House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was economic.

Topics

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #63

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

The House resumed from May 10 consideration of the motion that Bill C-389, 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.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

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

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

However, in keeping with the spirit of the words of Aung San Suu Kyi, we are given the unique opportunity and privilege to promote the freedom of others as outlined in the provisions of this bill. Human rights are precisely as the term states. What the bill is addressing is a right, not a privilege. Canadians are, by virtue of our democratic traditions and our commitment to equality, protected with respect to our most basic human rights and freedoms.

When contemplating the provisions of this bill, it can be reasonably surmised that what has been proposed should really not require debate. In essence, this bill ensures that transgender and transsexual Canadians are afforded protection under the law with respect to their basic human rights in a manner consistent with that which is enjoyed by every other Canadian. It is simply a reaffirmation that all Canadians share the same rights and opportunities, and that these require equal protection under the law.

Indeed, it is remarkable, if one were to think about it, that in this day and age we continue to find ourselves in a position of having to debate the need to include a specific group under the umbrella of human rights law as well as protection under the Criminal Code. One cannot help but reflect on similar debates over the past several hundred years, when people like those who are transgender or transsexual were the subjects of discriminatory practice and indeed victims of hate crimes.

Like parliamentarians of years past, we are called in our time to embrace and support the inclusion of transgender and transsexual Canadians in the most fundamental of our laws, those which protect the most basic human rights and which also offer protection from criminal acts of hate and discrimination.

In debates of this kind, we are often tempted to resort to statistical data to make our case. We may, at times, focus too much on these numbers. Indeed, several members have referred to statistics when speaking about the actual number of Canadians who are transgender or transsexual and living in Canada.

I believe that while it is important to reflect upon the statistics, we must also be vigilant when doing so. Human rights do not need to be measured in numbers simply because they are universal in character. As someone who has held a long and abiding commitment to human rights issues, I recognize that there is little currency to be found in debating numbers. The reality is simply this. All human beings, regardless of their numbers, are invested with basic human rights, freedoms and protection under the law, which are inalienable and non-negotiable.

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

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

It is important to remember that positive action in matters such as this is our responsibility as parliamentarians. For example, it was not that long ago that gays and lesbians in this country faced similar challenges to those we are debating today. Fortunately, many of us in the House are too young to remember the more violent and reprehensible violations of human rights experienced by gays and lesbians in Canada, but they were indeed troubling and serious acts of injustice.

Mr. Speaker, 1965 is not really that long ago. Yet, in that year a Canadian gay man was declared a dangerous offender simply because of his sexual orientation and the belief that was presented to a Canadian court that he was likely to continue to be sexually active. This man was not released from prison until 1971.

I make note of this incident to highlight the need for us to be proactive in protecting human rights for transgender and transsexual Canadians. Following the imprisonment of this man, Bill C-167, an omnibus bill, was introduced in 1967 by the then justice minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, which decriminalized homosexuality and was the foundation upon which great strides were made for gays and lesbians in this country.

Indeed, under two more Liberal Prime Ministers, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, gays and lesbians were allowed to marry, which represented another enormous step forward for human rights in Canada. Today we are called to be bold and progressive and, indeed, as courageous as Pierre Trudeau or Prime Ministers Chrétien and Martin. Their courage demonstrated that it is incumbent upon parliamentarians to take proactive action to ensure that the human rights of all Canadians are fully protected.

Historically, it has taken too long to address all the challenges to human rights and freedoms that have materialized over the past many years. Many of them have been based on race, religion or sexual orientation, but all have experienced the day when as a society we determined that action had to be taken.

Today my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas is calling upon our fellow parliamentarians to do not only what is required of us but what should be expected. We have often heard that a true measure of a society is the manner in which it treats those within it that are most vulnerable to abuse or discrimination.

Clearly, as we have heard during the course of this debate, transgender and transsexual Canadians have more than their share of discrimination, violence and unacceptable alienation. Bill C-389 is not designed to confer on transgender and transsexual Canadians anything other than that which they are entitled.

We as Canadians and parliamentarians are being called by history and generations of Canadians yet to come to do that which is fair and just: ensure that all Canadians are treated equally and respectfully under the laws and traditions of our country. It is for this reason that I encourage all of my fellow members of the House to join with our colleague from Burnaby—Douglas and vote in favour of Bill C-389.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in the House to debate Bill C-389 introduced by my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas. This is a bill I am very glad to see.

