Evidence of meeting #51 for Justice and Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was gender.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Sara Davis Buechner  Professor of Music, University of British Columbia, As an Individual
  • Hershel Russell  Psychotherapist, Trans Activist and Educator, As an Individual
  • D. Ryan Dyck  Director, Policy and Public Education, Egale Canada
  • Erin Apsit  Member, Egale Canada Trans Committee, Egale Canada

4:50 p.m.

Erin Apsit Member, Egale Canada Trans Committee, Egale Canada

Hi. My name is Erin Apsit, and I'm here as a representative of Egale Canada's trans committee. I'm very honoured and pleased to be here and have this opportunity to address this committee on what I think is a very vital and urgent bill.

I should also point out that there aren't two transgender witnesses here today, there are three. I am the third one. I'm a transgender woman.

To start, from my perspective this bill is about essential Canadian values of fairness and respect for all human beings. It's an opportunity for Parliament to play a leadership role in protecting human rights rather than leaving it to the courts.

Some remark was made earlier about the Declaration of Human Rights, but I'd like to point out that in 2008 the General Assembly of the United Nations issued a statement that human rights applied equally to every human being, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. I'm pleased to note that Canada signed off on that statement, and again I think that's an issue of fairness and respect for all human beings.

I think this bill also very much concerns the ability of trans and gender-diverse Canadians to be able to fully participate and contribute as members of society. I'd like to point out that unfortunately Canada has fallen behind many jurisdictions around the world in terms of providing legal protections for people, based on gender identity. For example, such legal protections exist in the United Kingdom, Israel, Sweden, Germany, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and many other nations. It might be interesting to note also that, just a week ago, the Pakistani Supreme Court ruled that trans persons are entitled to equal protection under the law.

We've mentioned that in Canada, Ontario, Manitoba, and the Northwest Territories provide legal protections. I'd also like to point out that in the United States, 16 of the states and the District of Columbia also provide legal protections based on gender identity.

I think Canada has always valued being a world leader in human rights, and I think this bill gives us an opportunity to restore Canada's leadership position.

Once again, I'd like to thank everyone for the opportunity to appear here.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

Mr. Dyck.

4:50 p.m.

Director, Policy and Public Education, Egale Canada

D. Ryan Dyck

Thank you.

I'd like to round out our opening statements from Egale Canada to directly yet briefly address a number of suggestions that have been made here today, as well as earlier on, those being the suggestions that this bill is unnecessary or that it is in fact redundant. I'd like to suggest to you today that this is largely a theoretical argument and not an argument of practical reality.

I would begin by noting that a most recent study in Ontario of 433 trans people noted that 20% had been physically or sexually assaulted and a further 34% had been verbally harassed or had been the subject of threats, in each case because they are trans. We'd also note on that issue that, to my knowledge, there has never been a case where section 718, the hate motivation sentencing provisions of the Criminal Code, have been applied to a crime against a trans person.

I have long suspected this to be the case, but in preparation for today's meeting I had three of our legal aides spend last week looking for a case. It's difficult to prove a negative, but we have been entirely unable to find a single case where the hate motivation sentencing provisions have been applied to a trans person. I find that alarming, given the horrifically high rates of violence and crimes against trans people because of their gender identity and expression. I find it unreasonable to think that no case has ever been taken forward or that trans people have simply been unsuccessful in taking those cases forward.

I would also note that in our schools, 74% of trans youth have been verbally harassed about their gender expression and 37% have been physically harassed or assaulted because of their gender identity or expression. Again, that is to note the ridiculously high rates of discrimination and harassment against trans people, particularly our youth. I'd like to very briefly suggest two reasons why this might be the case.

In regard to the first reason, we run a program at Egale Canada where we deliver hate crime prevention and awareness training to police officers across this country. As much as I have the utmost respect for our law enforcement, I believe from my experience—and in the last two years, I delivered training to approximately 2,000 police officers—that police in this country simply don't understand or know if trans people are included under the phrase “or any other similar factor”. In fact, as I stand in front of police officers, I'm not comfortable saying that trans people are, because, as I noted, I cannot find a single precedent where this has been the case.

