An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code

This bill was last introduced in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2019.



This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.


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

This enactment amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.

The enactment also amends the Criminal Code to extend the protection against hate propaganda set out in that Act to any section of the public that is distinguished by gender identity or expression and to clearly set out that evidence that an offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on gender identity or expression constitutes an aggravating circumstance that a court must take into consideration when it imposes a sentence.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


Oct. 18, 2016 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Canadian Human Rights ActGovernment Orders

November 18th, 2016 / 10:05 a.m.
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Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for that.

I would like to use some of my time to respond to a persistent criticism of the bill. That is that it is redundant, unnecessary, and merely symbolic. Members raised this issue during second reading debate. They have argued that the bill is not necessary, because our federal discrimination law already provides trans people with enough protection. I acknowledge the perspectives of my fellow parliamentarians, but I believe that these concerns can be answered and that the bill is indeed necessary.

It was pointed out that under the current Canadian Human Rights Act, commonly called the CHRA, trans people may bring discrimination complaints using the ground of sex.

It is true that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has interpreted the existing ground of sex to cover some complaints brought by trans individuals alleging discrimination, but a person must be quite familiar with the case law and the workings of the CHRA system to know that this protection is even available. Canadians should be able to turn to our laws and see their rights and obligations spelled out clearly. We cannot expect trans people who feel they have been discriminated against to become experts in statutory interpretation just to advocate for their basic rights.

The CHRA system was originally designed to be a user-friendly, inexpensive, and accessible system. We can further improve access to justice for Canadians by ensuring that rights and obligations are spelled out clearly in the CHRA.

What is more, employers and service providers must also be aware of their obligations under the law. They too should be able to look at the CHRA and understand what is required of them. They should be able to understand what kinds of workplace accommodations they must provide to their employees. This area of the law is just emerging. Bill C-16 would serve the important function of clarifying and codifying it.

These are practical results, not mere symbolism. When similar amendments were made in provincial human rights codes, human rights agencies received inquiries from the public creating new opportunities to inform people about their rights and obligations.

Ontario's Human Rights Legal Support Centre reported an increase in enquiries about gender identity and expression, and there are similar reports from other provinces. After gender identity and expression were added to the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Ontario Human Rights Commission reported a growing awareness that discriminating on these grounds is against the law. Commissions have confirmed that explicitly listing these grounds supports their mandate to inform the public of their rights and obligations.

We have also seen legal education respond to amendments such as these. Bulletins, newsletters, and textbooks are sent out and updated to account for statutory amendments. Training sessions and conferences are held to inform legal professionals and others of the new provisions.

That has been the experience elsewhere. We should expect the same when this bill is enacted. These are some of the tangible effects we hope to achieve with the bill. They are results, and parliamentarians have the ability and the responsibility to set them in motion.

I turn now to another reason for the bill: it would amend the Criminal Code to respond to the risk of violence and harm faced by trans individuals on an all too frequent basis.

For a better sense of these risks, I would refer the House to the Trans Pulse project, a research study of social determinants of health among trans people in the province of Ontario. Data for the Trans Pulse project came from focus groups conducted in three Ontario cities in 2006, with 85 trans community members and four family members, and from a survey in 2009-10 of 433 trans Ontarians age 16 and over.

According to this research, trans individuals are the targets of specifically directed violence. Twenty per cent had been physically or sexually assaulted for being trans, and another 34% had been verbally threatened or harassed but not assaulted. Many do not report these assaults to the police.

Let me now turn to the proposed Criminal Code amendments that are intended to address these risks and harms. First let us consider the aggravated sentencing provision that enables judges to properly recognize and denounce crimes motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate. This is found in section 718.2 of the code.

One of the important purposes of the aggravated sentencing provision is the condemnation of hate crimes. It is about recognizing that some people may be more vulnerable to crime simply because they are identifiable as members of a particular group. That can be because of race, religion, colour, or ethnic origin, to name just a few of the listed grounds. Bill C-16 would add explicit protection for members of the trans community.

We can see, again, that Bill C-16 is more than just a symbolic gesture. Adding the ground of gender identity or expression to the Criminal Code would explicitly condemn this type of hate crime. It would also clearly signal to police and prosecutors that they must be aware of the particular vulnerability of trans individuals.

Bill C-16 would also add gender identity or expression to the hate propaganda offences in the Criminal Code. This is by no means redundant. This amendment would fill a gap in the law. In the criminal context, clarity and certainty is of great importance. Criminal offences are interpreted narrowly. The hate propaganda offences currently protect groups identifiable on the ground of sex and other grounds, but there is no mention of gender identity or expression. We cannot assume that these offences would be interpreted to cover gender identity or expression without the amendment of Bill C-16.

Finally, some members have expressed the view that the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” are too vague and open-ended. It has been suggested that the addition of these grounds would lead to a flood of litigation.

I do not think this concern is warranted. Most provinces and territories now have explicit protection for trans and gender-diverse people in their anti-discrimination statutes. Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island all have gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds in their human rights codes. The codes in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories have the ground of gender identity. In fact, the Northwest Territories has had the ground of gender identity in its act for more than a decade. There has not been a flood of ligation in these provinces and territories.

I have also heard the suggestion that a definition should be added. Most of the prohibited grounds of discrimination in the CHRA do not have definitions. Commissions, tribunals, and courts elaborate the meaning of the grounds in a reasonable way. They clarify through the application of real-life examples, allowing the law to respond in line with its purpose. This does not mean that grounds are indeterminate. It does not mean that people can claim protection on a whim or for frivolous reasons. There are real limits to what any ground can mean, informed by the important purpose of the legislation and the social context in which it is being enacted.

It is time for Parliament to ensure that our laws provide clear and explicit protection where it is now much needed. I urge members to vote in favour of this bill.

Canadian Human Rights ActGovernment Orders

November 18th, 2016 / 10:10 a.m.
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Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was very supportive of Bill C-16 going to committee, because I wanted to hear some of the answers to difficult questions asked during the debate. I am very disappointed, in fact more than disappointed, that witnesses were not allowed at committee and that this has been rammed back to the House.

Would the member please answer this difficult question? There are many people in this country who do not believe that a transgendered lifestyle is God's plan or that it is medically beneficial, so if we pass this legislation, would that then affect their ability to tell their children not to speak about those ideas in a public place?

Canadian Human Rights ActGovernment Orders

November 18th, 2016 / 10:15 a.m.
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Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Sarnia—Lambton for that question and also congratulate her on her recent honour at the Parliamentarian of the Year awards.

There were a couple questions there. One was with respect to the decision of the committee to not take witnesses, and the other was on the potential restriction or alleged restriction on private speech.

With respect to the first one, witnesses at committee, this bill, Bill C-16, is a piece of government legislation that has been brought in in this Parliament, but it is certainly not the first time that issues of protection from discrimination for our trans community have been debated in this place. This bill actually went through the House of Commons in the last Parliament. It has been the subject of extensive debate, and we have heard from numerous witnesses at various times.

The committees, as the hon. member would know, are masters of their own destiny. There was a vote taken at committee on witnesses, and that was indeed the decision of the committee.

With respect to restrictions on free speech, she need not be concerned about that. There is an amendment to the Criminal Code such that unless discussions venture into the hate propaganda portions of the Criminal Code, inter-family discussions will not, in any way, be affected.

