Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the bill. The hon. member who moved the bill has worked very hard on this for a long time and is very committed to the issues of equality for all.
I support the bill for many reasons. When I first became a member of Parliament in 1993, as a physician, I saw what discrimination based on sexual orientation cost my patients. I saw the high levels of suicide and discrimination. I saw the law discriminated against access to medical care, to dental benefits, to medical benefits in every way.
Persons who were same sex couples and had lived together for many years were unable to do the simple things that a heterosexual couple that had been together for a year could do. In other words, if a partner was dying or ill, the person did not have the right, no matter how long he or she had lived with that partner to make decisions with regard to care and with regard to funeral arrangements in the event the partner passed away.
As a physician, this did not allow me to do my job or to take care of my patients in a manner that should be beyond any kind of discrimination whatsoever, as stated in the Canada Health Act. As a result, the Liberal government brought forward these issues, and today we have equality based on sexual orientation.
However, the bill speaks to another issue where, as a physician, I saw a great deal of discrimination. This is a medical diagnosis. The concept is there are persons who we like to call transgender persons. They have problems coming to grips with their sexual identity. They then go to see a physician. There is a definite medical diagnosis that states these people need to look at their identity gender change. There are many things they need to access. They need to access psychiatric care in terms of decision making and in terms of the diagnosis. Once that is done, there are all sorts of medical options available such as the necessary medication for the change to occur, surgical interventions, et cetera.
Depending on what province these patients live in, many do not have access to that kind of medical care. The Canada Health Act states very clearly that we cannot discriminate against people if they require medically necessary care. As a diagnosis, this falls under the heading of medically necessary care and all of the pieces that come in between.
For a medical reason alone, we once again have a group of Canadians that do not have access to the care it needs when it needs it regardless of its ability to pay, or geography or pre-existing conditions, portability and all the pieces of the Canada Health Act about which we need to talk.
For medical reasons alone, even if we did not bring on the reasons that pertain to discrimination, to equality within the country, to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to the concept that we cannot discriminate against any Canadian because of his or her particular group identity, this fits into all of those things.
However, as a physician, I really want to speak to the fact that we are denying certain members of our society, based on their group and identities, access to good care when they need it.
I have had many patients who struggled to decide if they did have a gender identity problem or if they needed to move into the next stage, which is to have whatever medical care they need to help them to deal with this issue. They were the transgender patients. Not only did they not have access to the health care they needed, or access to the ability to deal with a lot of psychological as well as the physical trauma they underwent during that period of time, many of these people faced a totally different kind of discrimination.
They faced discrimination from the heterosexual community and, in many instances, from within their own communities sometimes because no one knew who they were. They did not have access to simple things like washrooms because they were considered neither fish nor fowl. No one had decided who they were. That kind of discrimination is psychologically devastating to a person, if we put aside the medical needs for a minute.
When people do not know who they are and do not have access to counselling to help them deal with these issues in a real way in order to find out who they are and why they are trapped, the whole concept of lack of control over anything they do affects their psychological ability to live normal lives, to walk into a community and to express themselves once they have had a diagnosis made.
For people who had money and were able to go to another country to get whatever medical care they needed to become transgendered persons, when they returned to Canada the discrimination was extraordinary. As a physician, as an MP and as a Vancouverite, I have been around the community and I have seen the pain, the discrimination, the isolation and the inability to be welcomed anywhere by anyone because of the concept of people not accepting people for who they are. This is an extraordinary thing to live with.
We need to look at the number of suicides and the different addictions people have to help them get out of the place where no one accepts them. We need to deal with this issue because it is of profound importance to a group of Canadians.
If we believe in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and we buy into our Canada Health Act, we must take every step necessary to, first, make every Canadian equal under the law, and, second, by being equal under the law, the law and the nation makes a statement that we will not accept people being discriminated against in this country where we have chosen to set up a charter that speaks in section 15 to the issue of minority rights.
We cannot say that one minority has more rights than another. The minute we start saying that someone has more rights than another person, we immediately set up a criteria of different levels of people who are accepted in society. One thing we all know is that when people are not accepted in society, they will rise up to seek their rights.
We are talking about basic human rights and with human rights comes access to all of the things that human beings can enjoy: the ability to live in freedom and seek opportunity and potential wherever we can; to have access to justice, education, health care and all of the things that allow us as human beings to realize whatever it is that lies within us and in our potential to live meaningful lives; and to be a part of communities that accept and embrace us.
We are discussing a fundamental human rights issue. As I said, the subsets of it are access to medical care, freedom and equality under the law. Those are just chunks of things that we bring in under the subheading of the basic human right to life, to the freedom to be who we are, to choose who we wish to be, to live in a manner that co-exists with other people and to live as a lawful human being who does not harm others and can become a productive and contributing member of society.
Those are fundamental things that we all want. We can deny other people for all sorts of trumped up reasons. There are always great reasons. We can cite legal precedents and discuss the fact that we do not understand the meaning of the words and what they pertain to, but that is a red herring. The bottom line is that we actually know in medicine what this means. There is no question in medicine what this means, no question at all.
Therefore, we need to start thinking about the people who live in our country and what kind of government and Parliament we are that we would allow people to live in fear with discrimination and without access to the basic human rights that other people have. I support this bill and I will be voting for it to go to committee.