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

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

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

Considering committee report (Senate), as of June 9, 2015
(This bill did not become law.)

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.

Gender IdentityPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

November 23rd, 2012 / 12:10 p.m.
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NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be presenting two petitions today.

The first petition supports Bill C-279 introduced by my colleague, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. The petition supports his bill to combat discrimination and the social exclusion of transgendered people, transsexuals and gender queer people. The petitioners are asking members of Parliament to support this bill.

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

Pierre Jacob NDP 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?

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

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you to both witnesses for coming today.

Mr. Garrison, I'd like to thank you for the work you have done in this area. Like any issue of this nature, education, I believe, has a large part to play. The same concerns, reflecting different values perhaps or different degrees, were raised when we were considering same-sex marriage. This is never an easy thing to do because it can run up against the beliefs of certain individuals, but I think that this ultimately is an issue of respect.

I would like to reassure the committee members. We will be tabling four amendments on Thursday. They may dissipate certain concerns. I am not an expert in this area but here is what I understand.

I was listening to Mr. Rathgeber's questions, that are logical up to a point. The argument that one often hears with respect to issues or amendments of this nature, is that what is being sought already exists, just not explicitly. Jurisprudence makes up for this by guaranteeing a certain openness because rights are acknowledged. However, those rights are not always written down. In writing them, in my opinion, two very important issues are resolved. First, there is clarification and therefore no more ambiguity. One would no longer need to prove that these are protected rights simply based on a liberal interpretation. I am not referring to my colleague, Mr. Cotler's, party; I am using the word in its better sense. It's a joke.

Second, in my opinion, when you write something down and you're not afraid to state it clearly, that constitutes a form of education. It also fosters respect for a real situation. I don't think that anyone around this table wants to see people hit, beaten, verbally, physically or otherwise abused, simply because of what they look like or what they represent. I don't think anyone supports that. The message we are sending out with Bill C-279 is that this is written down, and it will certainly help improve the situation.

Have I understood?

November 20th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.
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Dr. Sara Davis Buechner Professor of Music, University of British Columbia, As an Individual

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I am quite honoured and humbled to speak to you today. I thank you all for your time and your kind consideration.

My name is Sara Davis Buechner. I am a classical concert pianist. Since 2003 I have been a professor of music at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I travel a lot, especially around North America and Asia, performing concerts when I am not in Vancouver teaching a class of about 15 aspiring pianists of world-class calibre.

After graduating from the Juilliard School in 1984, I gave a very successful debut in New York. In 1986 I was the top American prize winner of the international Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow. I received a lovely letter from President Ronald Reagan at that time. Some years later, I also played at the White House for President and Mrs. Clinton. I have a very nice photo of the two of them congratulating me on that.

At the age of 37, after a lifetime of questioning and fear, I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and I transitioned to my correct gender, which is female. My pianistic skills did not change one bit, but suddenly my concert schedule went from about 50 appearances per year to two or three, and the conservatory in New York where I was a popular teacher decided my skills were no longer needed.

With limited means of supporting myself, I took a job teaching small children at an upstate private school for about $600 a month. I counted myself lucky, as most of the transgender friends I knew were completely unemployed. Some of them were homeless.

I learned to endure frequent verbal and occasional physical harassment as part of the price of that integrity, even in a city of such a cosmopolitan nature. One evening I was the victim of an attempted date rape at the hands of a man who assumed, since I was transgendered, I must be a sex worker. I didn't bother to report that to the police, because I didn't want to be harassed by them either. I believe they would have assumed I was a trannie sex worker and deserved everything I got.

In an effort to find meaningful employment, I applied to about 30 American colleges and universities with music openings. I received no answer from most of them, and rejections from the others. One professor from Rutgers university asked a colleague of mine if it was safe to leave me alone in a room with undergraduates.

But when I was called for an interview for the open piano position at UBC in Vancouver, I was pleasingly astonished to find that their music department was interested about two things only: one, my musical ability; and two, my teaching ability.

When I did get the job in a competitive audition, I was overcome by emotion on two levels. One, I would be able to pay my bills for the first time in many years. And two, I realized that Canada was far ahead in terms of its understanding and support of basic human rights.

I've lived in Vancouver since 2003 with my Japanese spouse, Kyoko, whom I could not legally marry in the United States. We are reminded of our second-tier status there every time we travel, because when we cross the border, the American agents force us to stand in separate lines for processing. They say we are not married.