When I talk about a bill, I usually refer to situations in my own life to illustrate what I am saying. Once again, I want to remind hon. members that if you have never walked a mile in the shoes of someone who is discriminated against, if you have never done what someone has to do to assert themselves, be seen as a whole person and enjoy the same rights as everyone around them, if you have never done that, then it is hard to understand the despair and the problems experienced by people who live with a sword of Damocles constantly hanging over their heads, the sword of Damocles that is discrimination. This bill does not refer to racial discrimination, but that is what I am going to talk about, because that is what I know.

At the age of 17, I fell madly in love with a black African who descended from people in the Belgian Congo. It was 1967, and when I fell madly in love with him, I did not realize just how much I was going to learn about the problems people can have when they do not have the same physical appearance or the same culture as those around them.

When we wanted to get married in 1970, the parish priest refused to marry us because he said our children would be mulatto, and he did not want any mulatto children in his parish. My father spoke out against the priest and insisted that the church allow me to be married in church. The curate agreed to marry us.

But I had already seen that people can be discriminated against even if they have done nothing wrong. My husband had done nothing wrong, but he was born black, and others held that against him. He tried so hard to find work. On the phone, he sounded like a Quebecker, and was often told that the job was available, but once he showed up, the job was already taken. Whenever I went looking for an apartment for the two of us, there was always a vacancy when I called to say I was coming to see the place, but when I showed up with my husband, the apartment was always rented.

Then, what the priest feared came to pass. I had my first child, a beautiful mulatto boy. We tried to raise him in the knowledge that we loved him and that nothing in the world could ever hurt him. But one day, when he was four, he was taking a bath, and he asked me why the kids he played with called him a Negro. He said that he was not a Negro. I did not know what to tell him. It broke my heart. I did not know how to comfort my child and make him understand just how stupid and mean people can be, how they just do not make sense sometimes. I did not know how to help him understand that. But I understood. I understood that anytime one person discriminates against another, anytime people find a way to discriminate against others, they do irreparable damage.

The bill that my colleague introduced will put an end to a type of discrimination that has been around for a very long time. We do not choose to be born a man or a woman. We do not ask to have a different gender identity than the one we are born with. We do not ask for that. We have no choice. We also do not ask for our gender expression to be different than anyone else's. Children are children, and live like children.

But as children, they may realize that they are not in the right body, that they do not have the right gender identity. A boy might realize that he should have been a girl, and a girl might realize that she should have been a boy.

Unfortunately, until now, very few people have been aware of this reality or realized how much they are harming their child when they do not want a boy to dress up as a girl, or a girl to play with a boy's toys.

Our society does not view that as normal, but what could be purer, more natural and more whole than a child? If their sexual identity seems natural to them, then why should we, as adults, not accept that? If children instinctively understand who they are and who they want to be for the rest of their lives, why is it so difficult for adults like us to understand and accept that? Why is it so hard for us to give people an opportunity to be heard when they report discrimination, hate propaganda or violence because they have chosen to express their sexual identity? I do not know.

Maybe some of us think that we have all of the answers, that we know better because we make the laws. That is what we do here in the House. However, before we make any decisions about people's rights, we should think long and hard. We may well be putting the lives of our own children into the hands of people who will discriminate against them. In many cases, such decisions will affect people we know but who have kept their true selves hidden because there is still shame associated with expressing one's sexual identity openly.

Would people we do not know but who seem normal and likable suddenly be different if they chose to express their sexual identity? Would they no longer have the same morals and values as before? Not at all.

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

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

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in the House today to speak in support of Bill C-389. I would like to thank the member for Burnaby—Douglas who has been an outstanding critic for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and transsexual issues for our party and in fact for all Canadians.

This is a very important bill that is before us today. Sitting here in the House as we come to the close of a very busy day where we just passed that monster budget bill, it is very good to hear some of the speeches that are taking place. I especially want to thank my colleague, the member for Laval. I know that she always speaks from her heart about the rights and dignity that all people have. It was good to hear the speech that came from the Liberal member earlier as well.

I note that the bill was seconded by 12 other members of Parliament from different parties. That is really significant. It tells us something about this bill that deals with fundamental human rights for transgender and transsexual people who have been denied rights for a very long time. When we see members across the floor supporting the bill and speaking from a personal point of view, it tells us this is something that is very powerful. We hear the stories and messages, whether they are from our own lives, or from the lives of people we know, just as we heard from the member for Laval about her own personal experience of what it means to face differences and how it is dealt with by the church, or religion, or by the system itself and how that impacts on people's lives in sometimes a very hurtful way and sometimes even in a violent way.

