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.