Bill C-279 assures protection for people like me, with gender identity or gender expression needs. These needs are not wilful, they are not chosen, they are not ignorable. For trans folks and cisgendered folks, these are matters of life and death—of living openly, honestly, and freely without fear of extra prejudice, malice, or worse, violence. We do not need extra rights and we do not ask for them. We need the same rights as our Canadian brothers and sisters of all races, creeds, denominations, and identity.

In the past, I have lived in a country where those rights are not protected, where I was turned down for housing with no explanation whatsoever and no legal means of recourse; where I was fired from a job with no possibility of compensation; where I was called names on the street and scared to ride buses and subways; where I was laughed at by American government officials when I applied for a name change.

As a child of eight years old, my favourite composer was Mozart. When I was that age, my grandmother, an accomplished seamstress, made for me my very own purple Mozart coat with a frilly blouse. I was very proud of that coat and blouse, and it felt natural to me when I wore it, which I did to elementary school one day, where I was beaten savagely by my male classmates. The coat was ripped, there was blood on the blouse, and my glasses were broken right in the middle as well.

The teachers did nothing to protect me or my fledgling gender expression. My parents, however, were sent a note from the school principal advising them that their son was never to wear girls clothing to school ever again.

I know that some of you harbour legitimate concerns, or I think you feel righteous concerns, about transgender people in public bathrooms, fearful of cross-dressed attackers in the stalls. To my own knowledge, this has actually never happened anywhere in North America. However, you can see on YouTube many examples of stomach-churning violence against transgender people, being beaten in those bathrooms by bigots who don't like the way they look.

During the five years I lived as a woman, before being able to afford surgery—because of American health insurance not covering it—I was one of those people who risked a beating every time I went to relieve my bladder. If I had walked into a men's room, I would at best have been redirected, or at worst seriously injured. Trans folk go to the washroom to relieve their bladders behind closed doors in privacy, just like anyone else.

In terms of gender appearance and expression, I can talk for a long time about friends of mine who are intergendered, bigendered, people of one gender, who nevertheless look and sound like they are another. There's a wide, wide spectrum.

My dear friend Hsia-Jung, who had her breasts removed from cancer, cries every time she gets called “sir”. I have a female friend, Sheila, whose voice is two octaves lower than mine. I get called “sir” on the telephone. It's not a big deal. I'm happy to explain my own story to help people understand who trans people are. We are just, as they say in music, the variations on the theme—the human theme.

I will let other more statistically and politically informed witnesses here speak to the numbers of trans people who experience harassment, discrimination, violence, or death, either as murder or at their own hands. Suicide is a very, very common experience for trans people. There's a desperation when you don't know, don't have the facts, and don't understand. I know it all firsthand.

In my own uneducated fear as a young adult, how many times did I overdose and try to die because I did not understand why I felt as I did or know what to do about it? Thankfully, I found people who assisted me. Now I thank God every day of my life that I have lived 15 years, since becoming female, in internal peace, happy to be real to myself and real to the world.

I am fortunate to be married to a wonderful spouse; fortunate to see my brother's two young daughters grow up—they love their Aunt Sara and I love them; fortunate to be alive and to help my aging parents; fortunate to be teaching wonderful Canadian students; fortunate to be playing the piano again, talking to audiences frequently and playing the piano for them in Vancouver, Victoria, Winnipeg, Kelowna, Red Deer, Edmonton, Montreal, Timmins, Toronto, Guelph, etc.; and fortunate to be living in the most progressive, humane, and beautiful country that I know, Canada.

I am beyond grateful to be able to make my home here with dignity and integrity. I'm confident, too, that my fellow Canadians will see the importance and necessity of passing Bill C-279 to help all of us live in safety and equality.

Thank you.

November 20th, 2012 / 3:30 p.m.
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NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thanks to the committee.

I'm very pleased to be here today to launch the discussion on Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression).

I'm very happy that two of the witnesses we'll have today—Sara Davis Buechner and Hershel Russell—are transgendered Canadians, and you will be able to hear testimony from them based on their lived experience and not on what others such as I have to say about it. I'm disappointed that the vagaries of committee workload and scheduling did not allow time for all those who wanted to do so to appear before the committee.

I am very happy today, because it's an important day symbolically for these committee sessions to begin. Today is the Trans Day of Remembrance, and as you may have recognized, in the House I made a statement today calling attention to the fact that around the world over the last year, 265 trans people were murdered. In some countries, such as Brazil and Mexico, the murder of trans people has reached epidemic proportions. In the last year, 126 trans people were killed in Brazil and 48 in Mexico.

Extreme violence against trans people unfortunately also occurs in countries with otherwise progressive reputations, including Argentina and Canada. The list of those murdered last year includes Perla Maron, a 52-year-old transgendered police officer in San Juan, Argentina; and January Marie Lapuz, a young South Asian transgendered woman, very active in the LGBT community in British Columbia, including through conducting anti-homophobia workshops in the schools. So Canada is not immune to the violence that is often directed at transgendered people.