Secondly, I would note that recently we—Dr. Barbara Perry, an international expert on hate crimes, and I—travelled across the country interviewing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people on their experiences with hate crime discrimination. We did at least hour-long, if not three-hour-long, interviews as well as focus groups with people across the country.

My observation, from speaking with many of the trans people, is that in spite of the fact that they have quite often been the victim of what they perceived to have been a hate crime, many if not most trans people are not prepared to report to police, because they are either afraid of secondary victimization—that they will not be taken seriously—or because they simply do not believe that they are covered. They simply do not believe it. They have never seen a reason to believe that the phrase —“or any other similar factor” or “sex”—in the Canadian Human Rights Act includes them.

Do I have another minute?

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Really short....

4:55 p.m.

Director, Policy and Public Education, Egale Canada

D. Ryan Dyck

Really short? Okay. I'd like to speak to this later on, perhaps if there's a question that relates to it.

But I would argue that this bill is not symbolic. It will in fact fill a gap. It will fill in a problem with the law as it currently stands. I would argue that the current law is actually the law that is ambiguous and vague, because it is not in practice providing protection or recourse to our trans Canadians. More than being symbolic, this will make a real difference in the lives of our trans people and our trans communities across this country.

Thank you.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

Mr. Jacob.

November 20th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I'd like to thank our guests for coming to meet us this afternoon and sharing their thoughts.

My first question is for Mr. Russell.

You mentioned health, but you did not have enough time to finish. If transgendered individuals want to have equal access to health care, what are the kinds of problems they face and how will Bill C-279 help them?

4:55 p.m.

Psychotherapist, Trans Activist and Educator, As an Individual

Hershel Russell

Thank you.

One of my jobs is to go across Ontario. I'm the lead mental health trainer for a program called Trans Health Connection, ministry funded through Rainbow Health Ontario. We go across the province speaking to doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, mental health workers—front-line people.

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

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

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

I could go on and on, but that's probably enough for now.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Thank you, Mr. Russell.

My second question is for Mr. Dyck.

You referred to second degree victimization. I'd like you to expand on this problem that you have often encountered.

4:55 p.m.

Director, Policy and Public Education, Egale Canada

D. Ryan Dyck

There are a number of areas we could discuss. The one that I briefly mentioned is the fear of victimization when reporting an incident to the police.

As I said, we have some wonderful police officers in this country, but there are instances where some law enforcement officers may not take trans people seriously. They may simply not understand what it means to be trans and so, in some cases, they're unprepared to interact respectfully with trans people. That may result in situations that are very humiliating for some trans people who have been victimized, or it may result in what is called secondary victimization, being discriminated against a second time.

Where we often see this is, unfortunately, in our schools. As I mentioned earlier, rates of victimization and harassment among trans people is perhaps highest among our youth and in our schools. We know that bullying is a problem everywhere, but it is even that much more severe for our trans youth. Somewhere in here I have stats, perhaps, but I can't find them right now.

Unfortunately, in most cases our education professionals are not intervening when victimization and harassment occurs against our trans youth. In most cases, trans youth do not know of a single person in their schools to whom they can turn when they have been victimized. They do not know of a single person who is supportive or who will speak with them competently about what has happened to them. Whether it's an intentional form of victimization or not, simply the lack of knowledge or lack of support amounts to a secondary form of victimization, and not having anyone to turn to or anyone to speak to very often creates isolation.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

Mr. Rathgeber.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you to the witnesses for your attendance here today.

Mr. Russell, I understand you are a clinical psychotherapist?

5 p.m.

Psychotherapist, Trans Activist and Educator, As an Individual

5 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

But not a medical doctor.

5 p.m.

Psychotherapist, Trans Activist and Educator, As an Individual

Hershel Russell

Not a medical doctor, correct.