitions of key terms in the bill. I personally still do not believe a definition of gender identity is needed in the same way that we do not define other terms in the human rights code.

The other concern is with the breadth of the term “gender expression”. Again, this is not a concern that I share personally, but it is one that I have come to understand in my discussion with members on the other side. I will concede that this term is not as precisely defined in law as “gender identity”.

A third argument that has been made against the bill is that it is not needed because transgender rights are already protected in existing legislation. Once again, I do not share this opinion. I believe there is a gap in our law. As we just heard from my hon. colleague, one of the problems in law if it is not specifically mentioned is that those legal arguments have to be rebuilt in every legal case. Even if this were the case and transgender rights were covered in some general terms, there are still good reasons to proceed with this legislation and its specific protection of the rights of transgendered Canadians.

One good reason is to remove any doubt or ambiguity about the protection of those rights and to state very clearly that transgender, transsexual and gender variant Canadians are entitled to the same protections as all other Canadians, and that discrimination against transgender Canadians must end now.

Progress is being made in other jurisdictions, such as Ontario and Manitoba, and even in some unexpected places like Argentina, which now has perhaps the most progressive legislation in the world on transgender rights.

In response to that large measure of goodwill that I found on the other side of the House, I am committing today to support changes to the bill which I believe will preserve the essence of the bill while still meeting the concerns of many of those on the other side of the House.

If we can get support at second reading to get the bill to committee in the vote next Wednesday, we on this side will support amendments to do two things. We will support an amendment to remove the term “gender expression” from the bill, and we will support an amendment to add a definition for “gender identity” to the bill. I trust that this commitment will secure enough support to move forward on the protection of transgender Canadians.

I urge all members to join me in supporting this bill and helping to build a truly inclusive Canada where we can all live our lives as who we are, and we can each make our own special contribution to Canadian life.

I want to remind the House once again that transgender, transsexual and gender variant Canadians are our brothers and our sisters, our children, our parents, our grandparents, our family, our co-workers and our friends.

I urge everyone in the House to join together, let us move forward together to make progress for the protection of rights of all Canadians, including transgender Canadians, transsexual Canadians and gender variant Canadians. The time to act is now.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

April 5th, 2012 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

moved that Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to lead off the debate at second reading of Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression).

I am honoured to stand in this House and carry on the NDP tradition of standing up for the rights of transsexual and transgendered Canadians. I would also like to thank the 18 seconders of my bill for their support, which demonstrates the broad support that this bill has in this Parliament.

As many will be aware, this bill passed the House of Commons some two years ago in February 2011 but died on the order paper in the Senate when the 2011 election was called. I am hoping that we will have sufficient support once again from all parties in this House to adopt this very necessary bill.

I will begin by addressing why this bill is so necessary in a Canada where the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has become part of what one might call our national DNA and where we very much believe that rights are fully protected. The problem is that some citizens do not enjoy the full protection of their rights under the law, and the problem is that those Canadians are often subject to discrimination, denial of public services and, all too often, harassment and violence.

The reason this bill is before us today is because gender identity and gender expression rights are not expressly protected in Canada. Simply put, transgendered, transsexual and gender variant Canadians do not have the same degree of protection of their rights and freedoms as all other Canadians, and this bill seeks to remedy that gap.

Other minority groups do have protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act and under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, these same guarantees are not provided to transgendered, transsexual and gender variant Canadians because in law they are not defined as an identifiable group.

Right now, people cannot be discriminated against on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted. Unfortunately, none of those categories offer protection to trans-Canadians as the discrimination they suffer does not fit into those categories.

I want to emphasis again, since there is sometimes misunderstanding, that sexual orientation is not a blanket term that offers protection against the discrimination, prejudice and violence suffered by trans-Canadians. In fact, in a recent study carried out by the Trans PULSE Canada, 30% of the participants self-identified as straight, as heterosexual.

Transgendered, transsexual and gender variant rights are not just other words for sexual orientation. They are a category that is lacking and missing in our law.

Around the world, transsexual, transgendered and gender variant people do suffer high levels of discrimination, prejudice and violence, but in Canada, a country that prides itself on equality, acceptance and diversity, trans-people are no exception.