As you know, Bill C-279 would do two things. It would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity—and, as it was originally drafted, gender expression—as prohibited grounds for discrimination. It would also amend the Criminal Code to include these two factors as distinguishing characteristics protected under section 318 as aggravating circumstances to be taken into consideration at the time of sentencing. It's a fairly simple bill in the changes that it proposes to make.

Several people have asked me about whether this is revolutionary or evolutionary change. The way I have always viewed this question is that we have a gap in our human rights legislation whereby transgendered Canadians do not enjoy the same protection of their rights as other Canadians. By explicitly adding these to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the hate crimes section of the Criminal Code, we fill that gap, so that when people need to use the legal system to protect their rights, they don't have to argue that their situation is similar to someone else's in order to receive that protection.

It also does another important thing. I think it makes a statement, if we pass this, from the House of Commons saying that, as is the case with other forms of discrimination, Canada does not tolerate discrimination against transgendered Canadians.

I want to take this opportunity to reiterate that the rights and protections that transgendered, transsexual, and gender-variant people are asking for are not special rights. They are simply the same human rights as those enshrined in the Canadian Human Rights Act for all other Canadians. These rights and protections are needed to ensure that trans Canadians can live out their lives as anyone else would do and with the full sense of safety that other Canadians have.

These same types of protections are being implemented in other places in Canada and around the world. Probably the first that I know of in Canada was in 2002 in the Northwest Territories, where these protections were entrenched in the human rights act and so have been in place for more than 10 years. The City of Vancouver has a harassment-free workplace policy that includes gender identity and gender expression. The City of Ottawa and the City of Toronto have similar polices, which protect people from discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. More recently, both Ontario and Manitoba have amended their human rights codes to add this protection explicitly, and just this morning legislation to amend the Nova Scotia human rights code was introduced in the legislature of Nova Scotia to add gender identity and gender expression to the Nova Scotia human rights code.

These are rights and protections that the Canadian Human Rights Act review panel recommended in its review of the Canadian Human Rights Act. So for those who say, “Why is this necessary, aren't things already covered?”, when the experts reviewed the human rights act, they felt it was necessary to fill this gap by adding these protections specifically to the Canadian Human Rights Act.

A final point I'll make in terms of legal obligations and documents is that Canada is a signatory to the UN Statement on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. That declaration recognizes the need for explicit protections for transgendered people all around the world.

The UN High Commission report recommends that a whole number of actions be taken by member states. I won't run through all of those, but two things are important out of that list. One is that there be comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that includes discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. The other is that governments who are signatories facilitate legal recognition of the preferred gender of transgendered persons and establish simple arrangements to permit relevant identity documents to be reissued reflecting that gender and name, in order not to infringe the rights of transgendered individuals.

Let me turn to what I have heard from MPs who have concerns about my bill. I had a number of discussions before second reading with people in all parties. The concerns fell roughly into three categories.

The first was that these protections are not needed. I want to deal with that in the general sense of the way transgendered Canadians experience their lives on a daily basis. It is clear that there is a great deal of discrimination against trans individuals. They are more likely to be victims of hate crimes. Those hate crimes are twice as likely to be violent hate crimes as those directed against other groups.

The second argument I heard from others was that these rights are already protected. I addressed that briefly in reference to the Canadian Human Rights Act review panel, which said they were not. Other minority groups have protections that are listed specifically in the Canadian Human Rights Act; therefore, they have visibility as identifiable groups to the public. When you go through that list 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, it makes a declaration to Canadians about the protections that are afforded to these groups. Transgendered people are clearly missing from this list.

I should take a moment to clarify that sexual orientation is not a blanket term that offers protection to transgendered people. In fact many, some would argue most, transgendered people do not identify on the basis of sexual orientation. When specifically asked, somewhere between 30% to 40% of trans individuals identify themselves as straight, when given the choice; they do not see themselves as gay, but simply as people who were born in a body that does not match their gender identity.

The third objection or concern that was raised was that the bill as drafted was too broad and lacked definition and that it was thus difficult for people to know what was included in the bill. We will be discussing amendments in detail on Thursday to deal with these concerns. I have asked that they be forwarded to the committee. I believe you will be receiving them today through Madame Boivin's office, as I am not a member of the committee. On the basis of promising to have a discussion of those amendments, I received sufficient support for the bill at second reading to get the bill here today.

