House of Commons Hansard #43 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pumps.


Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

moved that Bill C-389, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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

I wish to thank the members of Parliament who have seconded the bill, the NDP members for Halifax, Windsor—Tecumseh, Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, Toronto—Danforth, Vancouver Kingsway, Vancouver East, Sackville—Eastern Shore, Nanaimo—Cowichan and Trinity—Spadina; and Liberal members for Yukon, Don Valley West and Toronto Centre. The trans community and their families, friends and allies appreciate their support for this initiative as do I.

The bill is about explicitly ensuring full human rights protection in areas of federal jurisdiction for transgender and transsexual Canadians. It does that by adding gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act, and in the sentencing and hate crime provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada.

This is the first time gender identity and gender expression have been debated in the Canadian Parliament. It is a historic debate that is overdue. The actions proposed in this bill are also overdue.

This is a debate that will take place without the direct participation of trans people because at this time there is no openly trans member of Parliament. I feel their absence acutely at this moment. Not having someone who can speak directly and personally to the experience of being trans will mean that important things will remain unsaid and other points will be made awkwardly.

It will be a day to celebrate when an openly trans person is first elected to the House. It will be another step toward ensuring that the House of Commons is truly representative of the diversity of Canadians.

What is gender identity and gender expression? Who are transgender and transsexual people? Gender identity refers to an individual's self-conception as being male or female, their sense of themselves as male or female. Gender expression refers to how a person's gender identity is communicated to others through behaviour, speech, dress or mannerisms.

Transsexuals are people whose gender identity differs from their biological or birth sex, and who seek to live permanently as the gender other than their biological sex. Most often transsexuals seek medical interventions such as hormones and surgery to make their bodies congruent with their sense of their genders. A transition process which is known as sex reassignment or gender reassignment is engaged.

Transsexual individuals describe their experience in this way. Before transitioning it is like never being able to go home, even while knowing exactly where home is. For some it is the clothes and social gender role. For others it is the body and whether it betrays who we are constantly, every minute, so that no matter how hard we try, we are always lying. There is a great fear and anxiety of accidentally giving oneself away leading to a permanent self-vigilance and second guessing, lest some spontaneous random act gives us away. For some this becomes a constant hiding and cutting oneself off from others.

Transgender people may live part-time or full-time as members of the other gender and they may live in a way that combines or blends genders or they may exhibit characteristics of neither gender. They include cross-dressers, transvestites, drag queens, drag kings, androgynous people, by-gendered people or gender queer people.

It is estimated that in western countries there is about one transsexual in 10,000 for biological males and one in 30,000 for biological females. It is also thought that as many as 2% to 3% of biological males engage in cross-dressing at least occasionally.

Because the life experience of trans people challenges the assumption that one is either male or female and because that has been in our society a central assumption of human experience, they are regularly subjected to discrimination, prejudice and violence. They face well documented discrimination in the workforce, housing, health care, and in obtaining services. Obtaining appropriate identity documents are often extremely problematic.

Trans people face significantly higher rates of violence including sexual assault and murder. That violence is often over the top when compared with the violence faced by women and other minorities.

This is clearly a manifestation of trans phobic violence. Each year in November Transgender Day of Remembrance commemorates the many trans people who experience violence even to the point of death.

Trans people have always been part of our communities and are known across most cultures. First nations and Inuit people often recognize trans people as having special gifts and insights. In western culture, Christine Jorgensen became one of the most famous transsexuals in the early 1950s.

In recent years the roles of trans people, particularly drag queens, in the start of the modern gay liberation movement has been celebrated. It is clear that drag queens led the patrons of the Stonewall Inn to fight back against police harassment in the historic events in New York in 1969.

Trans people have organized support and political action groups in almost every city in Canada regarding issues of human rights, health care, education and ending violence. In my home community, the Trans Alliance Society vigorously pursues this work.

What was the origin of this bill? Back in 2004, two students from Carleton University's School of Social Work, Corie Langdon and Chris Boodram, undertook a trans legislative needs survey with the support of Transgender Canada, the Ethics Institute of Canada, Gender Mosaic, Egale Canada and Svend Robinson. They found that participants in their survey, who were mostly from the Ottawa area, experienced high incidents of verbal harassment, 74%; intimidation, 54%; hate propaganda, 41%; attempted assault, 38%; and physical assault, 32%.

Participants also experienced significant levels of discrimination in housing, employment and services including unwelcome comments at work, 43%; unwelcome comments in living accommodations, 32%; and discrimination in bars, restaurants, schools, universities and colleges, each at 32%. Langdon and Boodram suggested that the changes proposed in the bill we are debating today would meet both the personal expectations of the participants for human rights protection and provide an appropriate legislative agenda to address those concerns.

Their evidence has been supported by more recent studies. In Canada, Egale Canada's national climate school survey showed that 95% of trans students felt unsafe at school, compared to one-fifth of non-trans students, and 9 of 10 trans students reported that they were verbally harassed because of their gender expression.

The trans PULSE study in Ontario as well as the personal and professional experiences of members of the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health are consistent with the findings of the national transgender discrimination survey, which was released last November in the United States. That study showed that 47% of trans people had been denied employment due to their gender identity or expression; 44% were denied a promotion; 23% were fired, and 97% had experienced workplace harassment. High levels of assault were reported as well as significantly low income levels and housing stability. Again, related to the negative impacts of discrimination.

When I was elected in 2004, in my capacity as NDP gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and transsexual issues critic, I undertook a series of consultations with the trans community. In person consultations were held in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, and there was a vigorous email consultation with others across Canada. Those consultations confirmed that amending the Canadian Human Rights Act, to include gender identity and expression as prohibited grounds, was the key priority for the community. With similar amendments to the sentencing and hate crime provisions of the Criminal Code, they also ranked very high. As a direct result of the consultations, legislation was drafted and tabled leading directly to today's Bill C-389.

Other jurisdictions have been moving on these issues. In Canada, the Northwest Territories is the only province or territory to explicitly include gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination in law. The cities of Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa have policies protecting transsexual and transgendered people, and Vancouver most recently has moved to amend its workplace harassment policy.

In many provinces trans people have succeeded in defending their rights using the existing grounds of sex and disability. While it is positive that decisions favourable to trans people have been made using these categories, it is clear that discrimination based on gender identity is different than that based on sex. It is equally clear that having a different experience or understanding of one's gender than the majority is not a disability. For these reasons a number of human rights commissions, including the Canadian Human Rights Commission, have supported including gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination in law.

Including trans people explicitly in human rights legislation can have a profound effect. A trans person makes the point this way saying, “How can I feel part of society if I cannot point to human rights legislation and say, there, I'm included”.

In the United States, in October 2009, President Obama signed into law hate crimes protections for trans Americans. The U.S. Congress is currently considering an employment non-discrimination act that names gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination.

Also in the United States, 13 states, the District of Columbia, and 109 cities and counties have non-discrimination laws and hate crimes laws that are trans inclusive.

Canada has supported human rights protection for transgender and transsexual people internationally.

In June 2008, with Canada's support, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States adopted a resolution on human rights, sex orientation and gender identity.

As well, Canada is a signatory, with 67 other countries, to the draft text of the United Nations Statement on Human Rights, Sex Orientation and Gender Identity.

Many organizations in Canada have taken steps to support transgender and transsexual people, and to end the discrimination they face. Trade unions and the CLC have been significant leaders in this effort. A number of religious organizations have also been at the forefront. Human rights organizations, like Amnesty International, recognize the need to protect trans people. Egale Canada and PFLAG are also strong advocates. Many large Canadian corporations have also accommodated trans people in their policies, as well.