Each November, the Transgender Day of Remembrance is observed around the world to draw attention to the violence against the trans communities. Last year, the observance marked the deaths of over 220 people around the world as the result of attacks based on their gender identity or gender expression.

There is a lot to be done in the world at large but also a lot to be done here at home. I acknowledge that changing laws alone will not solve all the problems but I believe the first step to ensure that trans-people have the same rights as all other Canadians and that trans-people's rights are upheld just the same as those of any other citizen comes with the passage of this bill.

As a society, we must take this issue seriously so that trans-people are recognized as full citizens and are entitled to and can use their rights in the same way as any other citizen so they can participate fully in their communities. Again, I believe the first step will occur with this bill.

Bill C-279 would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination. It would also amend the hate crimes section of the Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression as distinguishing characteristics protected from hate crimes under section 318 and also as aggravating circumstances to be taken into consideration at sentencing under section 718.2 of the Criminal Code.

I should take a moment to address the question of definitions, as some have said that gender identity and gender expression are vague terms. That is not true in Canadian law. We have had litigation before our Canadian Human Rights Commission and in other places where these terms have received a very clear definition.

Gender identity is an individual's self-conception as being male or female, or both, or neither, as distinguished from one's birth-assigned sex. Gender expression, on the other hand, is how a person's gender is communicated to others, emphasizing or de-emphasizing characteristics, and changing or not changing behaviour, dress, speech and/or mannerisms.

The bill seeks to address the lack of explicit human rights protections on both counts, gender identity and gender expression.

I want to take this opportunity to reiterate that what we are talking about here are basic human rights enjoyed by all other Canadians and not some category of special rights. These are simply the same rights that are inscribed in Canadian legislation for all other Canadians. These rights and protections are necessary to ensure that trans Canadians can safely live out their lives, just as any other Canadian.

It is important to note that we will not be breaking new ground when we adopt Bill C-279. It will offer and include the same types of protections that are being implemented in other places in Canada and around the world. In fact, in the year 2002, the Northwest Territories entrenched protections for transsexual and transgendered people in its human rights act. Hence, the Northwest Territories has already taken a lead on this issue. Moreover, the cities of Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto have all amended their anti-discrimination policies to protect against discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.

We will also not be running in advance of the field. In Canada, the Canadian Human Rights Act review panel, in the year 2000, recommended these changes. In this House, a previous member, Bill Siksay, introduced the same bill in 2005, 2006 and 2008, before it was finally passed in 2011. Some would say that time is well due for passage of the bill.

Finally, I would mention that gender identity and gender expression are grounds for protection under the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, which Canada signed on December 18, 2008. Accordingly, one could argue that having voluntarily signed on to this international convention, Canada is actually obligated to make the legislative changes necessary to bring those protections into force.

As well, in November 2011, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, for the first time, issued a comprehensive report on the rights associated with sexual orientation and gender identity and made a number of recommendations to all member states. Four of those are very relevant to Canada.

The high commissioner for human rights said that all member states needed to enact comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that would include discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. That is precisely what we are trying to do in Bill C-279.

The high commissioner went on to say that all countries should facilitate legal recognition of the preferred gender of transgendered persons and establish arrangements to permit relevant identity documents to be reissued, reflecting the preferred gender and name without infringement of any other human rights.

If we pass Bill C-279, this would facilitate making those necessary changes in the regulations that govern the issuance of identity documents, which is often a large problem for transgendered Canadians. As we have seen recently, with the changes under the air safety regulations for identity during travel, this would resolve the problem that was created by the introduction of this discriminatory regulation.

The high commissioner's fourth recommendation calls for the implementation of appropriate training programs for police, prison officers, border guards, immigration officers and all other law enforcement and security personnel to counter homophobia and transphobia and to ensure that the rights of transgendered citizens are observed by officials of the state in all appropriate circumstances.

Again, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Canada, as a member of the United Nations, to take the kind of action I propose in Bill C-279.

Some say, what is the urgent need to fill this gap in our human rights legislation? When one meets with, as I have done, many representatives of transgender organizations and talks with transsexual or gender-variant Canadians, they mention three recurring areas where people have faced very serious forms of discrimination, and I want to talk briefly about those: access to health care, protection from violence, and economic inequality.