The simplest amendment will be to remove the term “gender expression”. That answers the concerns of many, in particular on the Conservative side, who said that while gender identity is easier to define, gender expression is a more difficult term to define and for many in the public to understand.

A second amendment will deal with adding a definition of gender identity. We will deal with that very specific proposal on Thursday.

The third has to do with French-language use of terms. As the bill was drafted by the House of Commons drafters, we use the term identité sexuelle. We have heard very strongly from the transgendered community, and also from the legal community in Montreal, that internationally and in Quebec the use has shifted to identité de genre, and that there is a different scope of those two terms in French. Now the preferred term is identité de genre.

It's important to note that gender identity is something that everyone has, not just gay or transgendered people, so it's a broad protection that we're adding here. The difference for transgendered people is that they have a gender identity that is not congruent with their physiological anatomy at birth and that a great deal of discrimination and violence results from that mismatch, because of other people's attitudes. So what we're trying to do here, as well as provide the legal protection, is to change attitudes, to accept that transgendered Canadians are fully part of the community and have every right to be.

In the interests of time I'm going to skip through some of the things I was going to say and maybe just go to some concluding remarks, because I would rather have the committee hear from the transgendered individuals.

I would in conclusion reiterate that, in my view, the rights we're talking about here are basic human rights, not special human rights, and that all we're asking here is to fill a gap. We're not trying to cause a revolution in Canadian human rights law, but simply to fix something that is missing.

I would say that while working on this bill I've learned a great deal myself about the life experience of transgendered people. You will find them everywhere in our society, as you would expect. They are our brothers, our sisters, our children, our parents, our friends, our colleagues, and our neighbours, and they deserve the same rights and protections as all other Canadians.

I look forward to answering any questions you may have. I'll conclude there. Thank you very much.

November 20th, 2012 / 3:30 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Seeing that the time is 3:30, we will begin the meeting.

This is meeting 51 of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, June 6, 2012, we are studying Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression).

Just so that everybody understands, we have had a switch in the witnesses. We will have Hershel Russell and Sara Davis on the two panels. I had the clerk add committee business to the bottom of the agenda. We will move that over until Thursday.

The proposer of the bill is here today.

If you have an opening address, please go ahead with it.

Transgender Day of RemembranceStatements By Members

November 20th, 2012 / 2:05 p.m.
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NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, today I rise to recognize November 20 as Transgender Day of Remembrance. People in communities across Canada and around the world will gather today to remember victims of transphobic violence and to dedicate themselves to working to end discrimination against transgender, transsexual and gender variant people.

Last year, more than 265 transpeople were murdered and countless others were victims of violence and discrimination. Not only are transCanadians more likely to be victims of hate crimes, those hate crimes are more than twice as likely to be violent. This year, the list of those murdered includes the tragic loss of January Marie Lapuz, a transwoman in B.C.

However, in Canada, we are beginning to turn this tide. Consideration of Bill C-279, which would protect transgender rights in Canada, begins in the justice committee today. As well, legislation was just introduced this morning in the Nova Scotia legislature that will add Nova Scotia to the Northwest Territories, Ontario and Manitoba as jurisdictions where transrights are explicitly protected. We should all be proud to see Canada assuming a leadership role on this issue of equal rights.

On this Transgender Day of Remembrance let us continue to make progress in ensuring that in Canada transrights are human rights.

HomosexualityOral Questions

October 5th, 2012 / 11:55 a.m.
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Delta—Richmond East B.C.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I believe the member opposite is referring to some recent comments on private member's Bill C-279.

Our government is proud of the fact that Canada is recognized internationally as a country that is deeply committed to the principles of respect for diversity and equality.

That private member's bill is currently before the justice committee. We should allow that committee to do its work. We look forward to the report from that committee.

Gender EqualityStatements by Members

June 7th, 2012 / 2:10 p.m.
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NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, last night was an historic occasion for Canada, the LGBTQ community and transgender, transsexual and gender variant Canadians.

I want to thank the 150 members of Parliament who voted in favour of my legislation on gender identity and gender expression as members from all parties joined together to get Bill C-279 to committee. I want to thank them all sincerely for their support.

I want to thank in particular the Conservative members of Parliament who helped demonstrate that through dialogue across the aisle we can make progress in the interests of all Canadians. Together we have taken an important step toward full equality for transgender Canadians.

I look forward to continuing to work with members of all parties on Bill C-279 in committee and when the bill returns to the House. I look forward to the day when full equality and full inclusion for all Canadians becomes a reality.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

June 6th, 2012 / 9:35 p.m.
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Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading of Bill C-279 under private members' business.