Canadian Human Rights ActGovernment Orders

November 18th, 2016 / 10:15 a.m.
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Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-16, which in my view is another key piece of equality protection legislation tabled by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.

This bill, along with other legislation currently before the House, will finally bring balance and protection to the LBGT2 community.

I have heard many members say they support this bill and are anxious to see it pass. I share their desire to see the protections that Bill C-16 would add to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canadian Criminal Code, and become part of Canadian law in the near future.

However, during the second reading debate and before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I also heard a number of questions and concerns. I appreciate the spirit of seriousness and sincerity in which members have expressed their views and those of their constituents. Many of these concerns can be allayed if we have a clear picture of the bill's purpose and scope. It is important to focus our attention on the real subject matter of this bill.

The Canadian Human Rights Act applies to the federal sector, namely to the federal government and its role as employer and service provider, and to the federally regulated private sector, including crown corporations, telecommunications companies, the postal service, chartered banks, and similar industries.

The proposed amendments seek to promote equal opportunity of trans and gender-diverse people in employment and access to goods and services. Therefore, if the grounds of gender identity and expression were added, this would mean that a trans person working for the federal government or one of those federally regulated employers that I mentioned could not be passed over for a job or a promotion simply because he or she is trans. If a trans person applies for a passport, he or she would receive the same level of respectful service as any other Canadian would expect. It would be clearly unacceptable to harass a trans person because of his or her gender identity, turning his or her workplace into a hostile or poisoned environment for reasons that have nothing to do with his or her skills or ability to do his or her job.

These are not special rights. We should all be able to find employment without irrelevant characteristics hindering us. All of us should be recognized for our contributions to our workplace and be able to work in a harassment-free environment. All of us should be able to access the same level of federal service and to receive those services in a respectful manner. Those are the kinds of provisions that we are adding to the CHRA. These are the types of essential protections that the trans community has been asking for. We know from the statistics that were cited during second reading, and we heard from the hon. parliamentary secretary, that these protections are sorely needed given the difficulties that trans people face in finding employment and accessing services. It is clear that too many trans people are being deprived of that opportunity to contribute and flourish in our society. This bill is an important step forward for greater societal acceptance and inclusion. This is not just important to trans people but for each and every Canadian. The same human rights afforded to us should be enjoyed by all. When we exclude, marginalize, or discriminate against one facet of society, we are doing damage to all of our society. We as a nation succeed when we speak and are recognized with one voice. That is why this legislation is essential. Discrimination is a matter of concern for all of us.

Some members have also expressed their view that the bill will limit freedom of religion and weakens protections for freedom of religion. However, it is important to remember that the CHRA already includes religion as a prohibited ground of discrimination. Federally regulated employers and services cannot discriminate against individuals based on religious beliefs. Employers can, however, require their managers and employees to treat each other with respect and dignity so as to foster a harassment-free workplace on any of the grounds listed in the act.

The equality provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms also prohibits religious discrimination by governments. Section 2(a) of the charter constitutionally enshrines the fundamental freedom of conscience and religion. Its purpose is to prevent government interference with profoundly held personal beliefs. This bill, which is focused on preventing discrimination in employment and the provision of services by federally regulated entities, respects freedom of religion as a guarantee in the charter, and in no way seeks to interfere with an individual's religious belief or practice.

Other members have expressed concern with potential impacts of the bill on their freedom of speech and freedom to openly discuss and debate policy issues. Still others are concerned about limiting their ability to teach their children about religious beliefs.

As explained in the Statement of Potential Charter Impacts that the minister tabled during the second reading of debate, the amendments to the hate propaganda provisions respect freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression in a free, democratic society. The criminal provisions against hate propaganda impose a very narrow limit on expression. Hate propaganda targets extreme and dangerous speech that advocates genocide against, willfully promotes hatred against, or incites hatred in a public place likely to cause a breach of peace against vulnerable people.

The most commonly prosecuted of these three offences is willfully promoting hate against an identifiable group. Critically important is the term “willfully”, which has been defined by the Supreme Court of Canada to mean intentionally and not recklessly. The Supreme Court also interpreted the word “hatred” to mean only the intense form of dislike. It is not enough that the expression is distasteful.

In addition, the offence of willfully promoting hatred does not apply to private conversations. There are also statutory defences, such as the defence of truth, and the defence of good-faith expression of a religious opinion. Finally, the consent of the appropriate provincial attorney general is required before any prosecution of this crime can begin.

With this in mind, let us remember that trans people are particularly vulnerable to harassment and violence, thus the need for society's protection against expression that seeks to dehumanize them and thereby creates conditions for their victimization.

I hope that I have addressed and allayed a number of these concerns. I would like to close by returning to the reasons I think this bill is important and why I think all members should be voting for it.

Diversity and inclusion are values that are important to all of us as Canadians. Canadians expect their laws to reflect these values, yet many trans people are not yet able to fully participate in society. This bill is an important step forward to their greater societal acceptance and inclusion. By adding the grounds of gender identity or expression to the CHRA, we will protect that freedom to live openly in one's deeply felt gender, and this will include freedom to present oneself as a person of that gender.

Transgender and other gender-diverse persons are among the most vulnerable members of society. The amendments to the Criminal Code send a clear message that hate propaganda and hate crimes against trans people are unacceptable. It is time for Parliament to ensure that our laws provide clear and explicit protection where it is now much needed.

As many will recall, the previous Parliament examined a similar bill but was not able to enact it before dissolution. In fact, this House has been considering versions of this bill for many years. It is time now for Parliament to act. Now is the time to ensure that our laws provide clear and explicit protection where it is needed the most.

I am proud of this legislation, which would ensure all Canadians are free to be themselves without fear of discrimination, hate propaganda, and hate crime. As Canadians, we should all feel safe to be ourselves.

Canadian Human Rights Act

November 18th, 2016 / 10:35 a.m.
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Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, what often unifies our weakest moments, the moments when we inflict damage upon others, the moments that linger in our minds as regret long after they have happened, the moments that we later need to ask forgiveness for or make recompense for, is a failure to seek to grant compassion to others.

Few of us seek to be uncompassionate, yet, in our fragility, we often are. This is because compassion is a difficult thing. Compassion requires work. Compassion requires self-reflection. Compassion requires selflessness. Compassion requires humility. Compassion requires departure from dogmas that often define who we are. Compassion requires courage. Compassion requires empathy across cultural grounds, across religious views, across political ideology, and across the sins of others.

This is why most religious texts and teaching often weave consistent compassion as a thread through their teachings. This is because it is compassion that, in our worst moments, saves us.

Our charge as legislators is to seek and then to define a just and well-considered but ultimately compassionate course of action when a charge of inequality is levelled.

On our first charge, that of understanding, Bill C-16 seeks to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act by adding gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination.

It also seeks to amend the Criminal Code, to extend the protection against hate propaganda set out in that act to any section of the public that is distinguished by gender identity or expression, and to clearly set out the evidence that an offence motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate on gender identity or expression constitutes an aggravating circumstance that a court must take into consideration when it imposes a sentence.

In short, the bill seeks to provide remedy for the inequality and discrimination that the trans community faces in Canada.

The bill, in various forms, has been debated in this House for years now. That said, it has only been in the last few years that the issue of equality for transgendered Canadians has become ingrained in the awareness of the Canadian public writ large.