What are the arguments against not proceeding with these changes?

In recent years there has been some criticism of the human rights framework we have developed in Canada and of hate crimes legislation. That may be a debate in which we need to engage. However, I believe that we should not engage that broader debate at the expense of including transgender and transsexual people in the existing human rights framework in Canada.

There is a system in place. There is a group that is not included that faces significant discrimination in our society. We should amend the existing legislation to include them and then, if necessary, engage the broader general debate about human rights and their protection.

I believe that Canada is well-served by the current human rights regime that we have in place in Canada, and I certainly would not be one of those who advocates for changing that system, but it is a broader debate that we could engage. However, I do not think we should do that at the expense of including transgender and transsexual people in the provisions of our human rights regime.

As well, issues about the use of bathrooms and other gendered spaces often come up when human rights protection for trans people are discussed.

The fear is raised that by ensuring the right of trans people to express their gender identity will make it impossible to ensure the security of gender-specific washrooms and locker rooms. Fears are raised that it will be impossible, for instance, to prevent a heterosexual man from disguising himself in order to harass, or worse, women in a women's bathroom.

Nothing could be further from the reality of this kind of legislation to protect gender identity in expression. In fact, in the United States, there have been no incidents, not one, of the inappropriate use of washrooms as the result of protecting trans rights.

The security of a washroom is currently protected by, and will continue to be protected by, criminal sanctions against those who behave inappropriately, who harass, or who assault washroom users. I believe that the bathroom issue is a red herring in the debate on trans rights.

Clearly, there is a need for this legislation. There is no doubt about the prejudice, discrimination and violence faced by trans people. There is no doubt that their experiences of gender are part of our human experience, broadening our understanding of gender and exposing our full humanity. There is no doubt that trans people are beloved members of our families, our co-workers and our neighbours, who enrich our lives. There is no doubt that trans people should be able to lead happy, healthy, secure and productive lives. There is no doubt that discrimination and prejudice are costly to any society.

That is why, plain and simple, we need this legislation. We must be absolutely and explicitly clear that trans Canadians are a valued part of our families and our communities.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, since the member tabled the motion, have there been any other concerns aside from the one he outlined related to washrooms.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Yukon for being one of the seconders of this legislation. I know he has a long-time commitment to the full equality for transgender and transsexual Canadians.

Two of the key issues that have been raised concern our human rights framework and the use of gender specific spaces. Other issues have come up around the provision of appropriate health care for trans people but that one for me is an absolute no-brainer. It strikes me that the medical issues that face transsexual Canadians are issues of absolute necessity. Nothing is cosmetic or optional about it for those people. It is absolutely necessary for them to lead a healthy and productive life.

It is not something I have chosen to highlight in this debate. It often is an issue dealt with by provincial jurisdictions since they are responsible for the delivery of health care services. However, it has been an issue in some provinces where trans people have not been fully covered under the provisions of health care programs.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had a similar experience when I was a city councillor in Toronto. One of my students, who was then George and is now Susan Gapka, had difficulty, when she was transitioning to become Susan, using the washroom that she wanted to use. At that time, the Toronto city council had to decide which washroom she would use. It was difficult because there was no legislative framework for the City of Toronto to make a decision. At the end of the day, however, the city council made the right decision.

If this bill passes through the House of Commons and the Senate and becomes law, will it give guidance to many of the municipalities or provinces, be it medical support or the day-to-day existence for trans people? Will there then be guidelines to enable the federal government to take leadership on this matter?

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Trinity—Spadina for also seconding this bill and for her leadership on these issues here and in Toronto.

I am glad she mentioned Susan Gapka. Susan is one of the leaders of the trans community and her activism is making a huge difference on many fronts for trans people in Toronto, in Ontario and all across the country. I am proud to have worked with Susan on many occasions and look forward to continuing that working relationship in the future.

The initial concerns about washrooms come up when this is a new issue in many jurisdictions and Toronto was a leader in dealing with how to appropriately include trans people in workplaces and communities. As those issues have gone forward and other jurisdictions have dealt with them, it has not become an issue. Washrooms are places we go for a very specific purpose. As long as someone is using that place for those purposes and not creating a disturbance, harassing people or using them as a place to assault people, then there should not be a problem. Once people find out about that, it usually is not a problem.

Somebody's gender identity is not an issue for me. When I am in a washroom, I am not usually looking at the people trying to figure out if they are really men. I suspect the same is true of women in women's washrooms. It simply is not an issue. People would be aware of someone threatening them in some fashion in a washroom and behaving inappropriately. If people are going about their business, it is just not an issue. I think most jurisdictions have figured that out when it comes to implementing this kind of legislation. I think the Canadian Human Rights Commission will help us with it if there are any problems to overcome.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Beauport—Limoilou Québec


Sylvie Boucher ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on Bill C-389, a private member's bill introduced by the member for Burnaby—Douglas. As members of this House surely know, this bill would amend the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act to include the expressions “gender identity” and “gender expression”, which would protect individuals against discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.

I am aware of the need to protect all Canadians against discrimination and against all crimes. I am proud of what our government has done, and what it is still doing to protect all Canadians and Quebeckers. In particular, we introduced tougher mandatory jail sentences for serious gun crimes, and we provided better protection for our children against adult sexual predators, by changing the legal age of consent from 14 to 16.

I am also proud that Canada is known around the world for its belief in the principles of diversity and equality. These principles are enshrined in our Constitution and in our legislation.

In light of this, we have to ask ourselves whether the proposed amendments in Bill C-389 are clear or necessary. They may appear simple, but they could have complex, unpredictable legal consequences.

First, I would like to talk about the actual content of the bill. The bill would amend the Criminal Code by adding the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the definition of “identifiable group” in the provisions on hate propaganda. This would mean that advocating genocide, inciting hatred where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace or wilfully promoting hatred against a group of persons distinguished by gender identity or expression would be a crime.

The bill would also add “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the non-exhaustive Criminal Code list of aggravating circumstances requiring a judge to impose a harsher sentence. This would mean that a judge could impose a longer than normal sentence on someone who commits a crime motivated by hate or prejudice against persons belonging to these two groups.

Lastly, the bill would add “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act. This act prohibits discrimination on grounds such as race, gender and disability in federal government employment and services.

To properly understand the impact this bill would have, we need to know what is meant by “gender identity” and “gender expression”. These things must be clarified so that we can have a healthy debate in the House. Unfortunately, the bill does not define either of these terms. It is essential that these important terms be clearly defined in the law.

The bill would add the term “gender expression” to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. I do not believe that people commonly use this term, so we should know exactly what it means. To my knowledge, no other country in the world has made “gender expression” a prohibited ground for discrimination or has included the term in the definition of “identifiable group” in its hate crimes provisions as a completely separate concept from “gender identity”.

One example of what is happening overseas is the United Kingdom's Equality Act, which, I would like to point out, does not consider “gender expression” as a ground for discrimination, but prohibits discrimination based on gender reassignment.

The same point could be made about hate crime provisions. In certain American states, the concept of gender identity is part of the definition of “sexual orientation” or that of “sex”.

In summary, even in legislation that includes the concept of “gender expression”, this concept is always clearly linked to the concept of gender identity, at least to my knowledge.

To continue, I should note that not only are these amendments vague, but they could also be unnecessary or redundant. As I said earlier, the distinction between the two must be established.

First, I would like to point out that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has already studied a number of complaints filed by transsexuals, and it found that these complaints were justified based on the ground of sex.

