Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have a few minutes today to discuss Bill C-279, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. Quite simply, Bill C-279 seeks to provide human rights protections to a group that remains a significant victim of discrimination in our society. Specifically, Bill C-279 seeks to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to add both gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination. It seeks to amend the Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression to the definition of identifiable groups in its provisions on hate propaganda. It seeks to add gender identity and gender expression to the Criminal Code's list of aggravating factors that affect sentencing.
As the Ontario Human Rights Commission has noted:
There are arguably few groups in society today who are as disadvantaged and disenfranchised as the transgendered community. Transphobia combined with the hostility of society to the very existence of transgendered people are fundamental human rights issues.
Given that the purpose of the Canadian Human Rights Act is to provide protection to the most vulnerable groups in Canadian society, it is my sincere hope that all members of the House will join the Liberal Party in supporting these logical and necessary modernizations of our existing laws. It is our belief that the amendments contained in Bill C-279 are an appropriate way to improve the human rights protections of a socially and economically marginalized group.
I would like to briefly comment on human rights in Canadian society.
Thirty years ago, Canada established the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It was a very, very important initiative. At the time, the protection of Canadians' rights was not as strong as it is today. The charter was the means used to strengthen these basic rights.
The charter also protected Canadians' rights by being entrenched in the country's Constitution.
Why did the other political parties, such as the NDP and the Conservative Party, not celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Why did they ignore its anniversary in March 2012?
At the time, it took courage to promote the creation of this charter. Today, it is up to our society to respect the rights and freedoms of Canadians. This is not a divisive or a shocking issue. Why did the other political parties not say a few words to celebrate the 30th anniversary of such an important event in the history of our country?
Moving back to Bill C-279, this is the culmination of years of effort and already represents the will of the House. Since 2005 this bill has been introduced on six occasions by the member for Burnaby—Douglas of the NDP. It was introduced once by my hon. colleague from Vancouver Centre and most recently by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
In 2010 the bill, which at the time was Bill C-389, was passed by the House of Commons without amendment, only to die on the order paper after being referred to the Senate.
The statistics on transphobia, which my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca eloquently pointed out in his remarks, are as striking as they are disturbing. Indeed, 95% of transgendered students feel unsafe at school and 9 out of 10 have been verbally harassed due to their gender expression. If this were one of our sons or daughters, feeling unsafe in school, all of us would take action to protect those rights.
Furthermore, statistics from the United States reveal the significant incidence of de facto discrimination experienced by transgendered individuals. A recent national survey found that transgendered respondents experienced unemployment at twice the rate of the general population and were significantly more likely to be homeless and low-income earners. This is just wrong. Attitudes in society must change and this bill is directed to that result. As well, a shocking statistic is that 97% of transgendered respondents in a recent survey reported experiencing harassment or mistreatment at work on the basis of gender identity or expression. I am quite certain we can all agree that this too is simply wrong.
As gender identity and gender expression refer not to an individual's biological sex or sexual orientation but rather the individual's inner knowledge of being male, female, both or neither, it is essential that Parliament send a clear and unambiguous message that this is a crucial equality rights issue. Adopting the amendments proposed in Bill C-279 is not just about ensuring transgendered Canadians enjoy the legal protections accorded to other targeted groups. It is also an opportunity for Parliament to send an unequivocal message of support to transgendered Canadians that we in this House affirm their identity and acknowledge their struggles. This would be a humanitarian step that would cost nothing. It is in alignment with the basic principles of fairness, humanity, equality, inclusion and respect. It is an opportunity for all parliamentarians to really look into their hearts and to express their values and principles of inclusion.
As my hon. colleague from Mount Royal noted, a failure to explicitly refer to gender identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act leaves transgendered people invisible. By amending the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination, Parliament would enable the Canadian Human Rights Commission to keep statistical accounts of incidents of discrimination against transgendered individuals. The ability to compile and analyze such data would be crucial in confronting the scourge of discrimination that transgendered people continue to face in our society and might also guide educational efforts in the broader community.
We know well that having clarity and being able to measure and compile statistics has been essential in Canada's efforts to reduce other forms of discrimination against Jews, against people who are other-abled and in many other cases. What we do not measure, we cannot have objectives to improve. When we do not have objectives, we will be unlikely to achieve that goal.
I am proud that in 1996, guided by the principles of equality, justice and the fundamental need to protect vulnerable groups in Canadian society so we may prosper together, the Liberal Party amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination. It is now time to carry on the fight against discrimination by making it clear that gender identity and gender expression are also prohibited in our society. Our job, as members of Parliament, is to do our very best for the common good and our very best to show respect, inclusion and humanitarian care for all members of our society.
For the group that this bill addresses, its turn has come. That is why I encourage all members on the opposite side of the aisle to also support this bill.