I remember the first time that someone explained what gender identity and gender expression meant. I remember it clearly. It was right after I was elected in 2011. I remember being shocked at myself for not understanding this, given the level of severity that it means for me, as a legislator, not to get that. I think it is probably worth having that discussion here today to remind people.

“Sex refers to biological differences: chromosomes, hormonal profiles, internal and external sex organs.” I am quoting from a paper from an Australian university.

Gender describes the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine. So while your sex as male or female is a biological fact that is the same in any culture, what that sex means in terms of your gender society can be quite different cross culturally. These 'gender roles' have an impact on the health of an individual. In sociological terms 'gender role' refers to the characteristics and behaviours that different cultures attribute to the sexes.

It is very important for us to understand this, because our understanding of gender roles and our notion of gender is in fact fluid.

I look at myself today. I am standing in the House of Commons. I am a cisgendered woman. Only a few decades ago, if I had stood here in pants advocating for my community, as a divorced woman, as a woman without children, I think about how I would have been perceived, and what my gender role would have been decades ago. I would not have had the right to stand here. Our rights are so precious, and they are so fragile, and if we legislators cannot acknowledge when inequality exists, and if we cannot rectify that, then we are doing something wrong.

My rights as a woman and my equality were won by those who came before me, who challenged the norms assigned to my gender by society, and who still challenge those norms today and ensure that those challenges are remedied by reflection in law: the right to vote, discrimination based on gender, sexual harassment, equal pay for equal work. There is so much more work to be done, yet I am so far ahead of where members in the trans community in Canada are.

The reality is that many people who do not conform to the gender roles associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. This is not a defect. This is not an illness. This is an expression of our uniqueness and of our humanity against what others in our society may pressure us to conform to be, and nobody in Canada or in the world should face discrimination for living his or her personal truth. As legislators, we need to understand and acknowledge that great discrimination does in fact occur because of this.

When I last spoke to this bill in 2013, I noted that the trans community in Canada had on frequent occasions experienced elevated levels of sexual violence committed against members of that community, frequent workplace discrimination and job loss based on gender, lack of clarity on health care provisions and sometimes access to health care, lack of clarity on processes related to obtaining identification documents, bullying in places of employment and educational institutions, discrimination in accessing housing accommodation, and numerous other incidents of discrimination. Most important, they lived every day with the consequences of these acts of non-compassion, of false assumptions that simply by virtue of their state they were sexually promiscuous or, more ludicrously, that they were criminal. In this, the trans community experiences very high rates of levels of both depression and suicide.

Since I made this argument in 2013, very frankly and very simply put, little progress has been made on righting many of these injustices. All we can do is ask for forgiveness and then act.

This weekend will mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance, so it is fitting to recount the following.

Suicide rates among the transgendered community are incredibly high. As published by Egale Canada, in 2010, 47% of trans youth in Ontario had thought about suicide and 19% had attempted suicide in the preceding year. The Trans Murder Monitoring Project, a worldwide initiative to uncover the atrocities committed against transgendered people worldwide, found that from January 2008 to April 2016, over 2,000 members of the trans community were tragically murdered, and those are only ones that were reported. The most frequent ways these innocent lives were taken were by shootings, stabbings, beatings, strangulations, and stonings. This report also shows that 576 of these transgendered people were killed and brutally murdered in the streets. These lives were lost because of intolerance, of bigotry, and of hate.

This is not something that just happens overseas or somewhere else, or something that we can turn a blind eye to in Canada. There are many instances of this in Canada. January Marie Lapuz of New Westminster, B.C. is just one of the examples of transgendered violence that we have come to know in Canada. January was a 26 year old who was considered an involved local activist, and whom people in her community called a bright light and a shining star. She was murdered in 2012. Stories like this are all too common for those in the transgendered community.

A recent study in 2014 found that in Ontario alone, 96% of the community had heard that trans people were not normal. Shockingly, the study also found that 76% of trans Ontarians worried that they would die young. They also found that members of the trans community had actively avoided public spaces out of fear. The project also found that two-thirds of trans Ontarians had avoided public spaces as they fear harassment, being perceived as trans, or being outed as trans. It is an irrefutable fact, one that we cannot ignore and one that we should not even be debating in this place, that the trans community faces challenges and barriers that most of us do not.

In 2013, after a review of the bill, I concluded the bill would only amount to symbolic action for the trans community. I was wrong. In the last three years, I have watched this community face bigotry, more discrimination, and becoming a flashpoint for fights that we should no longer be having in Canada.

It is for that reason that I believe it is time that Parliament passes the bill. It is clear to me, after watching provincial governments, employers, court cases, and the trans community itself struggling to rectify these injustices, that action cannot be taken to right these injustices without the bill passing.

Before it does, I want to talk about bathrooms. It is an unfortunate fact that in Canada rape occurs. Men go into women's bathrooms and rape them. That is a fact. That is why there are panic buttons in many bathrooms in university campuses across Canada. That is why we have laws to harshly and strongly punish the perpetrators of sexual violence. That is why we educate people on the effects of violence to try to deter them from doing so. That is why we have police. However, here is a horrifying statistic.

Jody Herman of UCLA's Williams Institute found in her study, conducted between 2008-09, that members of the transgendered community tended to be incredibly at risk in public restrooms. In her study, about 70% of the sample of transgendered people reported experiencing being denied access to restrooms, being harassed while using restrooms, and experiencing forms of physical assault. Additionally, this study showed that nearly 10% of the respondents reported to being physically assaulted in public restrooms.

Therefore, while some like to blame and insinuate that transgendered people are the predators in washrooms, research indicates that they instead are vulnerable in these public spaces. Making a value judgment that because people are trans they are likely to prey upon people in bathrooms is wrong.

The argument the bill would impede religious freedom is also wrong. Religious freedom cannot be discriminated on in Canada. We already have laws to that effect. Moreover, I believe that when we talk about compassion and about righting injustices, that is the reason most of us have faith to begin with. It is the act of charity and compassion that comes through religious belief and the belief in a higher good that sets us apart. The ability for us as Canadians to worship in that regard, to express that freedom, and live that truth should also be reflected in our laws.

I have also heard an argument against the bill that it will prevent parents from educating their children. The irony is that right now it is parents who educate our children on gender norms as it is. It is often our parents who reinforce what our role in society is to be based on our gender.

I do not see that changing, but the bill will open up the fact that we can be compassionate and we can look at how people can best contribute to our society by living out who they want to be. I cannot imagine a more beautiful expression of Canadian pluralism than that, of Canada becoming a place where we embrace uniqueness and diversity and also respect the rights of people to express their faith.

I also believe very firmly that the bill fits squarely in line with the principles of my political party. In our guiding principles it says:

The Conservative Party of Canada is founded on and will be guided by in its policy formation the following principles....A belief in the balance between fiscal accountability, progressive social policy and individual rights and responsibilities....The goal of building a national coalition of people who share these beliefs...The goal of developing this coalition, embracing our differences and respecting our traditions, yet honouring a concept of Canada as the greater sum of strong parts....A belief in the value and dignity of all human life....A belief in the equality of all Canadians.

This is why I am part of the Conservative Party of Canada and this is why I firmly believe in the capacity of our party to show Canadians that we are compassionate, that we do believe in equality and support it through legislation.

The white elephant in the room is that the bill will challenge deeply entrenched norms on how we need to behave. We should not fear that. We should embrace the fact that Canada is such a free and true nation that we value equality over dogma.