By deciding that transsexuals are already protected by provisions in federal human rights legislation, the tribunal followed the approach of human rights tribunals in British Columbia, Quebec and other provinces, which determined that discriminating against transsexuals is prohibited based on the current ground of sex. This interpretation was confirmed by the tribunals.

We should therefore think about whether adding “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the Canadian Human Rights Act is really necessary. I would like the members to comment on that.

Perhaps we should also think about whether these grounds need to be included in the Criminal Code sentencing provision in subparagraph 718.2(a)(i), which lists various aggravating factors, such as evidence proving that:

the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor,

That list is not exhaustive. Judges already have the power to impose heavier sentences for hate crimes against transgender people when justified under the circumstances.

If we consider adding “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the hate propaganda provisions in the Criminal Code to comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we need enough evidence to conclude that there are enough cases of hate propaganda against transgender people.

Without that evidence, it is difficult to justify amending the Criminal Code and placing additional restrictions on free speech. Such evidence may exist, but I just want to point out that if we broaden the definition of “identifiable group” set out in the hate propaganda provisions, that will further infringe on Canadians' right to free speech.

As is often the case, a proposed change that may appear simple on the surface can, upon further study, turn out to be quite complicated and may produce unintended legal consequences. We need to look at whether there are any gaps in our current laws and carefully consider any proposed changes to ensure that every individual's basic rights are protected. At the same time, we should avoid introducing redundant elements into our legislation.

I am eager to hear what the members of the House have to say about these issues. Personally, I think that a clearer understanding of “gender identity” and “gender expression” is critical to healthy debate in the House.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise and speak in support of this bill. I thank the member for Burnaby—Douglas for his tenacity and persistence in presenting issues with respect to transgendered people, transsexual people and the trans community in general. His work speaks well of all parliamentarians. We like to take credit for it at times and we thank him for doing that work.

His ongoing work has led to Bill C-389 which, as the previous speakers have said, seeks to do two things: one, to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination; and two, to make a very small amendment to the Criminal Code to ensure the same rights and protections on sentencing as we would hope would be ensure for any person of a discriminated group.

Also, I admit to the House that I am somewhat unprepared to speak to this bill. The member for Toronto Centre had planned to speak to it but was unable to be here today as he had to attend a funeral. He asked me to speak in this debate and I am very pleased to do so. I look forward to his comments in the second hour of discussion on the bill.

We support the bill for two reasons.

Members of Parliament are human beings and citizens. As we stand in this House, we recognize that we represent all people. As we gather in this place and discuss legislation and changes to the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act, we are standing with our constituents. No matter how small the group is who may be affected by any one piece of legislation, ours is to ensure that freedom, justice and fairness extend to all Canadians.

For the exact same reasons the parliamentary secretary said she has some concerns with this bill, we support it. There apparently is a need for a discussion on the issue of transsexual people and transgendered issues for which people in Canada do not have a full understanding. In Parliament we can take the time to have this discussion, because that will foster the education of all Canadians on a very important issue. We are talking about a small community of people.

I have come to this issue in three ways. One is personal, one is pastoral and one is professional.

At a personal level, this affects friends of mine. I know people who have gone through the transition process to change their gender. That process has been difficult not only for them and their families, but it has been difficult for me as a friend. Each of us has a boundary that we sometimes come up against in our own understanding of human sexuality and human identity. It is absolutely critical that we take the time to converse with people who may be different from us.

That may frighten some people. It may cause them to have to open their minds and expand their experiences, but it is absolutely critical to understand that we are talking about real human beings. This is not an issue. These are people. They come to us with complex issues and complex problems and they should not have to face simple discrimination. This bill would uncover some of that problem.

The parliamentary secretary is asking for more evidence. I have enough evidence simply in knowing of one person who has faced discrimination. An injury to one indeed is an injury to all. We stand in this House to protect the very smallest of minority groups from discrimination.

Not only does this issue have a personal side for me, but there is a pastoral side as well. In my previous career as a United Church minister, I had the opportunity to preach a sermon on transgender issues. As it was a relatively small c conservative congregation, I was nervous about raising issues that people perhaps were not aware of. Perhaps they had not encountered people who were different from them in terms of sexual orientation, sexual gender, gender identity or gender expression. However, even though I was nervous, the congregation was not nervous. The congregation welcomed that sermon as one which opened their minds.

There were 350 people at church that Sunday, and after the sermon three individuals came up to me and said that the sermon had touched them personally. Two of them had transgender family members and one of them knew a transgender co-worker. They were looking for help and were glad that someone finally had the courage, or at least the reason, to raise that issue so that they could talk about it. It could be an open discussion and people could address their fears of people who may be different from them.

For me, this issue has a professional side as well. For a time I served on a human rights commission. We wanted clarification about issues. We were not afraid of expanding the legislation at all. We were not worried about having to expand our context of work because we knew anecdotally and somewhat statistically that people who are different from the mainstream majority continually face discrimination. It is important for us to take the time to make those small changes to those two pieces of legislation to ensure that discrimination does not happen.

As I was listening to the parliamentary secretary, I was not sure what her concerns really were. I was reminded of the definition of a Conservative as a person who has all kinds of things stored in his or her basement. My aunt was one of those people. She had a box that was actually labelled “pieces of string too small to save”. Pieces of string too small to save seems to be what the parliamentary secretary is arguing today. There are times when we have to take a risk. Maybe we do not have to know all the answers. Maybe we do not have to have all the definitions nailed down. Maybe it is time for Canada to continue its leadership role in human rights. We do not need to wait for everyone else to have all the definitions nailed down. If we want to talk about gender identity and expand it to gender expression, perhaps our leadership would be welcomed around the world.

Fifty-one per cent of the people in my riding come from outside Canada and 49% were born in Canada. I hear regularly from the people who have chosen Canada as their home that they chose it because Canada is the country that enshrines human rights in the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. In that charter we have welcomed the world to this country and have set ourselves up as a model of understanding, a model of expression and a model of ensuring that every minority group is afforded absolute protection.

This will stretch people in this House. This will stretch people in my own party. We have had our discussion about this. I think we have reached consensus that this is an important piece of legislation to further the discussion, not only to enshrine something in two pieces of legislation, but to open up the doors so that Canadians in every part of this country can have this discussion as well. We can stop being afraid of the discussion. We can stop being afraid of people who may be different from us, but who also may be members of our families, members of our communities, and neighbours on our streets.

As we open up that discussion, we will find there is really nothing to be afraid of. This will not do anything to stop freedom of speech in that freedom of speech is always limited by the expression of the rights of other people. We have that limitation already ensured and that must be continued and must be explicitly set out in these two pieces of legislation.

I look forward to more debate on this issue. It is important that more members of the House take the time to talk to trans people, to hear their stories, to express to them that their story is our story. Together as a community we share in both their pain and their joy as they reach full expression of the identity that I believe very personally God has given them. We must help them express that fully and safely and enjoy the full rights of being citizens in this country.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today to speak to Bill C-389 introduced by the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas. I have worked with him on a number of occasions and I am very pleased that our paths are crossing again. I also very much look forward to the debates in the House of Commons on this matter. Indeed, a specific group of individuals has been put at a disadvantage simply because the existing Canadian legislation does not address this issue.

I thank the member for introducing this bill to modify the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. He is proposing changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.

The bill would also amend the Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression on the list of distinguishing characteristics in sections 318 and 319, the provisions that identify advocating genocide and public incitement of hatred as crimes.

Lastly, it would add gender identity and gender expression to the Criminal Code as objects of prejudice constituting aggravating factors in the commission of a crime.