In Canada, we pride ourselves on everyone having equal access to health care. In fact, the Canada Health Act says that the primary objective of our health policy is to ensure that we protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of all Canadians. However, trans Canadians find that in accessing health care, they are often denied medically necessary care by being forced to deal with the issue of their gender before they can access the service. They also suffer from under-delivery of psychological health care services and, often, insensitive or hostile treatment from health care professions based on gendered spaces in public institutions.

Thus the needs of transgendered and transsexual Canadians in non-health care related matters are urgent, but perhaps most urgent in this health care field.

Some trans people believe that in order to achieve their full identity, they require surgery. However, there is not equal access to that surgery among all the provinces in this country. By adding gender identity and gender expression to the human rights code, we can help promote access to those surgeries. However, others do not believe that surgery is necessary for their transition and are often denied access to care and other services because they have not had surgery to change their gender. Again, for transgendered people, they get hit by both sorts of discrimination, in being denied access to surgery and also sometimes being denied access to a full transition because they have not had surgery. This bill would help to solve that problem.

In terms of mental health services, we know that mental health resources in this country are already quite stretched and that people seeking mental health care are often faced with long waiting lists to see therapists, no matter what their mental health problem is. This simply further compounds the problems faced by trans Canadians.

A survey conducted by Trans Pulse Canada reports that in Ontario, rates of depression among transgendered Canadians are as high as between 61% and 66%. When we examine suicide rates for transsexual, transgendered and gender-variant people, 77% of trans people in Ontario, unfortunately, reported seriously considering suicide; 43% reported they had attempted suicide at some point; and of those who considered suicide, almost 50% were between the ages of 16 and 24. We are seriously failing trans Canadians in the area of mental health and suicide prevention in this country.

In terms of violence, there have been many surveys of transgendered Canadians showing they are subject to very high rates of violence. However, law enforcement agencies in this country do not collect statistics based on gender expression and gender identity. Therefore, we have no official statistics to tell us how serious the problem really is.

When we look at bullying, Egale Canada did a large-scale survey of LGBTQ across Canada. It found that 90% of trans-identified youth reported hearing transphobic comments daily directed at them; 23% of those students reported hearing teachers directing transphobic comments against them daily; 25% reported having been physically harassed; and 24% reported having property stolen or damaged. We can see from that small survey of trans youth that there are very high rates of violence and harassment against the trans community.

By adding this to the hate crime section of the Criminal Code, we can send a very powerful message that such is unacceptable behaviour in Canada and that the rights of transgendered people must be recognized and transgendered people afforded the right to participate fully in schools as well as other places in our communities.

Finally, in terms of employment, it is an area where trans people often face serious discrimination. Over 20% of those surveyed in Ontario by Trans Pulse Canada in the past were unemployed, which was two and half times the average unemployment rate in Ontario. Job stability is often limited and those who choose to transition in a workplace often have very serious problems in retaining their employment, due to hostility either from the employer or others in the workplace.

In conclusion, let me reiterate that the purpose of this bill is to fill a gap in Canada's human rights legal framework. It is not the purpose to create special rights for anyone. It is about equal human rights for all Canadians. Like all of us, trans people want to be able to take the advice of Oscar Wilde when he said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

This bill will ensure that in Canada, transgendered, transsexual and gender-variant people have the freedom to be themselves and the protection, and rights guarantees, that all other Canadians have. As I have said many times before, trans-people are our brothers and our sisters, our children, our parents, our partners, our friends and our colleagues, and they deserve the same rights and protections as every other Canadians.

I look forward to the passage of this bill to help make that a reality.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members Business

April 5th, 2012 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

Delta—Richmond East
B.C.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to contribute to the debate on Bill C-279 sponsored by the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, an opposition member from my home province of B.C., for whom I have respect. I think he knows that.

We studied Bill C-279 and, upon reflection, it is clear to me that the proposed amendments are unnecessary. Here is why I will be voting against Bill C-279.

As members may already be aware, the bill proposes to add the undefined terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” as prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act and into the aggravated sentencing provisions and hate propaganda provisions of the Criminal Code. I understand that the underlying purpose of these legislative amendments is to provide explicit protection for transsexual and transgendered Canadians. I have sympathy with the intention. However, I believe this bill as drafted does not equal the purpose.

I would like to turn first to a consideration of the proposed amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act. The purpose of this act is to help create a society in which individuals have access to equal opportunity without discrimination. The grounds that determine what will be considered discriminatory include race, national or ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability and several others.