I do feel very proud that we have this bill in the House and the work that has been done by the member for Burnaby—Douglas. He has held consultations across the country. He has brought this issue forward not only in our own caucus but in the queer community overall, as well as in the broader Canadian society. That is one of the good things we can do as members of Parliament. Often we are told that we do not count, that we are not part of the government, that we are not this, that we are not that. This bill is a reflection of what an individual can do in building those kinds of alliances and expression of understanding and education to actually move something like this forward and to say that there is a problem in that the Canadian Human Rights Act does not yet contain a prohibited grounds of discrimination that would protect transgender and transsexual members of our society. The bill is very important.

I have had the honour to speak recently at a couple of events. One was at a high school here in Ottawa, for Pride Day just a few weeks ago as part of Jer's vision. It was really good to go to a local high school in Ottawa to speak to all of the grade 10 students about pride issues, about what it means to be gay or lesbian, or transgender, or transsexual, or bisexual. I have to say that a lot has changed.

When I spoke to those students in the high school I could feel that within that community there was a lot of understanding. People were more open about issues and willing to understand how people are different. At the same time there was a recognition that bullying still takes place. There are still people who are targeted. Certainly the research that is being done in Canada shows us that transgendered and transsexual people are among some of the most people at risk in our society. They face discrimination, whether it is in the workplace, whether it is in housing, whether it is in society generally. Not only are they vulnerable, but they are most vulnerable to face violence.

While on the one hand I think we can all say that we have come a long way and that rights have been enshrined and that we have made advances legally, politically and culturally, we also have to acknowledge that homophobia still exists, that discrimination still exists and that the group that is most vulnerable to this is certainly transsexuals and transgendered people.

I had a second occasion recently in my home community in Vancouver to attend an event that was organized by the Pride Education Network. It conducts a program in schools called Out in Schools. It was wonderful to see students come to a local movie theatre to watch a film that has just been produced in Vancouver called Beyond Gay--The Politics of Pride. This is a marvellous film that takes us all around the world.

A lot of members in this House have attended pride parades. The one in Toronto is coming up in July and we have ours in Vancouver in August. This film is so remarkable because it gives a history of pride parades around the world and what is taking place. Hundreds of thousands of people come out in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa to celebrate pride and diversity. We see this in the United States as well.

This movie takes us through not only the history of pride festivals in Canada but it also focuses on places around the world. I will mention a couple of places. In Moscow, the pride parade has been banned and organizers have faced incredible harassment. The mayor of Moscow could be seen in the film making the most outrageous, hateful comments against gay and lesbian and trans people. In Poland, armed police had to make a corridor for people who were celebrating pride to conduct their march and rally.

I was pleased to attend this movie and the discussion that followed, particularly with young people. It gave people an understanding not only of the incredible changes that have taken place in our society, but the fact that great challenges still remain.

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

A lot of work has been done. Those of us who have been working on this issue and are aware of what is going on in the community know that the most significant protection that has not happened is for transgendered and transsexual members of our communities.

Back in 2004 two students from Carleton University, Langdon and Boodram, undertook a survey to determine what is taking place in the trans community. Not surprisingly, they found significant levels of discrimination in housing, employment services, including unwelcome comments at work, unwelcome comments while living in accommodation, discrimination in bars, restaurants, schools, universities and colleges. Other surveys have taken place since then.

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

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

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles
Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to participate in the debate about the bill we are discussing today, Bill C-389, which was introduced by the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

Before I begin, I would like to remind the House that our government is proud to uphold the principles of respect, diversity and equality that are expressed in Canadian laws. Our government also believes that all Canadians should be protected from crime in our country, as is demonstrated by our justice agenda.

After much thought and careful examination, it seems obvious to me that the amendments proposed in this bill are useless and unclear. That is why I will be voting against this bill, for legal reasons that I will now explain.

I would first like to talk about the uselessness of this bill. During the first hour of debate on this bill, some members stated that transgender Canadians have specific problems related to employment and in the lodging and services sectors. However, these members played down the fact that transsexuals are already protected against discrimination based on sex under the Canada Human Rights Act, a federal law.

As hon. members no doubt already know, federal and provincial human rights tribunals already protect transsexuals against discrimination in employment and services.

The validity of this protection against any discrimination on the prohibited ground of sex—or gender—has been upheld by the courts. But even though transsexuals are already protected against discrimination by Canada's tribunals and courts of law, that is not enough for the member for Burnaby—Douglas.