The Quebec identity is based on a certain number of principles and values that the Bloc Québécois has attempted to identify. They include the equality of men and women, French as the official language and the common public language, democracy, fundamental rights, secularism, pluralism, collective solidarity, respect for heritage, respect for the historical rights of the anglophone community and respect for the rights of aboriginal peoples.

Like the Quebec nation, which it represents in the House, the Bloc Québécois is open to the diversity of gender and anyone who wishes to embrace its platform and its values is welcomed with open arms, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Bloc Québécois supports the principle of Bill C-389. Other jurisdictions in Canada already have policies on gender diversity. The bill fosters the promotion of and respect for human rights by prohibiting any form of discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.

Therefore, it is appropriate to support the principle of this bill because gender identity and expression will be protected under the Human Rights Act. It will no longer be necessary to refer to ambiguous interpretations of the term “sex” to establish that all transgender people are protected by the law.

Public incitement of hatred targeting gender identity or expression will be recognized by the Criminal Code.

Does this law address a problem? That is what members will attempt to explain today. Discrimination and harassment of transgender people can take different forms. For example, a transsexual woman's right to be searched by a female police officer may be breached.

In 2009-10, a few rare cases of discrimination or harassment based on gender identity were picked up by the press in Quebec and the provinces. In October 2009, a transsexual teacher was fired and filed a complaint against the Greater Saint-Albert Catholic School Board in Edmonton. Jan Buterman alleged that, after informing his former employer that he was transitioning to become a man, he received a letter advising him that he could no longer be a supply teacher.

It is difficult to estimate how many people are victims of such discrimination in Quebec annually. However, the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse noted the following in May 2009:

Sexual minority individuals and families with same-sex parents are not receiving services adapted to their situation because of heterosexist attitudes, which are often subconscious, because of continuing homophobic prejudices and behaviours, especially within institutions, and because of service providers' silence on the issue of sexual diversity.

The Commission des droits de la personne du Québec website provides more detail. When the commission refers to sexual minorities it means lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and transgender individuals. In its report the Commission recommended a national policy to combat homophobia that takes into consideration the realities of sexual minorities— lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and transgender people—and respects their differences.

In the United States, where the Human Rights Campaign organization addresses cases of discrimination involving sexual identity, it is estimated that one homicide in 1,000 is a hate crime against a transgender person.

In closing, even though the bill does not concern a daily problem, it is nonetheless worthy of consideration. In Quebec alone, an estimated 3,000 people have changed their sexual identity and that number does not include all the transgender people who have not undergone a sex change operation.

These people, who are frequently victims of discrimination at the workplace, in the healthcare system, when looking for housing, and so on, would benefit directly from guaranteed protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.

The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse du Québec website provides clarification on what is protected in Quebec. The declaration of rights and freedoms in the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms does not specifically mention sexual expression and identity. It states:

Every person has a right to full and equal recognition and exercise of his human rights and freedoms, without distinction, exclusion or preference based on race, colour, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap.

Nevertheless, Quebec's Commission des droits de la personne et de la jeunesse clearly indicated that discrimination on the basis of “sex” includes the female, male, and transsexual genders.

Furthermore, the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal—which examines a claim once the Commission has determined it is admissible—ruled that, “Discrimination, even based on the process of the unification of disparate and contradictory sexual criteria, may also constitute sex-based discrimination while sex is at its most vaguely defined.” Therefore, it could be determined that a transgender person who has not completed a sex-change operation has been the victim of gender-based discrimination.

The Quebec Human Rights Tribunal, which handles cases regarding unlawful discrimination and harassment for reasons prohibited by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, would therefore recognize the rights of transgender people.

This recognition of the rights of all transgender people by the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal reflects the tradition of openness and diversity of the people of Quebec.

Just like the Quebec nation it represents, the Bloc Québécois is open to diversity of genders, and any person who has their own values and follows their own program is welcomed with open arms, regardless of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.

What legislation exists elsewhere in North America? In the United States, 18 states have passed laws prohibiting gender-based discrimination. President Barack Obama supports federal legislation, the employment non-discrimination act, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace.

A number of businesses that operate in different jurisdictions with varying laws regarding discrimination on the basis of gender identity are protecting themselves against potential lawsuits by adopting their own policies. We have come a long way since 2000, when statistics showed that only three companies had such policies. Now, 41% of Fortune 500 companies have included gender identity in their anti-discrimination policies.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise to speak to Bill C-389 today. I am so proud to have seconded the bill that was introduced by my colleague the member for Burnaby—Douglas, who is an incredible advocate for trans rights and human rights for Canadians.

The bill would bring Canada closer to providing the respect owed and the recognition of rights owed to the transgendered community by adding the terms gender identity and gender expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act as prohibited grounds of discrimination.

Human rights continue to be contentious in the country. Equality for all is somehow seen as a threat to the few and compassion is sometimes a very scarce commodity. We need to reframe the debate around human rights in Canada. Words like tolerance and accommodation, which imply some sort of undesired obligation, need to be replaced with words like respect and dignity.

In short, we need to be kinder to each other. We need to respect differences. Equality should be fostered through social, economic and environmental justice. Our human rights codes should reflect our pursuit of justice and we have the opportunity in this parliamentary session to do just that.

Why would we add these terms as prohibited grounds for discrimination? Gender identity is a person's innate feeling of being male, female, both genders, neither or in between. It is not a reference to people's biological sex or their sexual orientation. Identity is something to be respected and honoured and gender identity is no different. Gender expression is the expression of that inner identity. It is the freedom to be, plain and simple, one's self.

These terms, though they seem very simple on their face, are difficult for some people to grasp. Inclusion of these terms aims to address issues of sexism in the country, issues of homophobia and of transgressing traditional teachings.

It is telling that this is the first time that legislation of this kind has been debated in the House of Commons. There has not been equal progress toward equality for the trans community as there has been for other marginalized groups.

Fear and prejudice has delayed this human rights journey and delay has meant that trans people have been discriminated against. They have been subject to discrimination. They have been subject to prejudice. They have been subject to harassment and violence every day.

Trans people are victims of violent acts, such as assault and murder, for no justifiable reason. They are regularly denied things we all take for granted, like access to health care and housing, the ability to obtain identification documents, access to washrooms and other gendered spaces and the ability to acquire and maintain employment.

I have a friend who asked me to write a letter explaining the case law on the use of washrooms for transgendered people. She carries this letter around in her purse so she can pull it out and use it whenever she needs. Imagine the indignity of having to have a letter in one's purse or wallet explaining that the use of the washroom is allowed. Imagine the indignity of being challenged to use a washroom and having to dig out a letter that has some official law firm logo on the top so someone will take him or her seriously and recognize that the individual does have a right to use the gendered space.

All of this can be addressed through human rights protections and a concerted effort to eradicate and shed light on the lives and struggles of the trans community.

On March 30, 2000, the Ontario Human Rights Commission published a policy on discrimination and harassment because of gender identity, noting, “There are, arguably, few groups in our society today who are as disadvantaged and disenfranchised as transgendered community. Transphobia combined with the hostility of society to the very existence of transgendered people are fundamental human rights issues”.

This is a very powerful statement about what goes to the very core of how we choose to treat and respect one another. Trans people are members of our families and our communities. There is no them here, only us.

I use to do education workshops on trans rights when I worked and volunteered with the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project. Gender expression and gender identity are not included in the human rights act in Nova Scotia. Therefore, we worked with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to help it understand the day-to-day realities faced by transgendered people in Nova Scotia, the discrimination and the hate they experienced. At the end of one of these workshops, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission assured us that it would “fit” trans discrimination under sex, even though it technically was not sex discrimination.