It is also worth recalling that this act prohibits discrimination in employment and services in areas of federal jurisdiction. For example, it protects individuals who are employed by the federal public service or federally regulated industries such as banks and airlines.

In interpreting and applying this act, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has already accepted and considered several complaints brought by transsexuals under the ground of “sex”. In fact, the ground of sex in anti-discrimination laws is interpreted broadly and has evolved over the years. It is now understood to cover discrimination complaints based not just on sex but also on gender attributes, pregnancy, childbirth and, more recently, transsexualism. Therefore, for those complaints brought by transsexuals, the tribunal has used the existing grounds already contained in the act.

For example, in one complaint brought by a transsexual inmate in a federal prison, the tribunal dealt with the complaint and Correctional Service Canada developed a policy to deal with potential future cases. In another complaint brought by a transsexual person against a bank, again the tribunal dealt with the complaint under the ground of sex. In fact, I presided over a successful mediation of just such a case when I was a member of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

In deciding that transsexuals are already protected by our federal human rights law, the tribunal's approach is consistent with that taken by the provincial human rights tribunals that have also found discrimination against transsexuals to be covered by the existing ground of sex.

Since Canadian tribunals and courts have already recognized discrimination against transsexuals as a form of sex discrimination, what is the bill's purpose in proposing to add these two new grounds to the act, which do not refer to transsexualism itself but to undefined concepts of gender identity and gender expression?

The point of the prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act is not to identify particular groups. For example, the act does not mention men and women but the broader ground of sex. It does not list Christianity, Judaism, Islam or other specific religions but simply includes the ground of religion. The act contains the ground of ethnic origin but again does not list out specific minority groups. The act is structured in this way to treat all Canadians equally and fairly and to avoid singling out for recognition specific manifestations of a given characteristic. This bill departs from that approach.

For similar reasons, we may wish to ask ourselves whether it is necessary to add these grounds to the sentencing provisions of the Criminal Code. The section in question in the code lists a number of deemed aggravating circumstances on sentencing, including evidence that the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability or any other similar factor. Again, the list includes sex and it also refers to “any other similar factor”, so judges may already be able to impose longer sentences for hate crimes against transsexual persons in appropriate circumstances.

Thus, it appears there are already the necessary legal protections in place to protect transsexuals. I am not sure why it is necessary to add these new grounds when the tribunals and courts have been clear that complaints brought by transsexuals will be dealt with under the ground of sex and this ground is also included in the aggravated sentencing provision.

Furthermore, this bill adds even further uncertainty, because the terms proposed are not commonly used and are not defined by the bill itself, hence the questions we heard earlier.

It is my understanding that “gender identity” means individuals' self-conception as being male or female or their sense of themselves as male or female. It is my further understanding that “gender expression” refers to how a person's gender identity is communicated to others through behaviour, speech, dress or mannerisms. However, as these terms are neither commonly understood nor defined, their use would introduce vagueness into the law. I am particularly concerned with the unclear term “gender expression”.

We should ask ourselves what new sorts of discrimination claims would be brought before the commission and the tribunal, if this ground were to be added to the Canadian Human Rights Act. How would employers know what kind of workplace behaviour and expression would be prohibited? Would a federally regulated employer, such as an airline or transport company, be able to require the wearing of a prescribed uniform, for example? The answers to these questions are not clear to me, and they are questions we should consider carefully.

Finally, I would like to consider the role of tribunals and courts in shaping public policy. As I have said, these terms are vague and left undefined by the proposed bill. How can we ask tribunals and courts to apply something that we as legislators do not clearly understand? The fact that we have no idea how tribunals and courts would interpret these terms is also an issue we should consider.

In conclusion, I have explained that the amendments proposed by this bill are largely unnecessary, given the jurisprudence to date. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has already dealt with several complaints brought by transsexuals under the existing ground of sex discrimination. I mentioned a few. There is no need to add new and vague terms to the Canadian Human Rights Act or the Criminal Code. I would therefore urge my colleagues on both sides of the House to oppose this bill for those reasons.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members Business

April 5th, 2012 / 2 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-279, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code on the matter of gender identity and gender expression.