I want to thank the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke for taking time to educate me and many other people in here, in a very quiet and patient way. I also want to commend my colleagues who may have different views on the bill, but who seek to be compassionate and reflect their views in respectful debate.

I especially want to thank the trans activists who have lived through this discrimination, through the upheaval of transition, through the upheaval of guilt or confusion over knowing their truth is something different than what society pressures them to be. While they have lived through that, they have had to sit through years of committee meetings, while their sexual behaviours have been questioned. They have stood up against intolerance and in doing so, they have sustained Canada's pluralism.

They deserve our thanks, and they also deserve an apology for when we have failed them in the past.

It is always a rare day when a Conservative member quotes a former NDP member, but I will do it today. I followed a speech by my former colleague, Megan Leslie, on this in 2013. I had the grave misfortune of following a Megan Leslie speech. She closed by saying this:

I was at a community event and a young person came up to me. I do not really remember it. I do not remember if this person was a young man or a young woman, blond or brunette, but this person came up to me, took my hand and opened it, put something in my hand and closed it up. Then they left.

I opened my hand and there was a tiny little note.

It said: Thanks for giving...[an eff] about trans people.

I think that is why we are here.

Megan was right. That is why we are here. We are also here because I believe in the capacity of my colleagues across party lines to be compassionate, to be strong, to stand up for Canada, and to stand for what is good, what is just, and what is beautiful.

Canadian Human Rights ActGovernment Orders

November 18th, 2016 / 12:20 p.m.
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Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Mr. Speaker, as I join this third reading debate on Bill C-16 today, I want to take this opportunity to mark the Trans Day of Remembrance, which will be taking place this Sunday, November 20. This year marks the 17th annual Trans Day of Remembrance, which memorializes trans people who have been murdered over the past year. This year we remember the more than 86 lives that were senselessly lost to transphobia and hate around the world and in Canada. We know that this number is only the tip of the iceberg and that there are thousands of instances of violence perpetrated against trans people every year that go unrecorded or unreported.

This Trans Day of Remembrance is not only a day to mourn but a day for trans people, their loved ones, and allies to come together and to grow our strength and resiliency on the road to ending transphobia once and for all.

As people come together this Sunday across Canada and around the world, I want them to know that here in this House we know trans people are still targets of violence and hate at undeniably troubling rates. We see the statistics about homelessness and suicide rates among trans and gender-diverse youth, we hear trans people when they say they still cannot access necessary health care, and we hear trans people on the importance of being able to access appropriate identity documents.

Passing Bill C-16, whether that's this afternoon or Monday, is just the start of working through the challenges that face trans and gender-diverse Canadians, but it is a vital first step. The federal government and its agencies will have to get busy making sure policies and practices respect the full and equal rights of transgender and gender-variant Canadians.

I will spare the House an extended metaphor about Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football, not only because of its rigid gender stereotypes but also because of its deeply embedded misogyny, where the problems of men are always caused by women, but nevertheless I have to use that analogy to say that the trans community is justifiably frustrated as we are now on the way to the third passage of this bill through the House of Commons. What other group of people in Canadian society has had to wait while this House of Commons passes three times a bill that would only recognize that they are entitled to the same rights and protections as all other Canadians?

Let me repeat the story of the journey of this bill through Parliament, hopefully for one last time.

This bill was first introduced by former NDP MP Bill Siksay in 2005. He reintroduced it again in 2007 and again in 2009. On this third attempt, although it took two years, in the spring of 2011, Bill actually saw his bill passed by the House, only to see it die in the Senate when an election was called.

When I was elected, I spoke with Bill, and he asked me to pick up that private member's bill, on behalf of the NDP caucus, and to take that struggle forward into what was a Conservative majority Parliament and, therefore, did not look very promising for the bill. I introduced my version of the bill on September 21, 2011. I stand here now more than five years after I began my attempt to get this bill through. The bill was passed through the House of Commons on March 20, 2013, with the support of I believe it was 19 members of the Conservative caucus at that time. That came as a bit of a surprise to many Canadians. Then it went off to the Senate and what was even more surprising is that, though the Senate had more than two years to deal with the bill, it failed to do so before the election was called. For a second time, a bill guaranteeing equal rights and protections to transgender and gender-variant Canadians died in the unelected Senate.

While this proposed legislation has been languishing before our federal Parliament, some progress has still been made. I would again say that I would like to think that the debate here in this House has helped bring forward progress elsewhere. In the meantime, nine provinces have adopted corresponding provincial human rights legislation. I have to say that in my second reading speech I miscounted, which proves one should use notes for these things, but we have seen corresponding provincial human rights legislation first in the Northwest Territories, then in Ontario, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia in 2012, Newfoundland and P.E.I. in 2013, Saskatchewan in 2014, Alberta in 2015, and British Columbia and Quebec this year.

The issue of trans rights is not a partisan issue. Amendments to protect against discrimination on the basis of gender identity were proposed by NDP governments in Alberta, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia, a Liberal government in P.E.I., and Conservative governments in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland. The amendments to their provincial human rights codes in Quebec, Ontario, and B.C. passed with all-party support.

Nor is progress on trans rights limited to the Canadian context, and I want to say again that we have lost a chance by our delays here in the House to be a leader around the world. Now, more than 18 countries have passed Canada up with explicit protections of the kind that are proposed in Bill C-16, and the list is surprising in its diversity.

These are not just the western European countries or North American countries. In fact, they reflect all cultures around the world. Argentina has in fact been the world leader in protection of the rights of transgender citizens and continues to be so. However, the list also includes Uruguay, Bolivia, Spain, France, Ireland, Estonia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Israel, Cypress, Nepal, Australia, and New Zealand, among others.

In the United States, 16 states plus the District of Columbia provide explicit protections for transgender residents, and there are some good signs amidst the gloom in the United States. The North Carolina governor, Pat McCrory, who had brought forward a bill to explicitly allow discrimination against the LGBT community, was defeated in those elections and largely over what was called House Bill 2, which would have really gone against the American tradition of acceptance, tolerance, and liberty by promoting discrimination against North Carolinians.

However, there is still some gloom. The President-elect Trump has promised to rescind Executive Order 13672 that President Obama put forward in 2014, which protected transgender and gender-variant Americans against workplace discrimination. Interestingly, at the time, Obama pointed out that he felt the U.S. government was lagging behind business in the United States, as almost all the Fortune 500 U.S. companies, the biggest 500 companies in the U.S., already had internal policies protecting transgender people against discrimination.

I have said before in speeches here that certain businesses in federal jurisdiction, in particular the TD Bank, have set an example of how to deal with employees if they go through a transition. The Canadian Labour Congress has produced guides for transition in the workplace that it has made available to all of its union members across the country.

Again, others have moved forward faster than we have here in this Parliament. In fact, today we are here 11 years after the first introduction of the bill, nearly five years after it first passed, and coming up on three years since it passed in the previous Parliament. However, some things have changed, and now in the recorded vote at second reading, we saw nearly half of the Conservative caucus join the Liberals and New Democrats in supporting the bill.

What has really changed? I would say the important change here is that it has become a non-partisan issue, and that is due to the work of transgender and gender-varied activists who have been very vigilant about contacting their members of Parliament and talking to them about their stories and why they need the support of their members of Parliament to make sure that their rights and dignity are respected in this country.