This is exactly the kind of thing trans people face every day. They do not quite fit here or there, but somehow they are expected to cope and to be happy with filling the space of the cracks. Now is the opportunity to right one of those wrongs. It is a small legislative change that would have tremendous impact on the dignity of trans people in Canada.

The addition of gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act is, without question, a very positive first step to achieving equality for the trans community. Make no mistake. This is just an initial step in a continuing journey, but it does lay the groundwork for the work that remains. Hopefully, by entrenching the rights of the trans community, it will act as a catalyst for change as well as a protection and recourse as the trans community navigates what will not likely be an obstacle-free path, even with the inclusion of these terms in our human rights legislation.

As we move forward, we should ask ourselves what equality for the trans community would look like. Equality would mean that gender reassignment procedures would be reimbursed by provincial health insurance everywhere in Canada. There would be policies implemented to combat discrimination and exclusion faced by transgendered persons in the labour market, education and health care.

It would include education and training programs, as well as awareness raising campaigns. There would be better training to health service professionals, including specialists and general practitioners, with regard to the rights and needs of transgendered persons and the requirement to respect their dignity. Trans voices would be represented in government, in schools, in the media, on equality bodies and in national human rights structures.

With the bill, Canada can lead by example. We can demonstrate the inclusiveness of our communities and the strength we find in breaking down barriers and in insisting that discrimination become something of the past. I plan to vote in favour of the inclusion of trans rights in the Canadian Human Rights Act, as well as its inclusion on the hate crimes list in the Criminal Code of Canada. I encourage every member of the House to join me in entrenching protections for gender identity and gender expression.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have this opportunity to contribute to the debate on Bill C-389, presented by the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas, which is before us today.

Let me begin by stating that this government is deeply committed to upholding the principles of respect for diversity and equality that are enshrined in Canadian law and are part of the very fabric of our nation.

Our government believes, as demonstrated by our tough-on-crime agenda, that all law-abiding Canadians should be protected from crime in this country. However Bill C-389, which seeks to protect people from various harms based on their gender identity and gender expression, contains provisions that raise concerns as to their technical interpretation and legal necessity.

Let me now proceed to the substance of this bill. This bill proposes amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. Specifically, it proposes that the undefined terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” may be added to the definition of “identifiable group” in the crimes of hate propaganda, to the deemed list of aggravating factors that can be used to increase the sentence for any crime where motivated by bias, hatred or prejudice and to the grounds of discrimination found in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

In order to inform members further on this issue, I wish to raise certain aspects of this bill that I think merit consideration by all members. While the bill proposes adding gender identity and gender expression, it does not define these terms. This leads to the question of what these terms mean. The bill does not say.

I am not aware of any other country in the world that has used the term “gender expression” by itself in any of its criminal or anti-discrimination laws. I will point out at least three examples: Scotland has hate crime legislation that uses the term “transgender identity”, which is defined; federal U.S. hate crime legislation uses the term “gender identity”, which is defined; and the State of Hawaii, in its hate crimes legislation, uses the term “gender identity or expression”, which is defined in one definition, not two separate ones.

In considering this bill, I believe it also useful to know to what extent our current laws already protect transgender persons so that we may consider to what extent this proposed bill is necessary. In this regard, the Canadian Human Rights Act has already been successfully used to protect transsexuals from discrimination on the grounds of sex.

Both federal and provincial human rights tribunals have already protected transsexuals from discrimination in employment and services, using the current human rights acts. This protection of transsexuals from discrimination using the existing prohibited ground of sex has been upheld by the courts.

I next wish to address the bill's proposal to amend the sentencing provision of the Criminal Code that the bill proposes to amend. Section 718.2(a)(i) of the code begins with the general wording:

(a) a sentence should be account for any relevant aggravating...circumstances relating to the offence or the offender, and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing...

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business



The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member will have six minutes left to conclude her remarks the next time this bill is before the House.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

May 10th, 2010 / noon


Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

moved that Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders


Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont Alberta


Mike Lake ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, on May 12, 2008, the former minister of industry, the hon. member for Calgary Centre-North stood in the House and responded to a question. The question had to do with media reports that an alarmingly high percentage of gas pumps across the country were not accurately measuring the volume of gas being pumped into the vehicles of Canadian consumers.

Even more troubling was that consumers were getting the short end of the nozzle. Three out of every five times the gas pump measured inaccurately, it was the motorist who was getting ripped off. Clearly something had to be done. Gas pumps are intricate machines. Consumers cannot tell if a pump is not operating properly unless it is widely off the mark. If the machine is over-charging consumers, for example, who is to know and who is to compel the retailer to fix the faulty pump if that retailer is unwilling to correct the error or does not even realize it exists?

The problem should also be considered at a deeper level. Commercial transactions, the millions of exchanges between buyers and sellers that take place every day in our country, are made on the basis of trust. The seller sells the agreed-upon quantity at a fair price. The buyer makes the agreed-upon payment in a timely manner.

When that social and financial trust, that fundamental expectation shared by buyers and sellers, comes into question it does harm to the entire system of commercial exchange on which our country's prosperity and ongoing growth is based. If that trust is gradually and perniciously eroded in one important industry, the entire system can fall under a shadow of doubt and suspicion. Obviously something had to be done and thankfully it is being done.

On that day 24 months ago, the minister told the House he had taken two immediate steps to bolster Canadians' trust in that vital system of commercial exchange. First, he instructed officials in his department to increase the number of gas pump inspections to be undertaken over the course of that summer, the summer of 2008. Second, he sent letters to all Canadian gas retailers informing them of the stepped-up inspection campaign and asking them to co-operate fully with government inspectors.

That is not all. My hon. colleague pledged he would take two additional steps. He would speed up the government's review of the laws that govern gasoline pumps to make sure those laws give the Government of Canada the authority to levy stiff fines on retailers whose pumps cheat Canadian consumers. And he would take measures to ensure that the number and frequency of inspections at gas pumps were permanently increased to make sure unscrupulous and negligent retailers did not resume overcharging their customers once the public furor over the scandalous behaviour died away.

We promised to take further action to protect Canadian consumers then and we are going to deliver on that promise right now.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to lead off debate on Bill C-14, the fairness at the pumps act. Talk about truth in advertising. The bill would provide Canadians with exactly what its title indicates, fairness at the pumps. It would do so by amending the two laws that govern the use of retail measuring devices such as gasoline pumps, the Weights and Measures Act and the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act.

To be precise, the bill would give the force of law to three specific changes that have been carefully designed to protect Canadian consumers and deter unscrupulous or negligent behaviour among retailers. One, the bill would sanction mandatory inspection frequencies for measuring devices used by retailers. Two, the bill would authorize the Minister of Industry to designate qualified authorized service providers to carry out inspections on measuring devices. Three, the bill would set down stiffer fines that could be imposed under the Weights and Measures Act and the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and would put in place a new graduated system of administrative monetary penalties.

Each of these actions would be a tremendous advance in the way we as Canadians protect ourselves as consumers and make sure our retailers operate fairly and honestly.

Why do I believe so strongly in the merit of these new provisions? Let me go through each one in detail and show the House exactly what I mean.

The first change set down in the fairness at the pumps act is mandatory inspection frequencies. Mandatory inspection frequencies is a complicated way of saying that the new act would amend the Weights and Measures Act to instruct businesses in a variety of specific industries to have their measuring devices inspected regularly. The Government of Canada would use its regulatory authority under Bill C-14 to put these mandatory inspection frequencies in place. Once established, these compulsory inspections would apply to virtually all companies that rely on measuring devices as part of their daily business. Gasoline retailers as well as retailers of home heating oil would be required to have their devices inspected every two years. That would also be the mandatory inspection frequency for all devices used in what is known as the downstream petroleum sector, for example, loading rack meters used to fill petroleum transportation trucks.