As my colleagues have noted, Bill C-279 would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to add both gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination. In addition, the bill would also amend the Criminal Code in the matter of its anti-hate provisions to include gender identity and gender expression in the definition of what constitutes an identifiable group, as well as adding gender identity and gender expression to the Criminal Code's list of aggravating factors that affect sentencing.

Accordingly, Bill C-279 constitutes an important effort to provide human rights protections to a group that remains the victim of significant discrimination in our society. I would be remiss if I did not note the hard work in previous Parliaments of the former member for Burnaby—Douglas and the current member for Vancouver Centre, both of whom have introduced similar versions of this legislation in previous Parliaments, and the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca today for his legislative initiative and eloquent and comprehensive presentation of this issue on matters of fact and law.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has noted:

There are, arguably, few groups in society today who are as disadvantaged and disenfranchised as the transgendered community. Trans-phobia combined with the hostility of society to the very existence of transgendered people are fundamental human rights issues.

The statistics on trans-phobia, which my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca pointed out in his remarks today, speak for themselves. Indeed, 95% of transgendered students feel unsafe at school and 9 out of 10 have been verbally harassed due to their gender expression, according to Egale Canada.

Further, statistics from the United States reveal the significant incidence of de facto discrimination experienced by transgendered individuals. A recent national survey found that transgendered respondents experienced unemployment at twice the rate of the general population and were significantly more likely to be homeless and low-income earners. In particular, and this is shocking, 97% of transgender respondents in a recent survey reported experiencing harassment or mistreatment at work on the basis of gender identity or expression.

By adopting the amendments that have been proposed in Bill C-279, Parliament can send a strong message of support to transgendered Canadians, affirming their identity and acknowledging their struggles. Indeed, this legislation, again as my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca pointed out, ensures that they will enjoy the legal protections accorded to other targeted groups. I enjoyed his quote from Oscar Wilde in this regard.

It is most appropriate that this debate is taking place on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the centrepiece of our Constitution, that has promoted and protected rights, particularly those of the disadvantaged and discriminated against. I note with regret that, thus far, the 30th anniversary of our charter has gone without notice from the government. It is clear that the charter has had a transformative impact not only on our laws but also on our lives, not only on how we litigate but how we live. In particular, the charter enshrines equality rights such as we see in section 15. It is in this spirit of equality that I join in the support for Bill C-279.

A crucial equality rights issue raised in Bill C-279 is the protection of transgendered individuals against hate speech. Indeed, the promotion of hatred and contempt against an identifiable group results in prejudicial harm to the individual and group targeted by that hate speech. This harm-based rationale, as the Supreme Court characterized the Keegstra, Smith and Andrews and Taylor cases, in which I intervened as counsel on behalf of the intervenant amicus curiae, supports the sanction of hate propaganda as protective of equality. As the court put it, the concerns resulting from racism and hate mongering are not simply the product of its offensiveness, but the very real harm that it causes. Thus, by affording protections to transgendered Canadians under section 319 of our Criminal Code, this House would promote their equality rights under the charter.

Fears that the inclusion of gender identity in Canada's hate speech laws may spark vexatious litigation, thereby creating a chill on free expression, are, simply put, without any foundation.

The Criminal Code has a built-in filtering mechanism that requires the Attorney General's consent to prosecutions for the wilful promotion of hatred under subsection 319(2). Moreover, prosecution for criminal incitement to hate under subsection 319(1) is subject to a high threshold whereby the incitement must be “likely to lead to a breach of the peace”.

Bill C-279's proposed amendment to subparagraph 718.2(a)(i) also constitutes a worthy effort to promote the equality rights of the transgendered. The amendment would mandate judges to consider in sentencing whether a hate crime was carried out on the basis of gender identity or gender expression.

Given what we know about the discrimination that transgendered individuals face, the failure to recognize them in section 718 would send the courts a problematic message that an attack targeting some vulnerable groups, such as ethnic and religious minorities, is more worthy of the court's special consideration in sentencing than an attack targeting other vulnerable groups, namely, transgendered people.

The proposed amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act is equally worthy of adoption. To quote Justice La Forest of the Supreme Court of Canada, gender equality and gender identity must be included as a protected ground in the Canadian Human Rights Act because “to leave the law as it stands would fail to acknowledge the situation of transgendered individuals and allow the issue to remain invisible.” This is a clear and compelling consideration with respect to the inclusion of this ground.