Far too many of these stories are indeed tragic, and I can spend a long time recounting them, but time is, of course, short today. I will just point out the study by Egale, published in 2011, called “Every Class in Every School” shows the severe impacts of transphobia on students in this country, where 90% of trans students reported hearing daily or weekly transphobic comments, and where 78% recorded feeling unsafe at school.

No, the bill does not directly affect schools, as they fall under provincial jurisdiction, but it tells us the size of the problem we face in combatting transphobia in this country.

This is the last remaining gap in Canadian human rights legislation, and I do look forward to it being filled by judicious and expeditious action by the new Senate. The transgender and gender-variant community in this country is asking for equal rights and dignity; the same rights and dignity that all other Canadians enjoy, nothing more, nothing less.

I look forward to the passage of Bill C-16 today or Monday, as I have said, and I am hoping the Liberal government can ensure its swift passage through the Senate.

As I mentioned, what other group has had to wait over a decade while the House of Commons passes legislation to affirm their rights three times? If this is not the time to guarantee equality for all Canadians, then when would that time be?

Canadian Human Rights ActGovernment Orders

November 18th, 2016 / 12:35 p.m.
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Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Mr. Speaker, today I rise to speak on an issue that is close to my heart. It is an issue that my colleague, the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, has fiercely dedicated himself to over the years. We just heard about the long struggle and fight he had. I am humbled to share my time with him today, and I want to formally thank him for fighting to include explicit protection for gender identity and gender expression in the Canada Human Rights Act.

I also want to add my tributes to the the groundbreaking work of former parliamentarians, Svend Robinson, Bill Siksay, and Craig Scott, all of whom were instrumental in bringing us closer to the inclusive society we want to create.

As the deputy critic for LGBTQ issues, I want to acknowledge the work that the government has done to bring this file forward. I applaud it for bringing this first critical step forward, with the introduction of Bill C-16.

Let me begin by reminding the House, as my colleague has, that this legislation should come as no surprise. Identical legislation has been presented numerous times to the House over the last five years, most recently in 2015, when the bill was left to die on the Senate's Order Paper at the time that the election was called.

This bill has been studied, reviewed, and, most importantly, it has been accepted by elected members of the last Parliament. Now Bill C-16 presents an opportunity for this government and this Parliament to show leadership at a time when our country and our global community needs it the most. We know that existing provincial patchwork legislation is not sufficient. We know that only seven of the 13 provinces and territories currently protect against discrimination based on gender expression and identity in their human rights codes. Canadians deserve swift federal action to provide leadership and to ensure protection in federal law against discrimination.

Earlier this year, people around the world witnessed the heartbreaking and gruesome events in Orlando. Words cannot convey how needless this tragedy was. The recent election in the United States, sadly, has given all of us even more reason to fear for our safety and our rights. May it serve as a heavy reminder that our global community remains unsafe for people who identify as LGBT or Q, and may we redouble our efforts to end bigotry and hatred.

Canada has an opportunity to show leadership within the international community. I suggest that we remember our responsibility as a signatory state to the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity. Let us affirm our commitment to these obligations and secure equal rights for trans and gender variant Canadians by adding gender identity and expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination under the Canada Human Rights Act.

As our country strives to be more inclusive, I will reflect upon the past, which unfortunately is riddled with instances of discrimination and violence toward the LGBTQ community. Thankfully, it is also full of tales of hope and resistance.

Not so long ago, on February 5, 1981, more than 250 gay men were arrested in Toronto for visiting bath houses. Many of those arrested in Operation Soap were publicly humiliated and faced lifelong repercussions as a result of this assault. I urge that we do not forget these dark moments in our history, as we forge our way forward to a future that is more fair and just for all Canadians.

In my riding and the surrounding area, we have a strong record of organization and activism around LGBTQ issues, from the Saskatoon gay liberation, led by Gens Hellquist in the 1970s; to Gay and Lesbian Health Services of Saskatoon, started in 1991, which continues its important work today as OUTSaskatoon; to the annual Breaking the Silence Conference, now in its 20th year, organized by education professor Don Cochrane at the University of Saskatchewan.

In 1999, Mount Royal Collegiate, a high school in my riding, was the first high school in the province to have a gay-straight alliance for students, spearheaded by teacher Patti Rowley. In June of this year, Beardy's & Okemasis First Nation held the first-ever Two-Spirit Pride Festival and parade on a first nation in Saskatchewan. We are lucky to have a robust history of community activism and work.

This activism has pushed governments to recognize the rights of the LGBTQ community, and has in many cases provided essential services to those who need them most. However, organizations and community activists alone cannot ensure that the rights of the LGBTQ community are respected. We need federal protections that explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender expression and identity. We need Bill C-16.

When the Minister of Justice introduced the bill, she noted that all Canadians should be safe to be themselves. I do not believe any one of us would disagree with that.

However, the hard truth of the matter is that not all people in Canada are safe to be themselves. Systemic discrimination toward the LGBTQ community persists across Canada, and perhaps most notably in our schools. LGBTQ students are three times more likely than heterosexual students to be bullied. Roughly 74% of trans students report having been verbally harassed about their perceived gender identity or sexual orientation, and nearly 40% of trans students report having been physically assaulted.

The bravery displayed by our young people who report physical and verbal assault after it happens is truly remarkable, but I am heartbroken, as many are, and utterly dismayed by the fact that seven out of 10 trans students are being harassed because of who they are.

It is not just young trans Canadians who desperately need a more compassionate Canadian society. Trans and gender variant Canadians of all ages face unique barriers.

Many Canadians are unable to secure identification that correctly reflects their gender identity, which in turn imposes severe restrictions on their mobility and limits access to essential services. Those who identify as trans or gender variant face a real struggle to earn a decent standard of living. They are discriminated against in the workplace and are often unemployed or underemployed.

We cannot stand idly by while such discrimination takes place in the workplace. In 2016, we need safe gender neutral spaces, including public washrooms. For Canadians who identify as trans or gender variant, this challenge can be at best a nightmare, or at worst, life threatening. It is unacceptable that so many Canadians face these challenges each and every day.

We must do better, and we can start by extending trans and gender variant Canadians the same rights and protections that all Canadians enjoy under the Canada Human Rights Act.

We have so much work to do in order to achieve the inclusive Canada we all envision. However, we have an exciting opportunity before us to make the lives of trans and gender variant Canadians better, by supporting Bill C-16. The bill is an important and critical step forward on a long, slow, but steady march forward in the struggle to enshrine in law equality for all.

Next week, on Sunday, communities all over Canada and around the world will pause on November 20 to observe the Transgender Day of Remembrance. On that day, we will remember and honour those who have died due to transphobia.

Let us not just remember, let us not just honour, but let us act. I urge the government to act, to pass this long overdue legislation without delay. I urge all members of this house to support Bill C-16 to ensure the protection of human rights for all Canadians.

Canadian Human Rights ActGovernment Orders

November 18th, 2016 / 12:45 p.m.
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Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Saskatoon West for the work she has done in this House on LGBTQ issues and for her support today for Bill C-16.

Earlier in one of the questions on the bill, the member for Churchill—Keewatinook Aski raised the question of two-spirited Canadians. I want to mention the conference taking place in my riding on the 25th and 26th, at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, called 2 Spirits, One Heart, One Mind, One Nation. It is a B.C. aboriginal youth conference.

