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



This bill has received Royal Assent and is, or will soon become, 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, provided by 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.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, be read the third time and passed.

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 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 / 10:10 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 / 10:05 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 / 10:05 a.m.
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Charlottetown P.E.I.


Sean Casey LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I request consent to split my time with the member for St. Catharines.

I am rising to take the opportunity to speak about Bill C-16. I would like to use some of my time to respond—

Canadian Human Rights ActGovernment Orders

November 18th, 2016 / 10:05 a.m.
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John McCallum Liberal Markham—Thornhill, ON

moved that Bill C-16, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, be read the third time and passed.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, as reported without amendment from the committee.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

November 17th, 2016 / 3:05 p.m.
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Waterloo Ontario


Bardish Chagger LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of Small Business and Tourism

Mr. Speaker, this afternoon, we will continue our debate at second reading of Bill C-26 on the Canada pension plan.

Tomorrow, we will resume debate on Bill C-16 on gender identity. If time permits, we will also examine Bill C-25, the business framework bill.

On Monday, I will call Bill C-30, the CETA implementation legislation, for consideration at second reading. The bill will be on the agenda for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. It is my hope that this bill will be referred to committee on Wednesday evening.

On Thursday, we will consider second reading of Bill C-23 respecting pre-clearance.

Next Friday, I will call Bill C-18, the Rouge national park legislation, for second reading debate.

November 17th, 2016 / 11:05 a.m.
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Deputy Director General and General Counsel, Human Rights Law Sector, Public Law and Legislative Services Sector, Department of Justice

Laurie Sargent

With respect to the Canadian Human Rights Act, the key piece will be that it's adding a new prohibited ground of discrimination to the CHRA: the ground of genetic characteristics. We were just been here on Bill C-16, which was also adding a new ground of gender identity and expression. This bill will provide explicit protection against discrimination on the basis of genetic characteristics.

From the Department of Justice's perspective, there already is some protection in the CHRA under the ground of disability for anyone who has a predisposition, as we would call it, to a disability that might be revealed through any number of means, including a genetic test. That has been established in the case law by the Supreme Court, in the case of Quebec v. Boisbriand (City) and Quebec v. Montreal (City). This is taking that, in a way, one step further to make it clear that discrimination is prohibited whenever someone has a genetic characteristic that may predispose them to particular abilities or not, or illness or not, and clear that this is obviously a prohibited basis on which employers and service providers who are regulated by the federal jurisdiction can make decisions.

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

November 4th, 2016 / 12:10 p.m.
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Anthony Housefather Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in relation to Bill C-16, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.

The committee has studied the bill and has agreed to report the bill back to the House without amendment.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

November 3rd, 2016 / 3:05 p.m.
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Waterloo Ontario


Bardish Chagger LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of Small Business and Tourism

Mr. Speaker, this afternoon we will continue to debate the Conservative Party motion.

Tomorrow, we will resume debate on Bill C-26, on the Canada pension plan.

Next week, as the hon. member said, we will be working hard in our constituencies and attending Remembrance Day ceremonies on Friday to collectively stand in honour of all who have fallen in the service of Canada.

When we return on Monday, November 14, the House will then have the fifth day of second reading debate on Bill C-26, the CPP enhancement bill. On Tuesday, the House will also have the fifth day of second reading debate on Bill C-29, the second budget implementation bill.

On Wednesday, the House will consider Bill C-16, the gender identity bill, at report stage, and hopefully at third reading. On Thursday, the House will debate Bill C-25, the business framework bill, at second reading.

November 3rd, 2016 / 11:15 a.m.
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The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

We don't need to order a reprint of the bill because there were no amendments. So that ends the discussion on Bill C-16.

Mr. Clerk, will you be able to get that to me to report back tomorrow?

Thank you very much.

We'll now go to an in-camera session. We'll take a five-minute break while everybody else leaves the room.

[Proceedings continue in camera]

November 3rd, 2016 / 11 a.m.
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Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Before we begin, I thought it was important that I express some of my thoughts on the decision of this committee to move directly into clause-by-clause. In my three years as a member of Parliament—it's not that long—I don't recall any precedent of a bill moving directly to clause-by-clause when it has been referred to committee.

I respect all members of this committee, and I hope that each of you has felt that as we have worked together on various bills. We've always been able to work constructively and had good discussions and honest dialogue, even on issues that invoked a lot of passion on both sides of the table here. It's precisely because of my respect and appreciation for members of this committee that I'd like to make a few comments.

I believe that as a committee, we've failed to do what we need to do. I believe that Canadians expect us to conduct a thorough study every time a bill comes to committee, to examine it, and to improve it where possible, and then to send it back to the House for third reading before it moves to the Senate. And I think collectively, as a committee, we have failed to do that; we have failed to discharge our duties. Our job as a parliamentary committee is to give due consideration and thorough study to all bills that are referred to us. We don't do that just to fill the time allotted to us here by our caucus, but we do it because it's a responsibility and a trust that has been given to us by our caucus, by our fellow Canadians, and also by our constituents.

The mandate of our committee states that we will review proposed amendments to federal legislation relating to certain aspects of criminal law, family law, human rights law, and the administration of justice, with respect to—among other statutes—both the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act.

As you're all aware, both of these statutes are set for amendment in Bill C-16, but I could just as easily have been speaking about any legislation referred to this committee.

I believe we all support initiatives that protect individuals from hate speech. We all believe that individuals deserve equal treatment under the law. Every one of us here condemns bullying or violence of any kind, but it really comes down to this: how do we know what we don't know? There has been much discussion in the media lately concerning the matter of free speech and the state of free speech here in Canada. Do we really know if this bill will have an impact on free speech? No, we don't.

Concerns have been raised about the impact on our immigrant and religious groups who have some deeply held convictions with respect to human sexuality. Have we explored whether there's a need for explicit safeguards to protect these groups? No, we haven't. And can we assure them that the concerns they may have have been studied thoroughly and that they have nothing to worry about? I don't believe we can.

Can any of us answer the questions raised about whether there's room for abuse because of this legislation? For example, when it comes to something as simple as women's athletic scholarships, do we know if a male who identifies or expresses his gender as something other than male would insist on applying this new law so he could qualify for a scholarship expressly intended for a female athlete? No, we don't know that. Had we properly studied this bill, maybe there would have been some recognition that this bill needs to include certain safeguards. We're in no position to answer any of these questions because we just haven't done our job; we haven't had a chance to study and to get feedback from stakeholders.

I believe we have a duty and an obligation to listen to Canadians, not only informally as persons, or through messages by text or email, but formally before this committee, whether they are individuals who support the bill unequivocally, or those who want to see adjustments made, or those who see the bill as fundamentally flawed, we owe it to Canadians to listen, to make informed decisions based on the testimony we hear.

Mr. Chairman, I think that's what Canadians expect of us, and I'm sad to say that we've failed in this duty. For that reason, among others, I will be voting against the bill.

Those are my comments.

November 3rd, 2016 / 11 a.m.
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The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Hello, everyone.

I would like to call to order this meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Of course, since this will be our last meeting before Remembrance Day, I know that every member of this committee would like to salute our veterans, and all the members of the Canadian Armed Forces, on this very solemn occasion.

Today we're going to start our agenda with a clause-by-clause review of Bill C-16, and afterwards the committee will go in camera for other discussions.

Mr. Falk.