Some members of the House have argued that Bill C-279 is unnecessary because transgendered people are already protected under the existing categories of sex and disability. With respect, this position is misinformed.

First, gender identity and gender expression do not refer to biological sex or sexual orientation. Rather, the terms refer to an inner feeling of being male, female, both or neither. Second, gender identity and gender expression are not a disability. Rather, they are a sense of self and a source of identity. To confound gender identity and gender expression with sex and disability is to ignore the unique experiences of discrimination and disadvantage that are faced by transgendered Canadians.

Finally, to borrow again the language of Justice La Forest of the Supreme Court of Canada, a failure to explicitly refer to gender identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act leaves transgendered people “invisible”. By amending the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds, Parliament would enable the Canadian Human Rights Commission to keep statistical account of incidents of discrimination against transgendered individuals. The ability to compile and analyze data on discrimination against transgendered persons would be crucial in confronting the scourge of discrimination that they continue to face in our society and might also guide educational efforts in the broader community.

The Canadian Human Rights Act is more than just an act of Parliament. It is an act of recognition, a statement of our collective values, and a document that sets out a vision of a Canada where all individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from discrimination.

However, the Canadian Human Rights Act will only achieve this remedial purpose if it grants recognition and protection to the most vulnerable groups in Canadian society. I am proud that in 1996, guided by these principles, the Liberal Party amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination. I am delighted that members of the House continue to carry on the fight against discrimination on this, as we mark the 30th anniversary of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by seeking to add to the prohibited grounds both gender identity and gender expression and provide remedial protection to this most vulnerable and disadvantaged group.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members Business

April 5th, 2012 / 2:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dean Allison Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I personally believe that the discrimination, persecution or incitement to hatred of any group, based on sex, race, religion, should not be tolerated.

Today we are here to talk about Bill C-279, which proposes to make three changes to the law.

The first would be to add “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Second, it would add “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the definition of identifiable groups to section 318 of the Criminal Code. It would be an offence to advocate or promote genocide, to publicly incite hatred, likely to lead to a breach of peace, or to wilfully promote hatred against groups that are identifiable on the basis of gender identity and gender expression.

Third, it would add “gender identity” and “gender expression” to section 718.2 of the Criminal Code, which would direct a judge to consider increasing the sentence beyond its usual range for an offence that was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on gender identity or gender expression.

These three changes are unnecessary.

I will begin with the proposed amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act. The act already prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex. This means that the act prohibits hiring decisions based on prejudice against women or men. It prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. It requires reasonable accommodation for pregnancy. The act protects against these and other kinds of sex discrimination in the federal workplace and elsewhere in federal jurisdiction.

The Canadian Human Rights Act does not require total blindness to the distinction between men and women. Instead, the task of this law is to intervene in situations where people experience certain kinds of discrimination on the grounds of sex.

Canadian society recognizes that there are gender norms. When attitudes and practices involving gender become sex discrimination, the law should and does intervene. However, the law cannot simply abolish gender categories and gender norms in Canadian society. Nor can tribunals and courts be asked to reconstruct and interpret gender norms. That is an unrealistic view of what the legal system is empowered and entrusted to do.

We heard in the course of debate on the previous version of this bill, Bill C-389:

Transsexuals are people whose gender identity differs from their biological or birth sex, and who seek to live permanently as the gender other than their biological sex. Most often transsexuals seek medical interventions such as hormones and surgery to make their bodies congruent with their sense of their genders. A transition process which is known as sex reassignment or gender reassignment is engaged.

In the case of transsexualism, the law has found that gender categories and gender norms cause unfair disadvantages to those people. Transsexuals might not fit social norms due to their unique situation, but as interpreted in numerous decisions, the Canadian Human Rights Act already protects against discrimination on the basis of transsexualism. This is one situation where the law has intervened in order to remedy a form of sex discrimination.

I understand that there is an intention to cast more light on the disadvantages faced by transsexuals, but what Bill C-279 proposes to do goes far beyond that. The bill does not name a particular group of people in order to protect them from a distinctive kind of discrimination. Instead, it proposes two characteristics, “gender identity” and “gender expression”, that everyone has. Everyone has a gender identity and everyone expresses their gender, intentionally or unintentionally, in some way or other.