What I have heard many times, and I am asking the member if she has heard the same thing, is that some of the most discriminated against people are in fact transgendered aboriginal Canadians. Quite often they have the worst employment situation, the worst housing situation, and the worst alternatives facing them.

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November 18th, 2016 / 12:50 p.m.
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Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Mr. Speaker, given the track record of the bill, one has to not take anything for granted. I think most of us are empowered to feel that in this day and age, surely the Senate will move forward, that it will not look back at the House and not follow through on what I hope is the passing, finally, of Bill C-16. One does wonder, when a bill like this has gone through the House so many times and has not been passed by the Senate. My hope would be that finally the day will come and we will see equal human rights for all Canadians.

Canadian Human Rights ActGovernment Orders

November 18th, 2016 / 12:50 p.m.
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Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour today to speak in support of Bill C-16, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, particularly because today we are on the eve of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is Sunday, November 20.

It is a day that gives us a chance to remember and reflect upon the discrimination that has been suffered and continues to be suffered in our country by the transgender community but also to give strength and think about how we go forward.

Today my heart has been warmed to hear the debate and the very non-partisan nature in which we have exchanged ideas. That helps to pave the way forward as we look at a bill such as Bill C-16.

Since I have taken my seat in this place, I have taken a lot of time to think about what it is I treasure about our country and about Canadian values. To me, it is being a safe and welcoming place and celebrating our diversity. The two are interconnected, because we cannot celebrate our diversity if we are not a safe and welcoming place. This bill helps us to become a more safe and welcoming place.

I grew up in the 1970s. There was a record that was very popular at the time called Free To Be You And Me. It said:

Don't dress your cat in an apron
Just 'cause he's learning to bake.

There were all sorts of other songs and poems, but the theme, the lesson for all of us, was that we all had the opportunity to grow up being true to ourselves and who we were and that no one should be defining us.

That is something that, as a parent today, I take very seriously. I want my children, all of our children, people growing up in this country, to know that they have that freedom. They should be comfortable and safe being true to who they are.

It goes to principles. An organization called Gender Spectrum states that a person's gender identity is “[o]ne’s innermost concept of self as male or female or both or neither—how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves”.

That is what we are talking about today. Bill C-16 creates a protection for gender identity and gender expression that helps pave the way. It states:

This enactment amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.

We have had some discussion about that today, and it has already been pointed out that this is not the first time this type of protection is being added to human rights codes. In fact, across our country, most of our provinces and territories have already adopted such protections. We are catching up federally. It is an important step we must take. Discrimination is still an issue, and it is something this legislation needs to address.

Trans Equality Canada has provided some statistics. The unemployment rate in Ontario for transgender people is three times the national average. Nationwide, from a survey of transgender youth, three-quarters of transgender youth have faced verbal harassment in school, and 37% have faced physical violence.

If we want to be that safe and welcoming place that I believe our country is and should be, then we need to step up and provide these protections.

The bill also makes amendments to the Criminal Code. It expands the Criminal Code prohibition against hate propaganda to include protections for gender identity and gender expression. It also requires sentencing judges to consider whether an offence was motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate based on gender identity or gender expression.

These amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code are particularly important, as I have said, as we lead into the Transgender Day of Remembrance and we take stock and reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that this does not continue to happen.

Transgender Europe is a European advocacy group. They monitor violence against transgender communities and gender-diverse communities worldwide. From October 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016, they recorded 295 murders. That is a tremendous number, and that is only what was reported and recorded. These are individuals who deserve our protection.

Bill C-16 is a first step in that direction. It is a first step for us federally to provide further protection.

I want to take a step back and acknowledge that it is not just legislation that is going to get us there. That has been mentioned in this place before. We are going to have to look at how we can be a safe and welcoming society. It is not just a matter of legislation, but it is a first step.

I want to acknowledge the work that is being done on the ground by so many people. I would like to begin by acknowledging the work that has been done by the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke on this issue. He has been working on it for a long time. It is important to have advocates who make sure that we keep working on issues.

My own community has the Triangle Program, which is Canada's only LGBTQ high school. It celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, which is really quite amazing. A member of my community, John Campey, helped to create that high school, and it is a safe and welcoming place.

Other individuals in my community work very hard. One is Susan Gapka. I am sure that Susan Gapka is watching closely as we continue this debate today. Another individual is Rachel Lauren Clark. These are two individuals who work fiercely to advance these issues.

We also have MCC Toronto, the Metropolitan Community Church. It works hard to build a safe place within a faith community.

There is a trans-resource education and advocacy team. I love that the acronym is TREAT. It creates an education network and an advocacy network for gender-diverse people and allies.

On Canada Day this year, I had the opportunity to go to the trans fair and see so many people taking on these roles. I have named some here today but there are many people who are working hard in our communities. They need to be honoured, because that is how we are going to make progress beyond having a bill, which as I said, is a first step.

Parliament has a poet laureate, George Elliott Clarke. I asked if he could write a poem to do with Bill C-16 and transgender and gender-diverse communities. He wrote quite a beautiful poem that really captures a lot of what we are talking about today.

I should mention that an excellent translation of the poem was done by Robert Paquin.

Today I will read the English version of the poem only.

Now, you and me and he and she and they
Are pronouns defining Humanity,
But they're not—really not—definitive:
For how we lean determines how we live.
Note that he is within she or that she
Includes he: fluid is identity;
Male is partly female, because female
Carries male. To whit, Gender's not a jail.
So, to be transgender is to be free
To be one's entire personality,
A chosen body, unfrozen from Fear,
Liberated from Custom, free to dare,
To wear what fits, not what suits restrictions,
And to be facts, not plausible fictions.
Transgender's transgressive because it frees
Masculine and feminine, as they please.

I would like to thank our poet laureate for that lovely poem that really summarizes a sentiment that I believe underscores Bill C-16 and why we need to move forward with this legislation.

It has been an honour to speak today in support of this legislation. I am hoping that we can stand up as a House and support this important step.

Canadian Human Rights ActGovernment Orders

November 18th, 2016 / 1 p.m.
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Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for sharing wise words and support for a very important bill, which would grant human rights to all Canadians. Today we are talking about making sure that transgender and gender-variant Canadians receive the same protection as other Canadians.

I am wondering if my colleague might comment on the long road it has taken to get Bill C-16 here and why it is important at this time that the federal government take leadership. Perhaps she could share with us how speedily we can see this come forward and make a difference in people's lives.

Canadian Human Rights ActGovernment Orders

November 18th, 2016 / 1:05 p.m.
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Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will focus my comments not on the content of this bill, Bill C-16, but rather on what I believe is a deeply flawed, undemocratic process that has returned this bill from the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to Parliament without hearing from any independent witnesses.

I am supportive of any initiatives that help protect persons from hate speech. I also absolutely agree that there can be no tolerance for bullying or violence of any kind for any reason. Parliamentarians and all Canadians have a responsibility to do their part to confront bullying, hate speech, and violence. My concern is that dissent of any kind will be construed as hate speech and could subsequently lead to Human Rights Tribunal hearings or, worse yet, criminal charges being laid. I am concerned that this bill would cause fear for many Canadians that they would not be able to even discuss public policy issues such as this one because they disagree with the government's imposed agenda.

