moved that Bill C-279, 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 honoured to lead off the debate at second reading of Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression).
I am honoured to stand in this House and carry on the NDP tradition of standing up for the rights of transsexual and transgendered Canadians. I would also like to thank the 18 seconders of my bill for their support, which demonstrates the broad support that this bill has in this Parliament.
As many will be aware, this bill passed the House of Commons some two years ago in February 2011 but died on the order paper in the Senate when the 2011 election was called. I am hoping that we will have sufficient support once again from all parties in this House to adopt this very necessary bill.
I will begin by addressing why this bill is so necessary in a Canada where the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has become part of what one might call our national DNA and where we very much believe that rights are fully protected. The problem is that some citizens do not enjoy the full protection of their rights under the law, and the problem is that those Canadians are often subject to discrimination, denial of public services and, all too often, harassment and violence.
The reason this bill is before us today is because gender identity and gender expression rights are not expressly protected in Canada. Simply put, transgendered, transsexual and gender variant Canadians do not have the same degree of protection of their rights and freedoms as all other Canadians, and this bill seeks to remedy that gap.
Other minority groups do have protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act and under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, these same guarantees are not provided to transgendered, transsexual and gender variant Canadians because in law they are not defined as an identifiable group.
Right now, people cannot be discriminated against on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted. Unfortunately, none of those categories offer protection to trans-Canadians as the discrimination they suffer does not fit into those categories.
I want to emphasis again, since there is sometimes misunderstanding, that sexual orientation is not a blanket term that offers protection against the discrimination, prejudice and violence suffered by trans-Canadians. In fact, in a recent study carried out by the Trans PULSE Canada, 30% of the participants self-identified as straight, as heterosexual.
Transgendered, transsexual and gender variant rights are not just other words for sexual orientation. They are a category that is lacking and missing in our law.
Around the world, transsexual, transgendered and gender variant people do suffer high levels of discrimination, prejudice and violence, but in Canada, a country that prides itself on equality, acceptance and diversity, trans-people are no exception.
Each November, the Transgender Day of Remembrance is observed around the world to draw attention to the violence against the trans communities. Last year, the observance marked the deaths of over 220 people around the world as the result of attacks based on their gender identity or gender expression.
There is a lot to be done in the world at large but also a lot to be done here at home. I acknowledge that changing laws alone will not solve all the problems but I believe the first step to ensure that trans-people have the same rights as all other Canadians and that trans-people's rights are upheld just the same as those of any other citizen comes with the passage of this bill.
As a society, we must take this issue seriously so that trans-people are recognized as full citizens and are entitled to and can use their rights in the same way as any other citizen so they can participate fully in their communities. Again, I believe the first step will occur with this bill.
Bill C-279 would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination. It would also amend the hate crimes section of the Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression as distinguishing characteristics protected from hate crimes under section 318 and also as aggravating circumstances to be taken into consideration at sentencing under section 718.2 of the Criminal Code.
I should take a moment to address the question of definitions, as some have said that gender identity and gender expression are vague terms. That is not true in Canadian law. We have had litigation before our Canadian Human Rights Commission and in other places where these terms have received a very clear definition.
Gender identity is an individual's self-conception as being male or female, or both, or neither, as distinguished from one's birth-assigned sex. Gender expression, on the other hand, is how a person's gender is communicated to others, emphasizing or de-emphasizing characteristics, and changing or not changing behaviour, dress, speech and/or mannerisms.
The bill seeks to address the lack of explicit human rights protections on both counts, gender identity and gender expression.
I want to take this opportunity to reiterate that what we are talking about here are basic human rights enjoyed by all other Canadians and not some category of special rights. These are simply the same rights that are inscribed in Canadian legislation for all other Canadians. These rights and protections are necessary to ensure that trans Canadians can safely live out their lives, just as any other Canadian.
It is important to note that we will not be breaking new ground when we adopt Bill C-279. It will offer and include the same types of protections that are being implemented in other places in Canada and around the world. In fact, in the year 2002, the Northwest Territories entrenched protections for transsexual and transgendered people in its human rights act. Hence, the Northwest Territories has already taken a lead on this issue. Moreover, the cities of Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto have all amended their anti-discrimination policies to protect against discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.
We will also not be running in advance of the field. In Canada, the Canadian Human Rights Act review panel, in the year 2000, recommended these changes. In this House, a previous member, Bill Siksay, introduced the same bill in 2005, 2006 and 2008, before it was finally passed in 2011. Some would say that time is well due for passage of the bill.
Finally, I would mention that gender identity and gender expression are grounds for protection under the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, which Canada signed on December 18, 2008. Accordingly, one could argue that having voluntarily signed on to this international convention, Canada is actually obligated to make the legislative changes necessary to bring those protections into force.
As well, in November 2011, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, for the first time, issued a comprehensive report on the rights associated with sexual orientation and gender identity and made a number of recommendations to all member states. Four of those are very relevant to Canada.