I would like to repeat that some gender norms may be problematic. Some have been found to be discriminatory and have been prohibited. The Canadian Human Rights Act already protects against sex discrimination. Under this rubric, it also protects against discrimination on the basis of transsexualism. Therefore, it is not clear what problem the proposed amendment is hoping to solve. Again, it is unnecessary and an unpredictable response to very particular problems.

This brings us to the next problem arising from the bill. To the extent they seek to reach beyond transsexualism, the new grounds of gender identity and gender expression are vague.

How would anyone know whether one's expressive act is gender expression if there can be no assumptions about how each gender is expressed? Can people act in any way they choose, so long as they claim to be expressing their conception of their gender? If that is the case, then the ground of gender expression will have no limits and have very broad implications. Or will it be up to courts and tribunals to decide what kinds of characteristics express gender and which do not?

It would also create much uncertainty about the meaning of these new grounds and perhaps increased litigation.

The proposed wording is vague and it makes the proposed amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act unwise, especially since they are unnecessary to address what seems to be to the core issue, which is discrimination on the basis of transsexualism.

Vagueness has even more serious implications when we turn to the proposed amendments of the Criminal Code.

The proposed amendments to the hate propaganda offences protect new identifiable groups, namely, those identifiable on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. The hate propaganda offences are serious. Convictions can result in sentences of between two and five years. The offences also limit freedom of expression, a core Canadian value, and must clearly be delineated so Canadians will know where the limit is drawn.

Given the stakes involved, it is important to know which groups are identifiable on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. Transsexualism might define an identifiable group but, again, the proposed new grounds go far beyond transsexualism.

Gender expression is expressly problematic. How does a speaker know when a characteristic is one of gender expression. If a speaker says strong words against people with certain behaviours, can that be made into hate propaganda on the basis of gender expression simply if those people claim their behaviour to be the way of expressing their gender identity? We are left in the dark about who the identifiable groups will be. It is especially problematic in these offences, which will criminalize speech without clear notice of what can and cannot be said.

Ultimately, it would be left to the courts to decide which aspects of people's behaviours were expressions of gender and which were not. This is not their role. It would also leave the public unaware of what would be prohibited, as we waited for the courts to reconstruct Canadian gender norms for us.

These same uncertainties attach to the proposed amendment to section 718.2. This section directs a sentence be increased for an offence that was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on certain personal characteristics. The list of such characteristics is open-ended and includes, “any other similar factor”. I understand that one purpose of this bill is to make explicit what may already be covered by a bad open-ended phrase. However, by adding “gender identity” and “gender expression”, what is made explicit are very vague terms. This would be counterproductive amendment.

I believe these technical arguments in themselves give just cause to vote against Bill C-279.

However, I would also like to discuss a very real concern that was expressed during debate on an earlier version of this bill from the previous Parliament. In fact, this argument resulted in the previous bill being dubbed the “bathroom bill” in certain quarters.

The fact is that creating a right to gender identity and gender expression would likely result in men who are in gender reassignment therapy having access to girls' bathrooms. As the bill would also give special rights to those who simply consider themselves to be transgendered, the door would be open to sexual predators having a legal defence to charges of being caught in a women's washroom or locker room.

I find this potentially legitimized access for men in girls' bathrooms to be very disconcerting. As sexual predators are statistically almost always men, imagine the trauma that a young girl would face, going into a washroom or a change room at a public pool and finding a man there. It is unconscionable for any legislator, purposefully or just neglectfully, to place her in such a compromising position.

The bill would not address this very real possibility and in itself is reason for me to personally not support it.

The bill is an unfocused and unpredictable response to the very particular challenges that are faced by transsexual persons. The amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code are unnecessary and I will not support the bill.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Routine Proceedings

September 21st, 2011 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression).

Mr. Speaker, this is a reintroduction of the bill that passed this House before the last election but, unfortunately, not the Senate. There is an urgent need for this legislation to help end the discrimination, social exclusion and. all too often. violence that face transgender Canadians.

I hope to work with members from all parties to ensure that this important bill becomes law. Let us take this step together so that all the Susans, Regans, Jordans, Daphnes, and all our other transgender friends and family members can take their rightful place in all aspects of Canadian life.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)