Before I begin, I would like to remind the House that our government is proud to uphold the principles of respect, diversity and equality that are expressed in Canadian laws. Our government also believes that all Canadians should be protected from crime in our country, as is demonstrated by our justice agenda.
After much thought and careful examination, it seems obvious to me that the amendments proposed in this bill are useless and unclear. That is why I will be voting against this bill, for legal reasons that I will now explain.
I would first like to talk about the uselessness of this bill. During the first hour of debate on this bill, some members stated that transgender Canadians have specific problems related to employment and in the lodging and services sectors. However, these members played down the fact that transsexuals are already protected against discrimination based on sex under the Canada Human Rights Act, a federal law.
As hon. members no doubt already know, federal and provincial human rights tribunals already protect transsexuals against discrimination in employment and services.
The validity of this protection against any discrimination on the prohibited ground of sex—or gender—has been upheld by the courts. But even though transsexuals are already protected against discrimination by Canada's tribunals and courts of law, that is not enough for the member for Burnaby—Douglas.
He is insisting that we include transgender individuals explicitly in the anti-discrimination legislation and the Criminal Code. As he said in the first hour of debate, transgender Canadians cannot feel part of society if they are not protected by human rights legislation. In fact, they should say they are protected, because the courts have upheld the validity of discrimination complaints filed by transsexuals.
The member is proposing to amend legislation that currently protects transsexuals against discrimination. What he really seems to be proposing is therefore rather symbolic.
On what do we base our decision to symbolically add one minority group instead of another?
This bill proposes changes to the law, not just symbolic debate or measures. And changes to the law have real, not symbolic, repercussions.
For example, guaranteeing additional protection for one minority group can have unwanted social and legal consequences for another group. We must know the exact repercussions of legislative amendments and we were not given this information by the member who sponsored the bill.
I would now like to raise a second point: the amendments proposed by Bill C-389 are vague and undefined. The pertinent article of the Canadian Human Rights Act reads as follows:
For all purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for which a pardon has been granted.
The bill would add to this long list gender identity and gender expression. It is important to note that the term “expression” is nowhere to be found on this list. The law protects religion, which also includes religious expression.
In the first hour of this debate, the hon. member for Don Valley West stated the following, in response to the Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women, who noted that the bill was not specific enough.
Basically, he was saying that maybe we do not have to know all the answers. Maybe we do not have 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.
However, perhaps significant, long-standing, strategic reasons exist for carefully examining the exact meaning of these legislative changes. Maybe other countries have significant strategic reasons for not including “gender expression” as a separate concept in their provisions on discrimination or hate propaganda.
It is a well-known fact that clarity is crucial in drafting legislation. Canadian legislative drafters primarily refer to Ruth Sullivan's book entitled Sullivan and Driedger on the Construction of Statutes. It indicates that the first obligation of a legislative drafter is to be precise; the second is to be clear; the third is to be concise. There is no obligation to be inspiring or amusing.
However, when we look at the changes proposed in Bill C-389, none of these terms are defined. As a result, we cannot be sure of the meaning of “gender expression” and how it might be interpreted by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and the courts.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, I know how important it is to protect all Canadians from discrimination and hate crimes. I am proud that Canada is recognized internationally as a country that cares deeply about respect for diversity and equality. Those principles are part of our Constitution and our laws, both provincial and federal.
Bearing that in mind, members of the House must ask themselves whether the amendments in Bill C-389 are clear and/or necessary. The proposed amendments may seem simple, but the legal consequences may be complex and unpredictable.
I will therefore vote against this bill for the legal reasons I outlined earlier.