That same two-year inspection frequency would apply to measuring devices used by businesses in the dairy industry, enterprises in mining and metals, and companies in the grain and field crop sector, other than measuring instruments used in grain elevators. That does not mean the new bill would exempt grain elevators. Businesses and agricultural co-operatives would have to make sure measuring devices in grain elevators were inspected every year. One year would also be the mandatory inspection frequency for propane dispensers, meters in the dairy sector, measuring devices in the fishing and fish-products industry and in logging and forestry.

The fairness at the pumps act would also cover businesses in the retail food sector. These businesses would have to have their scales and other kinds of measuring instruments regularly inspected.

While this is a lengthy list of industries, companies and frequencies, it is by no means a finite one. Should Canadians deem it necessary, Bill C-14 would enable the Government of Canada to expand its area of authority to include the measuring devices of businesses that operate in other industries and sectors as well.

At the same time, I should point out that any future decision to extend the application of the act would not be taken unilaterally. Representatives of the federal government would consult closely with business owners and operators in any industry sector that we decided must be included under regulations developed under authority of the fairness at the pumps act. That way we would make absolutely sure that any new demands we make on retailers were realistic, fair and consistent.

We have taken that kind of inclusive, respectful approach from the start. Officials at Measurement Canada consulted carefully and thoroughly with industry sector representatives immediately impacted by the bill we are considering today. As a matter of fact, these discussions have been ongoing, and we accelerated them to respond as quickly and as reliably as possible to the troubling situation uncovered by the media reports I spoke of at the beginning of my remarks.

Retailers have been with us every step of the way because they realize the importance of the bill. They know their credibility is at stake. They know that when their reputation as honest, fair businesses and business people takes a hit among Canadians, so do their prospects for continued success and prosperity. They also know that the best way for their businesses to maintain the trust of consumers is to have their measuring devices and instruments undergo regular inspections.

Granted the businesses and the industries I have pointed out would have to pay fees for those inspections, but these costs would be determined by the marketplace and are already understood and accepted as facts of life by businesses in these industries. In fact I anticipate many companies would take advantage of inspections to have service and repair work performed on the measuring devices being inspected.

Of course, inspections do not occur on their own, and the ramped-up regime of mandatory inspection frequencies made possible by Bill C-14 would certainly not appear miraculously. We would need more trained inspectors to make sure we could meet the stringent requirements set out in the fairness at the pumps act.

That point brings me to the second change outlined in the bill. The bill would authorize the Minister of Industry to designate authorized service providers to carry out inspections of measuring devices. These inspectors could be independent professionals or employees of companies. Either way we would guarantee those designated to carry out this important work under the new bill were up to the task. We would establish conditions that would make the organizations authorized to perform inspection work accountable. We would only designate organizations and their technicians that met a stringent and ongoing qualification process.

These authorized service providers would be responsible for ensuring that appropriate test equipment and inspection procedures approved by Measurement Canada were used. Individuals permitted to perform inspections would be required to pass mandatory training, which includes theoretical as well as practical evaluations. Annual assessments would be part of the monitoring process for authorized service providers.

In instances where responsibilities were not fulfilled, the minister could suspend or revoke their designations, an action that would severely impact their ability to conduct business. Measurement Canada has successfully piloted a similar program for initial inspections performed under the Weights and Measures Act. Assessments of this approach demonstrate that the quality of the work done by authorized service providers and their recognized technicians is in the 96% satisfaction range.

Even though Bill C-14 would see authorized service providers play an increasingly important and meaningful role in protecting consumers, Measurement Canada inspectors would remain leading forces in the field. They would perform independent inspections to assess the compliance of industries under the new act. They would respond to public complaints of companies suspected of measuring inaccurately and they would be solely responsible for taking actions to enforce the law when offences under the Weights and Measures Act and the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act were identified.

I should also point out that this approach is not entirely new. For many years, Measurement Canada has employed authorized service providers to carry out inspections under the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act.

The bill before us today would make it possible for us to expand the reach of non-government inspectors to include all of the industries subject to the Weights and Measures Act.

Like the involvement of service providers, fines and penalties for those who violate the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act are not entirely new.

What is new is the amount of these court-imposed fines and the nature of those penalties.

That brings me to the third and final change set out in the fairness at the pumps act.

To be precise, Bill C-14 would increase the fines that can be imposed under the Weights and Measures Act and the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act. The bill would also put in place a new graduated system of administrative monetary penalties.

Let us consider the fines, first.

The fairness at the pumps act would increase the court imposed fines for the variety of the offences listed in the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act. Fines under the two acts would rise from $1,000 to $10,000 for minor offences and from $5,000 to $25,000 for major offences. The bill would also introduce a new fine of $50,000 to be levied against those who repeatedly violate the acts.

Why have we chosen to make such substantial increases in the amounts of these fines? The answer is straightforward. The costs of gasoline, electricity, food and other measured products have risen dramatically and they are expected to keep on rising for the foreseeable future. It is only proper that we increase the penalties we impose on those who violate the law if we want the penalties to have a deterrent effect. After all, if an unscrupulous retailer can make money by cheating consumers even if he or she is fined, what good is the fine?

To levy fines under the two existing laws, the federal government must prosecute alleged offenders. However, a process as complex as a criminal proceeding and a punishment as severe as those listed under the new act are not always the most appropriate ways to deal with all those who violate the law.

Some contraventions of the law may call for less stern penalties. It is common sense. That is why we have introduced what are known as administrative monetary penalties. The fairness at the pumps act would give federal authorities the discretion to use a graduated system of penalties to punish offenders: monetary penalties, which would not lead to a criminal record for those who commit relatively minor offences; and criminal prosecution for those who commit serious offences or who are repeat offenders.

Enforcement action, such as the use of administrative monetary penalties, would not be abused. These measures would be used as part of a graduated enforcement structure that would include trader education and the use of warnings when appropriate. It is not the government's intention to punish the good players who demonstrate that they have taken appropriate steps to provide accurate measurement.

Like the joint public-private approach for inspections, this graduated system of administrative monetary penalties is not entirely new. Several departments and agencies that enforce regulations rely on administrative monetary penalties; large departments such as Transport Canada and smaller yet active and vital agencies such as the Competition Bureau and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Those are the three advances proposed by Bill C-14, the fairness at the pumps act. Mandatory inspection frequencies to measure devises used by retailers, authorized service providers to carry out inspections of those measuring devices, stiffer fines and a new graduated system of administrative monetary penalties. They are reasonable steps taken in partnership with industry. They are a practical response to a problem we committed to resolve and, most important, they are a fair deal for consumers, retailers and all Canadians.

These changes are a fair deal for consumers because they would put in place an inspection regime that would make it possible for a host of qualified inspectors to root out inaccurate measuring devices. Measurement Canada estimates that the number of annual inspections of gas pumps alone would increase from 8,000 to approximately 65,000. That is taking action, that is keeping our commitments to Canadians and that is protecting consumers.

These changes are a fair deal for retailers because they would protect honest retailers from being associated with and harmed by the unscrupulous practices of the minority of retailers who willingly or unwillingly operate inaccurate measuring devices.

I am sure my hon. friends would agree with me that the overwhelming majority of retailers in our country are fair and honest businesspeople. Their businesses are tainted when companies in their industry engage in unscrupulous behaviour. They want us to deal with illegal and negligent behaviour by retailers just as much as consumers do. In fact, their representatives told us that businesses were willing to pay the fees associated with an increased number and frequency of inspections if these inspections will expose and punish negligent and unscrupulous retailers and safeguard the integrity of their industries.