The House resumed from June 1 consideration of the motion 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 third time and passed.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

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

Randall Garrison NDP 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 ActPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2012 / 2 p.m.
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NDP

Philip Toone NDP 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 ActPrivate Members' Business

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

NDP

Libby Davies NDP 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 ActPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2012 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have a few minutes today to discuss Bill C-279, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. Quite simply, Bill C-279 seeks to provide human rights protections to a group that remains a significant victim of discrimination in our society. Specifically, Bill C-279 seeks to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to add both gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination. It seeks to amend the Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression to the definition of identifiable groups in its provisions on hate propaganda. It seeks to add gender identity and gender expression to the Criminal Code's list of aggravating factors that affect sentencing.

As 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. Transphobia combined with the hostility of society to the very existence of transgendered people are fundamental human rights issues.

Given that the purpose of the Canadian Human Rights Act is to provide protection to the most vulnerable groups in Canadian society, it is my sincere hope that all members of the House will join the Liberal Party in supporting these logical and necessary modernizations of our existing laws. It is our belief that the amendments contained in Bill C-279 are an appropriate way to improve the human rights protections of a socially and economically marginalized group.

I would like to briefly comment on human rights in Canadian society.

Thirty years ago, Canada established the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It was a very, very important initiative. At the time, the protection of Canadians' rights was not as strong as it is today. The charter was the means used to strengthen these basic rights.

The charter also protected Canadians' rights by being entrenched in the country's Constitution.

Why did the other political parties, such as the NDP and the Conservative Party, not celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Why did they ignore its anniversary in March 2012?

At the time, it took courage to promote the creation of this charter. Today, it is up to our society to respect the rights and freedoms of Canadians. This is not a divisive or a shocking issue. Why did the other political parties not say a few words to celebrate the 30th anniversary of such an important event in the history of our country?

Moving back to Bill C-279, this is the culmination of years of effort and already represents the will of the House. Since 2005 this bill has been introduced on six occasions by the member for Burnaby—Douglas of the NDP. It was introduced once by my hon. colleague from Vancouver Centre and most recently by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

In 2010 the bill, which at the time was Bill C-389, was passed by the House of Commons without amendment, only to die on the order paper after being referred to the Senate.

The statistics on transphobia, which my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca eloquently pointed out in his remarks, are as striking as they are disturbing. Indeed, 95% of transgendered students feel unsafe at school and 9 out of 10 have been verbally harassed due to their gender expression. If this were one of our sons or daughters, feeling unsafe in school, all of us would take action to protect those rights.

Furthermore, 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. This is just wrong. Attitudes in society must change and this bill is directed to that result. As well, a shocking statistic is that 97% of transgendered respondents in a recent survey reported experiencing harassment or mistreatment at work on the basis of gender identity or expression. I am quite certain we can all agree that this too is simply wrong.

As gender identity and gender expression refer not to an individual's biological sex or sexual orientation but rather the individual's inner knowledge of being male, female, both or neither, it is essential that Parliament send a clear and unambiguous message that this is a crucial equality rights issue. Adopting the amendments proposed in Bill C-279 is not just about ensuring transgendered Canadians enjoy the legal protections accorded to other targeted groups. It is also an opportunity for Parliament to send an unequivocal message of support to transgendered Canadians that we in this House affirm their identity and acknowledge their struggles. This would be a humanitarian step that would cost nothing. It is in alignment with the basic principles of fairness, humanity, equality, inclusion and respect. It is an opportunity for all parliamentarians to really look into their hearts and to express their values and principles of inclusion.

As my hon. colleague from Mount Royal noted, 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 for discrimination, Parliament would enable the Canadian Human Rights Commission to keep statistical accounts of incidents of discrimination against transgendered individuals. The ability to compile and analyze such data would be crucial in confronting the scourge of discrimination that transgendered people continue to face in our society and might also guide educational efforts in the broader community.

We know well that having clarity and being able to measure and compile statistics has been essential in Canada's efforts to reduce other forms of discrimination against Jews, against people who are other-abled and in many other cases. What we do not measure, we cannot have objectives to improve. When we do not have objectives, we will be unlikely to achieve that goal.

I am proud that in 1996, guided by the principles of equality, justice and the fundamental need to protect vulnerable groups in Canadian society so we may prosper together, the Liberal Party amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination. It is now time to carry on the fight against discrimination by making it clear that gender identity and gender expression are also prohibited in our society. Our job, as members of Parliament, is to do our very best for the common good and our very best to show respect, inclusion and humanitarian care for all members of our society.

For the group that this bill addresses, its turn has come. That is why I encourage all members on the opposite side of the aisle to also support this bill.