The high commissioner for human rights said that all member states needed to enact comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that would include discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. That is precisely what we are trying to do in Bill C-279.
The high commissioner went on to say that all countries should facilitate legal recognition of the preferred gender of transgendered persons and establish arrangements to permit relevant identity documents to be reissued, reflecting the preferred gender and name without infringement of any other human rights.
If we pass Bill C-279, this would facilitate making those necessary changes in the regulations that govern the issuance of identity documents, which is often a large problem for transgendered Canadians. As we have seen recently, with the changes under the air safety regulations for identity during travel, this would resolve the problem that was created by the introduction of this discriminatory regulation.
The high commissioner's fourth recommendation calls for the implementation of appropriate training programs for police, prison officers, border guards, immigration officers and all other law enforcement and security personnel to counter homophobia and transphobia and to ensure that the rights of transgendered citizens are observed by officials of the state in all appropriate circumstances.
Again, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Canada, as a member of the United Nations, to take the kind of action I propose in Bill C-279.
Some say, what is the urgent need to fill this gap in our human rights legislation? When one meets with, as I have done, many representatives of transgender organizations and talks with transsexual or gender-variant Canadians, they mention three recurring areas where people have faced very serious forms of discrimination, and I want to talk briefly about those: access to health care, protection from violence, and economic inequality.
In Canada, we pride ourselves on everyone having equal access to health care. In fact, the Canada Health Act says that the primary objective of our health policy is to ensure that we protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of all Canadians. However, trans Canadians find that in accessing health care, they are often denied medically necessary care by being forced to deal with the issue of their gender before they can access the service. They also suffer from under-delivery of psychological health care services and, often, insensitive or hostile treatment from health care professions based on gendered spaces in public institutions.
Thus the needs of transgendered and transsexual Canadians in non-health care related matters are urgent, but perhaps most urgent in this health care field.
Some trans people believe that in order to achieve their full identity, they require surgery. However, there is not equal access to that surgery among all the provinces in this country. By adding gender identity and gender expression to the human rights code, we can help promote access to those surgeries. However, others do not believe that surgery is necessary for their transition and are often denied access to care and other services because they have not had surgery to change their gender. Again, for transgendered people, they get hit by both sorts of discrimination, in being denied access to surgery and also sometimes being denied access to a full transition because they have not had surgery. This bill would help to solve that problem.
In terms of mental health services, we know that mental health resources in this country are already quite stretched and that people seeking mental health care are often faced with long waiting lists to see therapists, no matter what their mental health problem is. This simply further compounds the problems faced by trans Canadians.
A survey conducted by Trans Pulse Canada reports that in Ontario, rates of depression among transgendered Canadians are as high as between 61% and 66%. When we examine suicide rates for transsexual, transgendered and gender-variant people, 77% of trans people in Ontario, unfortunately, reported seriously considering suicide; 43% reported they had attempted suicide at some point; and of those who considered suicide, almost 50% were between the ages of 16 and 24. We are seriously failing trans Canadians in the area of mental health and suicide prevention in this country.
In terms of violence, there have been many surveys of transgendered Canadians showing they are subject to very high rates of violence. However, law enforcement agencies in this country do not collect statistics based on gender expression and gender identity. Therefore, we have no official statistics to tell us how serious the problem really is.
When we look at bullying, Egale Canada did a large-scale survey of LGBTQ across Canada. It found that 90% of trans-identified youth reported hearing transphobic comments daily directed at them; 23% of those students reported hearing teachers directing transphobic comments against them daily; 25% reported having been physically harassed; and 24% reported having property stolen or damaged. We can see from that small survey of trans youth that there are very high rates of violence and harassment against the trans community.
By adding this to the hate crime section of the Criminal Code, we can send a very powerful message that such is unacceptable behaviour in Canada and that the rights of transgendered people must be recognized and transgendered people afforded the right to participate fully in schools as well as other places in our communities.
Finally, in terms of employment, it is an area where trans people often face serious discrimination. Over 20% of those surveyed in Ontario by Trans Pulse Canada in the past were unemployed, which was two and half times the average unemployment rate in Ontario. Job stability is often limited and those who choose to transition in a workplace often have very serious problems in retaining their employment, due to hostility either from the employer or others in the workplace.
In conclusion, let me reiterate that the purpose of this bill is to fill a gap in Canada's human rights legal framework. It is not the purpose to create special rights for anyone. It is about equal human rights for all Canadians. Like all of us, trans people want to be able to take the advice of Oscar Wilde when he said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
This bill will ensure that in Canada, transgendered, transsexual and gender-variant people have the freedom to be themselves and the protection, and rights guarantees, that all other Canadians have. As I have said many times before, trans-people are our brothers and our sisters, our children, our parents, our partners, our friends and our colleagues, and they deserve the same rights and protections as every other Canadians.
I look forward to the passage of this bill to help make that a reality.