These changes are a fair deal for all Canadians because, although the fairness at the pumps act is a direct product of inaccurate gas pumps, the bill would extend the reach of inspections enforcement beyond gas retailers to include companies that rely on measuring devices to conduct their day-to-day business. That way, the resulting law will benefit all Canadians.

The changes are also a fair deal for all Canadians because they would impose minimal costs on the federal government, and this is important. A report published by the International Organization of Legal Metrology in 2003 used Canadian device compliance rates to estimate dollars at risk for each type of device. When these figures were related to inspection activities, it was found that for each dollar spent on inspections, $11 of inaccurate measurement was corrected. With rising commodity costs, this is a return on investment I am sure all Canadians can support and just one more reason that I am convinced Canadians will support this bill.

Consumer protection is a priority for this government. Once this bill receives royal assent, the process for implementation will require that regulatory amendments be processed and that there be a capacity to have these inspections take place. These regulations will be put in place as soon as possible after royal assent.

Measurement Canada has been building capacity for implementation in the eight sectors that we are talking about here today. Over the coming months, Measurement Canada will be educating traders as to their responsibilities once the bill is enacted, as well as ramping up the authorized service provider capacity to implement.

I am also confident that this House will support Bill C-14, the fairness at the pumps act. I have given members three powerful reasons to do just that. I have outlined clearly how this bill is a fair deal to all, and yet perhaps the most important reason to support this bill is the principle that lies at its heart: Canadian consumers should get what they pay for, no more and certainly no less. What could be fairer than that?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is a nice, typical Conservative Potemkin village, just a facade to hide inaction or deeper problems that are influencing the high variability of oil prices.

I have a couple of questions. First, I would like the hon. member to tell me how much each driver in Canada will save as a result of this necessary recalibration of a small percentage of gasoline pumps.

Second, why is the government not going ahead with the fine Liberal idea to try to control the variability of retail gasoline prices in this country, which was the idea of creating an office of petroleum price information. which the current government did not proceed with after it took power in 2006?

It seems to me that information is power and if we really do care about consumers and we want to give consumers power, we do not just want to indulge in a one-time recalibration, if I may use that word again, of a few offending gasoline pumps.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, in terms of the small number of Canadians who the member says this change will affect, I want to point out that the number we are talking about in terms of the cost of this inaccuracy just at the gas pumps alone, and, of course, there are several industries that this bill touches on, is $20 million per year. I would say that is not an insignificant number, as the hon. member suggests it might be.

Several proposals that were put forward by the Liberal Party would have had an impact on gas prices over the last few years, but perhaps the most significant one was the proposal that it ran as the centrepiece of its last election campaign which was the carbon tax. That would have been devastating for Canadian consumers and businesses who purchase gasoline and virtually anything else that they would purchase.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the government for bringing in the bill.

The fact is, however, that under the Weights and Measures Act the rollback of odometers in the auto industry or just in the country would be covered. I am just wondering why the government would have neglected to mention that in its press releases.

I would think that increasing the penalities for businesses and people who replace, rollback or disconnect odometers and sell cars as vehicles with less mileage on them than they have would be as big an issue or a greater issue than what the member is trying to solve here. I applaud him for trying to solve the issue of measurements as far as gasoline is concerned but what about the odometer rollbacks?

The penalities that he is applying in this bill would also apply to odometer rollbacks, which is a positive change. Why is the government not recognizing this? Why is it not being included in its press release?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, there is a whole variety of different things that governments can do to improve the lives of Canadians, and we are always looking for ways to make further improvements, but in this case we are focused very seriously on the measurement of products that Canadian consumers purchase.

In terms of what this bill would do regarding measuring devices, what we are looking at here is largely a problem with the calibration of devices, not necessarily intentional, although messing around with the devices is part of the problem, but what we are talking about are devices that are not inspected properly or, if they are inspected and found out to be wrong, they tend to get corrected when the problem is to the detriment of the retailer but not necessarily to the detriment of the consumer.

We see twice as many pumps that are inaccurate in their measurements to the detriment of the consumer as we see to the detriment of the retailer. Obviously, it is a very significant problem.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the bill and what it is attempting to do.

The member mentioned the calibration of devices. A bigger problem in my riding is the problem caused by the ambient temperature compensation because temperatures are much more extreme in our area of the country. Is the government taking action to deal with that problem in relation to the calibration of devices?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, this has been an issue that has been raised before. I know that John Manley looked at this when he was industry minister under the previous Liberal government and, with the advice of experts, he decided to stick with the global standard in terms of temperature control.

However, we always welcome input from hon. members on ways to even further strengthen legislation. If the hon. member wants to get more information, pass on more information or have a conversation with me afterward, he is welcome to do so.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, it has been exactly two years since this issue was raised and about two years since the Conservatives promised to do something about it. Better late than never, I guess.

I have a question. In northwestern and northeastern Ontario, while occasionally there may be small losses to consumers, our really big problem is the huge discrepancy in gas prices. Would it not be better to focus on the 20% or 25% disparity rather than the couple of percent disparity until we fix the problem with gas gouging in the north?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will deal with a couple of the assertions by the hon. member.

First, in terms of the timeframe, we are talking about two years and, with a situation like this, one of the most important things we can do is get it right. It is pretty technical in terms of the aspects that we are looking at. It is very important to consult with stakeholders, consumer groups and with the retailers because we do want to get this right.

One of the things about this legislation is that the impact is not just on consumers. The impact is on retailers who operate by the rules, play by the rules, ensure they maintain their equipment and are hurt by maybe the negligent, or worse, unscrupulous behaviour of other retailers in a small group of them.

The consultation process is critically important but the hon. member is in a party where he will never have to do the homework. His party can just get up and ask questions about things and criticize.

The gas price issue is something the Competition Bureau has looked at several times over the years. This government is the first government in Canadian history to take significant action against a group of retailers. We saw that over the course of the last couple of years with significant legal action and getting some convictions of retailers who were acting in consort with each other to set prices.

Again, we do welcome ideas from members of all parties to further strengthen the system.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-14, the so-called fairness at the pumps act. To paraphrase the Bard, the bill is full of sound and fury, or should I say full of a certain amount of self-righteousness, signifying nothing or very little.

The issue of gasoline pricing has been at the top of the minds of Canadians for many years. However, it appears to be an issue the Government of Canada has largely forgotten about. Bill C-14 proposes to amend the rules regarding retail gasoline pump calibration, such that retailers will be legally required to have their pumps inspected regularly.

This is the response, two years after the Prime Minister made an election promise to help Canadians with higher fuel prices. As all hon. members are aware, during the 2008 election, gasoline prices spiked in some cities by more than 12¢ per litre, and then the Prime Minister was forced to make an off-the-cuff policy announcement. Back then the government promised to crack down on inaccurate pumps. It took almost two years to finally get action from the government.

This delay begs the question, how important are consumers to the government? With all the pomp and circumstance of a major government announcement, the Minister of Industry suggested that the government was coming to the aid of Canadians all across the country who were being ripped off by greedy gasoline retailers. Then the minister went on to explain that only 6% of pumps were actually inaccurate, and in 2% of the 6%, they actually favoured the consumer.

Is this the best that we can expect from the government? If the government were truly concerned with helping Canadians at the pumps, it could turn its attention to any number of issues, including automatic temperature compensation, refinery closures, and the anemic state of competition at the refinery level.

I would like to take a moment to speak specifically about Bill C-14. Bill C-14 will attempt to solve the problem of inaccurate gasoline pumps by shifting the onus of inspection from the government to individual retailers. The bill will also create an administrative monetary policy regime as a means to enforce these new regulations. The bill will also codify the practice of licensing private inspectors for the purposes of performing these inspections.