I believe the government and the Minister of Justice directly owe Canadians a clear answer to the following question: What would the impact of implementing Bill C-16 be on immigrant groups and faith groups who may be at odds with gender fluidity concepts? Would they have the freedom to teach their children and practise their beliefs without being accused of hate speech or being accused of human rights violations? Yes or no?

Any law that limits legitimate discussion and debate of closely held beliefs presents a danger to freedom of expression, a fundamental value held dear by people across the political spectrum. The right to disagree is sacred to freedom in our society. It is the lifeblood of both new ideas and age-old protections. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 18, 1948, states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

For me and millions of other Canadians who acknowledge the supremacy of God, as the first words of our charter affirm, there is the reality that our faith journey is the foundation of our world view. Freedom of religion is a fundamental right, and so it is of paramount importance that Bill C-16 would not infringe upon that fundamental freedom. Today we are debating at third reading a bill that proposes some very fundamental changes to definitions and principles of society. The imposition of a fundamental values system change of this magnitude must be given complete due process here in Parliament.

The current government promised transparency, openness, and accountability. The Liberals assured Canadians that things would be done differently. All members of this House are aware that the normal course of action for a bill that passes on second reading is to send it to the corresponding committee for study, calling of witnesses for input on the content of the bill with the potential for changes or amendments to be made before it comes back for third reading, and a final vote by Parliament. Yet here we are asked to vote on a very substantive bill without the benefit of committee discussion notes or the transcription of witness input to inform our decision. The government has chosen to shortcut the democratic process; a different approach for sure but not what Canadians should expect or have to tolerate from their government. This is a total disrespect of due process.

Those who may see this issue differently are simply being shut out of the debate. Of all the places that should encourage dialogue and debate, certainly Parliament should be at the forefront. Yet here we are choosing not to have an honest debate for fear that we might somehow upset the politically correct apple cart.

We have unfortunately already witnessed this chill on free speech at the University of Toronto as Professor Jordan Peterson is under constant attack for his refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns. Medical experts have lost their jobs not because of scientific knowledge or experience but because their views are out of step with current thinking.

Irene Ogrizek of Montreal wrote:

If Canadians who believe that gender exists on a spectrum are free to choose their words and reality, Jordan Peterson, as someone who interacts with them, has a right to choose his words and reality too, however objectionable that concept of equality might seem. Allowing one group to use freighted words like homophobe or racist or rapist to tarnish an individual’s reputation without proof violates a principle of fairness that some of us hold dear. If hate-speech is to be expanded in our criminal codes, and in Canada that seems inevitable, I suggest we include the egregious misuse of these accusations too. If we are to take the idea of diversity seriously, we can do no less for those who are falsely maligned.

I ask this again. Will parents continue to have their right to teach their children in accordance with their deeply held faith beliefs or will they be subjected to accusations of hate speech for simply living out tried and true principles which are informed by their belief in the supremacy of God, as affirmed in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Will faith leaders who teach their congregations to follow the principles clearly laid out in God's word also be subjected to accusations of hate speech, or will they be free to continue to practise with freedom as the UN Declaration of Human Rights declares?

I now echo the Right Hon. John Diefenbaker, whose view of Canadian freedoms expresses what we should all hold dear:

I am a Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.

In closing, I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:

“Bill C-16, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, be not now read a third time, but be referred back to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for the purpose of reconsidering all of its clauses with the view to hearing from witnesses in relation to the impact of the bill on freedom of expression”.

Canadian Human Rights ActGovernment Orders

October 18th, 2016 / 10:05 a.m.
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Vancouver Granville B.C.


Jody Wilson-Raybould LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved that Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud that on May 17 we introduced Bill C-16, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. The bill addresses a fundamental issue of equality and human rights, the discrimination and hate crimes experienced by trans and gender diverse Canadians.

At this time I would like to table, in both official languages, a potential charter impact statement for Bill C-16.

I would first like to acknowledge the efforts of colleagues in bringing this matter before previous Parliaments by the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, the member for Vancouver Centre, and the former member for Burnaby—Douglas, Mr. Bill Siksay. Their hard work on this issue helped start an important national conversation on gender identity and expression. I thank them all for their leadership.

Canadians know that trans people make the same important contributions to Canadian society as everyone else, yet their life journeys are often more challenging, as they have to overcome misunderstandings, prejudice, and hostility because of their gender identity or expression. With the bill, we unequivocally say that Canada can do better. As the Prime Minister has said, Canada is stronger because of its diversity, not in spite of it.

Bill C-16 reflects our commitment to this diversity and provides for equality and freedom from discrimination and violence for all Canadians, regardless of their gender identity. With the bill, we say loudly and clearly that it is time to move beyond mere tolerance of trans people. It is time for their full acceptance and inclusion in Canadian society.

Bill C-16 would bring us closer to this goal by amending two statutes: the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. These two statutes play an essential role in affirming the basic equality rights of all Canadians and reducing their vulnerability to harm. It would improve legal protections for trans and gender diverse people by updating the laws against discrimination, hate propaganda, and hate crimes. It would promote inclusion and respect for trans people who have so often been relegated to the margins, struggling for full recognition and participation in our society.

Some of the words and concepts used in the discussion on Bill C-16 may not be familiar to all Canadians. For this reason, I would like to elaborate on some of the terminology being used. The term “gender identity” is a person's internal or individual experience of their gender. It is a deeply felt experience of being a man, a woman, or being somewhere along the gender spectrum. Gender identity is a profound matter of self-identity. It shapes one's self-understanding.

Conversely, “gender expression” is how a person publicly presents their gender. It is an external, or outward presentation of gender through aspects such as dress, hair, makeup, body language, or voice. Trans and gender diverse persons are among the most vulnerable members in society. As parliamentarians we have the opportunity to make their lives safer and freer. Bill C-16 presents an opportunity to ensure that our laws provide clear and explicit protection to those who need it the most.

I will begin by discussing the proposed amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act. Parliament enacted this act in 1977 to promote equal opportunity in federal workplaces and in access to goods and services. The act says:

all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices

Canada has a long history of laws that recognize and seek to address harmful discrimination. Over the course of this history a theme has emerged, one of greater awareness of the barriers to opportunity that exist in our society.

When legislatures across this country came to understand the pervasive harm done by discrimination against women, they prohibited discrimination based on sex. Later, legislators expanded the laws again to legally protect persons with disabilities. Other prohibited grounds of discrimination are now common in human rights laws throughout the country, such as family status and sexual orientation.

Today, we are at a point in our history where we must act again. We must renew our commitment to equal opportunity and further extend legal protection to vulnerable Canadians who experience discrimination. In recent years, many legislatures in Canada have acted to protect the rights of trans and gender diverse persons. We can now see these legal protections are not just symbolically important; they are absolutely necessary. Significant Canadian surveys paint an alarming picture.

In 2009 and 2010, the Trans Pulse project studied the experiences of approximately 500 trans persons in Ontario. They reported significant employment barriers, including 13% having been fired and 18% having been refused employment because they were trans. Given these barriers, it is not surprising that trans persons are significantly underemployed, with a median income of $15,000 per year, despite generally high levels of education. In fact, 44% of trans persons in Ontario have a post-secondary degree.

Tragically, more than half of trans people in Ontario have symptoms consistent with clinical depression. A shocking 43% of trans adults in Ontario had a history of attempting suicide, including 10% having made an attempt within the past year. The difficulties faced by trans persons are significant and deserve our attention. The experiences of trans and gender diverse youth are especially troubling.