He is insisting that we include transgender individuals explicitly in the anti-discrimination legislation and the Criminal Code. As he said in the first hour of debate, transgender Canadians cannot feel part of society if they are not protected by human rights legislation. In fact, they should say they are protected, because the courts have upheld the validity of discrimination complaints filed by transsexuals.

The member is proposing to amend legislation that currently protects transsexuals against discrimination. What he really seems to be proposing is therefore rather symbolic.

On what do we base our decision to symbolically add one minority group instead of another?

This bill proposes changes to the law, not just symbolic debate or measures. And changes to the law have real, not symbolic, repercussions.

For example, guaranteeing additional protection for one minority group can have unwanted social and legal consequences for another group. We must know the exact repercussions of legislative amendments and we were not given this information by the member who sponsored the bill.

I would now like to raise a second point: the amendments proposed by Bill C-389 are vague and undefined. The pertinent article of the Canadian Human Rights Act reads as follows:

For all purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for which a pardon has been granted.

The bill would add to this long list gender identity and gender expression. It is important to note that the term “expression” is nowhere to be found on this list. The law protects religion, which also includes religious expression.

In the first hour of this debate, the hon. member for Don Valley West stated the following, in response to the Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women, who noted that the bill was not specific enough.

Basically, he was saying that maybe we do not have to know all the answers. Maybe we do not have to have all the definitions nailed down. If we want to talk about gender identity and expand it to gender expression, perhaps our leadership would be welcomed around the world.

However, perhaps significant, long-standing, strategic reasons exist for carefully examining the exact meaning of these legislative changes. Maybe other countries have significant strategic reasons for not including “gender expression” as a separate concept in their provisions on discrimination or hate propaganda.

It is a well-known fact that clarity is crucial in drafting legislation. Canadian legislative drafters primarily refer to Ruth Sullivan's book entitled Sullivan and Driedger on the Construction of Statutes. It indicates that the first obligation of a legislative drafter is to be precise; the second is to be clear; the third is to be concise. There is no obligation to be inspiring or amusing.

However, when we look at the changes proposed in Bill C-389, none of these terms are defined. As a result, we cannot be sure of the meaning of “gender expression” and how it might be interpreted by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and the courts.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, I know how important it is to protect all Canadians from discrimination and hate crimes. I am proud that Canada is recognized internationally as a country that cares deeply about respect for diversity and equality. Those principles are part of our Constitution and our laws, both provincial and federal.

Bearing that in mind, members of the House must ask themselves whether the amendments in Bill C-389 are clear and/or necessary. The proposed amendments may seem simple, but the legal consequences may be complex and unpredictable.

I will therefore vote against this bill for the legal reasons I outlined earlier.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the bill. The hon. member who moved the bill has worked very hard on this for a long time and is very committed to the issues of equality for all.

I support the bill for many reasons. When I first became a member of Parliament in 1993, as a physician, I saw what discrimination based on sexual orientation cost my patients. I saw the high levels of suicide and discrimination. I saw the law discriminated against access to medical care, to dental benefits, to medical benefits in every way.

Persons who were same sex couples and had lived together for many years were unable to do the simple things that a heterosexual couple that had been together for a year could do. In other words, if a partner was dying or ill, the person did not have the right, no matter how long he or she had lived with that partner to make decisions with regard to care and with regard to funeral arrangements in the event the partner passed away.

As a physician, this did not allow me to do my job or to take care of my patients in a manner that should be beyond any kind of discrimination whatsoever, as stated in the Canada Health Act. As a result, the Liberal government brought forward these issues, and today we have equality based on sexual orientation.

However, the bill speaks to another issue where, as a physician, I saw a great deal of discrimination. This is a medical diagnosis. The concept is there are persons who we like to call transgender persons. They have problems coming to grips with their sexual identity. They then go to see a physician. There is a definite medical diagnosis that states these people need to look at their identity gender change. There are many things they need to access. They need to access psychiatric care in terms of decision making and in terms of the diagnosis. Once that is done, there are all sorts of medical options available such as the necessary medication for the change to occur, surgical interventions, et cetera.

Depending on what province these patients live in, many do not have access to that kind of medical care. The Canada Health Act states very clearly that we cannot discriminate against people if they require medically necessary care. As a diagnosis, this falls under the heading of medically necessary care and all of the pieces that come in between.