The Liberal Party has a number of concerns with the bill. First, most gasoline retailers are small, independent businesses, which in fact operate on very small margins, as we know. The additional cost of these inspections may very well hurt their bottom line and force some of them out of business.

We also have concerns with the private inspector regime. Right now, Measurement Canada uses a blend of both private licensed inspectors and government employed inspectors. This allows retailers to have their pumps checked by accredited inspectors, while allowing Measurement Canada to continue verifying the calibration of pumps on its own.

In switching the onus of inspection to the retailer, the demand for private inspectors will increase drastically. I and many of my Liberal colleagues are concerned that retailers in northern and rural communities may not have access to the private inspectors required to ensure that they can stay within the letter and the spirit of the law. This is a critical point.

Pumps in rural and remote communities are often not the newest, best pumps. These are the pumps that are most likely to lose calibration. Can we really expect private inspectors to set up shop in these communities to ensure that these pumps are inspected regularly when the market would be so small, or would these retailers face much higher costs to bring in non-government inspectors?

There is another concern with this new provision of the Weights and Measures Act. The amendments made to section 15 of the Weights and Measures Act do not just apply to gasoline retailers. In fact, they apply to “every trader who uses a device in trade”.

This means that everyone from gasoline retailers to a local deli will be affected by these new regulations. Without seeing these proposed regulations, we have no concept of what burden is being placed on thousands of other retailers and businesses across the country.

If one stops to think about the number of scales or pumps we encounter in trade, it quickly becomes apparent how much commercial and industrial activity will be affected by these legislative changes. All of this to correct a problem that by the minister's own numbers affects only 6% of pumps in Canada.

Anyone who has spoken to gasoline retailers will say that gasoline pumps are very hard to tamper with. In fact, the tight inventory control regimes that these retailers utilize make it very difficult for these retailers to even consider tampering with their pumps. They actually check their pumps often. It is in their best interest to do so.

The government is also not being honest about how long it will take for this bill to have any effect on the ground. With the summer break approaching, I think it is fair to assume that this bill will not receive royal assent until fall at the earliest. On top of that, the government will have to bring forward the associated regulations, which will take months as well. Even after all that effort, there will still be a phase-in period. It will take time to train and accredit enough inspectors to enforce the law.

This means that it will take years before this regime is up and running. The Liberal Party believes firmly in consumer protection and any measure that will ensure gasoline pump accuracy is a good measure in principle. However, I fear that this bill is designed to be nothing more than political cover. Let us be perfectly clear. This bill does nothing to help lower gasoline prices or to encourage competition in the gasoline industry in Canada.

In fact, when it comes to higher gasoline prices, the Prime Minister himself has said that there is nothing the government can do to help Canadians. In the three elections since the Prime Minister has been leader of the Conservative Party, he has made no less than three specific commitments to help Canadians with ever-increasing fuel prices. This is the first that the government has followed through on.

In 2004, lest we forget, the Conservatives promised to eliminate the GST on gasoline prices above 85 ¢ a litre when they came to power. I do not think that happened. In 2008 they promised to lower the diesel excise tax. I do not believe that happened either. I think the real reason behind this legislation being introduced right now is so that the government can pretend to be helping consumers while they complain that prices are rising.

A government interested in helping Canadians combat high gasoline prices would be examining the Competition Act and the state of competition at the refinery level in this country, among other things. Even as prices rise and the industry claims that supply is down, refineries continue to be closed. This is a problem for the industry.

A government concerned about high fuel prices would examine automated temperature compensation so that its full implications to consumers could be explored. Automated temperature compensation means that the volume of gasoline pumped is automatically compensated as if the outside temperature was 15°C. This makes no sense in a country where the average annual temperature is only 6°C.

If the government were serious about helping Canadians, it would be looking at these issues and not parading around legislation that is going to do nothing to help Canadians burdened by high fuel prices. I also have serious concerns with some of the unintended effects that this bill may have on other industries.

For these reasons, I am looking forward to the opportunity to examine and amend the bill at committee and to hear from a variety of witnesses about how we can ensure we protect consumers without putting an excessive burden on Canadian industry.

However, I have concerns that yet again the government is using consumer protection legislation to try and change the channel or as political cover. We have seen this time and time again with legislation designed to protect consumers, for example, the Consumer Products Safety Act, which died on the order paper when the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament last December. None of this legislation has been seen all the way through to assent. Unfortunately, a fairly common pattern with the Conservative government.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that the Liberal Party is not against measures designed to protect consumers. However, we have serious concerns with this bill, its unintended effects, and the very real possibility that the government is using this to obscure the real issues related to fuel pricing in Canada.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie for giving such a good synopsis of Bill C-14.

As a northern Ontario member of Parliament, I have a concern about how this bill would affect rural Canada. It would really be very expensive to get an inspector at a small gas station when we consider the volume that goes through its pumps. When one is a small gas pump operator, getting an inspector in can take up a big chunk of profit.

One of the concerns of small independents is that they have to bring in an independent inspector, not a government inspector, to inspect the pumps. To bring someone in to inspect the pumps, usually from a large centre like Toronto or Montreal, a rural company would have to pay for the cost of travel, accommodation, and a number of different expenses. Someone does not just drop in. The inspector knows what is going on so the element of surprise is pretty well gone if we are looking to catch anyone. There are not that many small independent operators who are doing anything wrong. It is a very small number.

With all the added expenses, how would Bill C-14 guarantee that small independent operators would not get squeezed out of the market leaving us with only large producers in the market, making a tough market even tougher for rural Canadians?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for a very good point. I could not have said it any better. There are absolutely no provisions in Bill C-14 for the situation that he described; that is, the retailers in small communities, particularly those in rural Canada and up north where my colleague comes from.

Even though the government likes to say it is concerned about the consumer, and it certainly pretends to care about rural and regional communities, it is very clear that it has not done its own analysis of the consequences of Bill C-14 on retailers in many of the small communities that they represent. The fact is that Bill C-14 contains absolutely nothing.

Bill C-14 is just an example of the government trying to play catch-up after it reneged on what it promised concerning the elimination of the GST above a certain price and also reducing the diesel excise tax. The government never did any of that, and now it is panicking and trying to play catch-up.

This is just like the broadband area. The Conservatives have been in power for four years and they have not done anything. Now that we in the Liberal Party have announced that we are going to do something to connect all Canadians, the Minister of Industry is out making emergency announcements to show that he understands it as well.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to correct some of the facts. The member seems to suggest that the government should do something about the high price of gasoline. I am certainly with him on that point. The government should do something on that issue.

The fact is the Liberals were in power for 13 years and the Liberal member for Pickering—Scarborough East consistently attacked his government because it ignored the problem. I think there were 125 studies done over the years on high gas prices in our country. What was concluded out of all those studies was we had to change the Competition Act. Under the existing Competition Act, retailers that were price fixing, as we termed it, were not legally guilty of doing anything under the current act. The answer is to change the act.

The Liberals were in power for 13 years and they did not change the act. The member for Pickering—Scarborough East, who was his government's critic at the time, criticized his government. I will be interested to hear what that member has to say when he speaks to the bill later today. It is fine for the Liberal Party to criticize the government. However, it was in government for 13 years and it did nothing to reduce the high price of gasoline.

We know that having a price review board, such as is the case in the Maritimes, does not work. It simply adjusts the price to the highest figure. We need to change the Competition Act.

Does he agree with the member for Pickering—Scarborough East's consistent view on this matter?