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.