In 2011, Egale Canada conducted the first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools, collecting information from over 3,700 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans high school students. Results showed that 23% of trans students reported hearing teachers use negative gender-related or transphobic comments weekly and even daily. The study also indicated very high levels of verbal, physical, and sexual harassment. Specifically among trans students, 74% reported verbal harassment, 49% reported sexual harassment, and 37% reported physical harassment linked to being trans.

Not surprisingly, 52% of trans youth reported feeling unsafe in both change rooms and washrooms. This is completely unacceptable. Too many trans and gender diverse persons are being deprived the opportunity to contribute and flourish in our society. These figures reinforce the need for Bill C-16, through which we, as parliamentarians, can do our part to address this shocking reality.

It should go without saying that discrimination is a matter of public concern. When a person loses the opportunity to work or faces persistent discrimination, we all lose potential contributions to our society, to our workplaces, and the Canadian economy. Depriving individuals of freedom to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have undermines their ability to participate in society.

By adding gender identity as a prohibited ground to the Canadian Human Rights Act, Bill C-16 aims to ensure that people of all gender identities are protected from discrimination. We have heard from trans and gender diverse persons that their gender expression is often the basis of the discrimination they face. Gender norms are reinforced by our society, yet they do not fit all of us. There is great diversity in how Canadians dress and speak, in their appearance, and their behaviour. No one should be disadvantaged solely because they do not conform to someone else's gender-based expectations.

It is also important to understand what these amendments would mean to the Canadian Human Rights Act. The act defines a number of discriminatory practices, such as refusing to hire or promote an employee, or refusing to serve a customer based on the prohibited grounds of discrimination. By adding “gender identity or expression” to the list of prohibited grounds, it will be clear that practices that discriminate on these grounds will not be permitted.

People suffering discrimination can make a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The commission then investigates complaints and attempts to mediate between the parties to resolve the dispute. If the commission believes that a dispute should be given a hearing and an authoritative decision, it may refer the complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. If the tribunal determines that discrimination has occurred, it may order a range of remedies, such as reinstatement in a job, an order that the discrimination cease, or monetary remedies.

The purpose of the act is to end and correct discriminatory practice. The Canadian Human Rights Act already provides some protections for trans persons. Tribunals and courts in several jurisdictions in Canada have found that discrimination against trans persons is a kind of discrimination based on sex, which is already a prohibited ground of discrimination. However, it is not enough to leave the law as it is. Canadians should have a clear and explicit statement of their rights and obligations. Equal rights for trans persons should not be hidden but be plain for all to see.

The legal clarity would provide two tangible benefits. First, people who are subject to discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression would be able to make their case in precisely those terms. Making a formal claim of discrimination can be an intimidating process. Explicitly including gender expression or identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act would make it easier to interpret for those who have suffered this kind of discrimination, instead of forcing them to explain how the law on sex discrimination covers their situation. Second, these amendments would raise awareness of the protections and obligations under the act.

Bill C-16 does not define gender identity or expression. This is consistent with the majority of prohibited grounds under the act. There are good reasons to continue with this approach.

Many of the grounds, such as race and religion, cannot be captured in a single definition. There are more subtle and complex concepts that evolve over time and reflect the particular cases the act deals with. That does not mean that they are vague or obscure.

Gender identity and gender expression are increasingly common terms with enough subtle meaning to allow the commission and the tribunal to interpret them.Gender identity is now found in eight provincial and territorial human rights codes, and gender expression is found in five. In none of these are the terms defined by statute.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission is also able to provide detailed guidance on how to comply with the law. The commission has an important policy and education mandate, which includes interpreting the act and promoting compliance with it. The commission will continue to perform its role of assisting employers and service providers in understanding and complying with the law.

Next, I will turn to the amendments to the Criminal Code proposed in Bill C-16.

Trans people in Canada face a significant risk of violent crime. While official data from police services is scarce, 20% of respondents in the Trans Pulse survey had been physically or sexually assaulted, although many did not report these assaults to police.

A recent report by the National Aboriginal Health Organization indicated that aboriginal LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to face attacks as heterosexual youth.

The Criminal Code has specifically prohibited hate propaganda since 1970. There are criminal offences for advocating or promoting genocide against an identifiable group, for inciting hatred by communicating statements against an identifiable group in a public place that is likely to lead to a breach of the peace, or for willfully promoting hatred other than in private conversations against an identifiable group. They are found in section 318 and 319 of the Criminal Code. All three offences protect identifiable groups.

Until recently, this was defined by the Criminal Code as “any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation”. The list has been expanded over time to include national origin, age, sex, and mental and physical disability.

Bill C-16 proposes to amend the Criminal Code to add “gender identity or expression” to this list. As a result, the bill, if enacted, will extend protections to groups identifiable on the basis of gender identity or expression, which to date have been left out of the protections provided by hate propaganda offences. It will provide long overdue equal protection under the law.

Finally, the bill proposes to amend paragraph 718.2(a)(i) of the Criminal Code, which directs judges to consider as an aggravating factor in sentencing any evidence that an offence was motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, religion, colour, sex, language, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor.

While the term “any other similar factor” is open-ended, the purpose of this protection is to denounce crimes motivated by hatred. By adding gender identity and expression to the list, we will send a clear message that there is no place in Canadian society for crimes committed out of bias, prejudice, or hate based on gender identity or expression.

In Canada we celebrate inclusion and diversity. All Canadians should feel safe to be themselves. When I introduced the bill back in May, Charlie Lowthian-Rickert, an amazing young activist who I am pleased to say is in the chamber today, was here and very publicly stood beside me, proud of its introduction. She stated in the press conference that she now feels safer because of the legislation that had been introduced. Charlie is not alone in feeling this way.

Bill C-16, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, is an important step. It reflects Canada's commitment to equality and freedom from discrimination and violence. It affirms the basic equality of all Canadians and provides explicit legal protection to one of the most vulnerable communities in our society.

It is time for Parliament to ensure that our laws provide clear and explicit protection for trans and gender diverse Canadians. I very much look forward to the dialogue, and I very much look forward to all members in the House supporting Bill C-16.

Canadian Human Rights ActGovernment Orders

October 18th, 2016 / 10:30 a.m.
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Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

Madam Speaker, I would echo his comments in terms of equality and the importance of the legal framework as the basis upon which we live as Canadians. I feel that as Canadians, we are most confident when we know that we live in a caring and compassionate society under a legal and political framework that will protect us, regardless of our race, gender, gender expression, or faith. It is within that endeavour that we are introducing Bill C-16 to ensure that there is equality across the country, that people have the freedom to be themselves, that there are no barriers in the way of people achieving what they want to achieve if they work hard, and that the protections will be there for them.

Canadian Human Rights ActGovernment Orders

October 18th, 2016 / 10:30 a.m.
See context


Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

Madam Speaker, we live in a country that has rights and freedoms. Fundamental to each individual Canadian is the right to be themselves and to be protected while being themselves.

In terms of any willful promotion of hatred that could potentially exist against trans individuals or people of different gender expressions, that is why we are introducing Bill C-16, as upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in terms of its constitutionality. I recognize freedom of religion. It is important to respect those freedoms and the rights contained in our Constitution but to also ensure that everyone has the ability to feel safe, to be themselves, to express who they are, and to succeed as all Canadians do in this country.