For a medical reason alone, we once again have a group of Canadians that do not have access to the care it needs when it needs it regardless of its ability to pay, or geography or pre-existing conditions, portability and all the pieces of the Canada Health Act about which we need to talk.

For medical reasons alone, even if we did not bring on the reasons that pertain to discrimination, to equality within the country, to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to the concept that we cannot discriminate against any Canadian because of his or her particular group identity, this fits into all of those things.

However, as a physician, I really want to speak to the fact that we are denying certain members of our society, based on their group and identities, access to good care when they need it.

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

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

When people do not know who they are and do not have access to counselling to help them deal with these issues in a real way in order to find out who they are and why they are trapped, the whole concept of lack of control over anything they do affects their psychological ability to live normal lives, to walk into a community and to express themselves once they have had a diagnosis made.

For people who had money and were able to go to another country to get whatever medical care they needed to become transgendered persons, when they returned to Canada the discrimination was extraordinary. As a physician, as an MP and as a Vancouverite, I have been around the community and I have seen the pain, the discrimination, the isolation and the inability to be welcomed anywhere by anyone because of the concept of people not accepting people for who they are. This is an extraordinary thing to live with.

We need to look at the number of suicides and the different addictions people have to help them get out of the place where no one accepts them. We need to deal with this issue because it is of profound importance to a group of Canadians.

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

We cannot say that one minority has more rights than another. The minute we start saying that someone has more rights than another person, we immediately set up a criteria of different levels of people who are accepted in society. One thing we all know is that when people are not accepted in society, they will rise up to seek their rights.

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

We are discussing a fundamental human rights issue. As I said, the subsets of it are access to medical care, freedom and equality under the law. Those are just chunks of things that we bring in under the subheading of the basic human right to life, to the freedom to be who we are, to choose who we wish to be, to live in a manner that co-exists with other people and to live as a lawful human being who does not harm others and can become a productive and contributing member of society.

Those are fundamental things that we all want. We can deny other people for all sorts of trumped up reasons. There are always great reasons. We can cite legal precedents and discuss the fact that we do not understand the meaning of the words and what they pertain to, but that is a red herring. The bottom line is that we actually know in medicine what this means. There is no question in medicine what this means, no question at all.

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

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-389 presented by the member for Burnaby—Douglas. I know he has worked on this bill since 2004, for six long years, and this is the first time it has been debated in the House. I have listened to some very excellent speeches on the bill. We are in the second hour of debate.

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

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

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

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

In 1986 in Manitoba, the attorney general of the day, Roland Penner, attempted to introduce initially to the NDP government caucus of which there were 30 of us at the time, and it was a majority government by only one or two members, a bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in the Human Rights Code. I am sure it was a first in Canada. It was a very traumatic experience for a lot of people. After several ill-fated attempts in just getting it accepted and through the caucus, he was able to convince the government caucus to proceed, with the aggressive support of four of us, one being the chairman, Mr. Steve Ashton, who is the father of our current Churchill MP and is still an MLA and cabinet minister in Manitoba, the current city councillor, Harvey Smith, who was a former MLA, Marty Dolin, who was a very dynamic and no-nonsense MLA and strong advocate for social change, and myself as well.

We had the support in those days of the Liberal leader, who had a caucus of herself, and she was a very strong advocate. In spite of my differences with her over the years, she does a great job in the Senate. She is one of the more active senators and I really appreciate the work she does there.

However, we encountered very strong opposition from the Conservative opposition of the day. In the provincial legislature it is a little different. The committee structure is different from Parliament's, where pretty much everyone who wants to appear at committee gets their 10 minutes to present. While we had a number of people present in favour of the legislation, we had hundreds of people being brought in by different church organizations. I recall the member for Laval's excellent speech earlier today. Several church groups organized and brought in hundreds of people. We would sit there until midnight, night after night, listening to these presentations, and I remember it very well.

We had some difficulties, even within our own caucus, convincing people that this legislation was not there to promote any type of lifestyle. We had to convince people that we were simply bringing in a human right, that we were including this measure in the Human Rights Act and that people were not allowed to be discriminated against in terms of employment, finding an apartment and other areas.

The opposition, however, became very nervous about all of this and suggested that somehow the government would, at the end of the day, be promoting. Well, the world did not come to an end because of what we did in 1986. If anything, more jurisdictions adopted what we did then.

After six and a half years in government as premier of Manitoba, I believe Howard Pawley, as the premier today, will tell us that what he did in terms of including sexual orientation in the human rights code of Manitoba was one of his proudest achievements of his six and a half years. I do not think he would have thought of it and said that at the time but, as time went by, he recognized that as a milestone.

I would say that even the Conservatives in the Manitoba legislature today would look back, I believe, with some embarrassment about how they responded and acted at that time.

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

I expect that my email machine will be on overdrive tomorrow, and that is to be expected. There have been a lot of big changes in society since the 1960s and I think the member for Laval captured it very well when she described her situation in the 1960s. I can relate to that as well, as I think many people can. For the benefit of society, things have changed. There are more open-minded people today than there were in the 1960s. I think of lot of it has to do with the educational process. When people have issues explained to them and when they understand the issues better, they will be more accepting.

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

I want to take a moment to recognize two trailblazers, who the member for Burnaby—Douglas knows as well, Mr. Chris Vogel and Mr. Richard North from Winnipeg. I remember meeting Chris Vogel when I was a student activist back in 1971 at the University of Manitoba. Chris Vogel was active in organizing gays for equality at the University of Manitoba.

Many years before gay marriage even became an issue in Canada, Chris Vogel and Richard North were married. I think it was probably the first gay marriage in North America. I did not want to forget to mention Chris Vogel and Richard North before my time ran out.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to conclude the second reading debate on my private member's bill, Bill C-389, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression).

This bill would add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act and to the hate crimes and sentencing provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada. This would ensure full human rights protection in areas of federal jurisdiction for transsexual and transgender Canadians.

The bill had its first hour of debate on May 10 and its second hour tonight. I would like to express my appreciation to all those who participated in the debate for their thoughtful comments, and I do mean everyone. Everyone who participated in the debate did so respectfully. I know that folks in the transgender and transsexual communities appreciate the participation of all members who chose to speak, just as they appreciate the 12 seconders of the bill.

Two concerns were raised in the debate that I would like to address.

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

The second concern was that explicit coverage in the Canadian Human Rights Act and in the hate crimes and sentencing provisions of the Criminal Code was redundant, given the fact that decisions had already been made supporting the full human rights of transsexuals and transgender Canadians and the fact that the provisions of the Criminal Code were open-ended. This, too, is true, but a strong argument can be made for the importance of adding to the existing list.

Those who are subject to discrimination and prejudice in our society need to see themselves clearly in our laws. This confirms their place in our society. It confirms that they are valued members of our society. Without explicit recognition, the lives and struggles of transgender and transsexual people remain invisible and their issues remain unaddressed.

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

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

Both these issues could be fully explored at the standing committee should the bill pass second reading. Needless to say that while I believe they are reasonable issues to raise during this first round of debate, I know that they would be completely and satisfactorily answered in any study of the bill by the standing committee, and I look forward to that opportunity.

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

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

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

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

On division.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to stand here and follow up on a question I asked on June 2, 2010.

Some members may recall that I asked the Minister of International Cooperation to elaborate on comments she made at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women on May 26. At that time, she quoted the Cairo plan of action on population and development as it related to maternal health. I asked her quite deliberately why she had neglected one sentence. She quoted one sentence, skipped one sentence and moved on to the next.

I want to read into the record the sentence the minister neglected to say at committee and that she would not elaborate on in the House. While she was talking about the plan of action, she quoted the sentence that said:

In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning.

However, she chose to omit the following sentence:

All Governments and relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations are urged to strengthen their commitment to women’s health, to deal with the health impact of unsafe abortion as a major public health concern and to reduce the recourse to abortion, through expanded and improved family planning services.

I said at the time that the minister cannot pick and choose what sentences to use when she is quoting an international agreement. In doing so, she deliberately did not provide full information either to committee members or to members of the House.

I want to reiterate that when we deal with maternal health and unsafe abortion, we have to remember that there are 20 million unsafe abortions each year. Unsafe abortions are in fact a leading cause of maternal death, and we have learned that a disproportionate number of the women who die are between the ages of 15 and 19.

As I indicated, 13% of total maternal deaths are from abortion, and 68,000 women die every year from unsafe abortions. That breaks down to 186 every day, or one every eight minutes. We also know that maternal deaths result in motherless children, who have a higher mortality rate. They are 10 times more likely to die prematurely.

I could cite many of the experts who appeared before the committee and talked about the full range of reproductive health services that are required for women when dealing with maternal health for women worldwide. It is incumbent upon a minister, in providing information, either to a committee or to the House, to provide the full information and to not be selective in what she chooses to say or not say.