Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill C-279, which is sponsored by the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, an opposition member from my province of British Columbia for whom I have great respect.
I would like to take this opportunity to contribute to the discussion on Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression), which proposes to add the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” to those laws.
Bill C-279 has been studied by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. While the bill was in clause-by-clause review before the committee, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca proposed several amendments to the bill, namely that only the term “gender identity” but not “gender expression” be added as a prohibited ground in the Canadian Human Rights Act and to the hate propaganda and aggravated sentencing provisions of the Criminal Code.
The member also proposed to add a definition of the term “gender identity” to the preamble of Bill C-279. This definition reads:
[Whereas] 'gender identity' to refer to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth...
We do know that in practice the definition of “gender identity” in this discussion can extend beyond that. However, I also accept that clarifying the definition from a legal perspective is a challenging one. In some respects, that is one of the crutches in this debate.
As I mentioned, the sponsor proposed to add this definition to the preamble of Bill C-279 although not to the Canadian Human Rights Act or the Criminal Code directly. Looking at this definition as it stands, we can conclude that gender identity is something that all people must have. All Canadians must have some sense of their gender, of whether they are male or female. Indeed, the sponsor of Bill C-279 made this very point when he spoke before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
I raise this point because gender discrimination is already covered by existing law. In fact, there have been a number of decisions of the federal Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in which discrimination against transsexuals has already been considered using the ground of sex as defined and already included in the Canadian Human Rights Act. Some decisions have also used the ground of disability.
For example, a transsexual who was incarcerated in a men's prison brought a complaint forward to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, alleging discrimination because the prison refused to continue her sex reassignment treatments and did not transfer her to a women's prison. The tribunal dealt with this complaint under the ground of sex.
In another case, a male to female transsexual who was in the process of transitioning and was dressed in women's clothing was refused employment at a bank. Here again the tribunal dealt with this complaint using the ground of sex.
Finally, in a complaint from my home province that made its way up to the British Columbia Court of Appeal, a male to female transsexual was refused a volunteer position at a women's shelter and rape crisis centre. Again, the court dealt with the complaint using the ground of sex.
All of these discrimination complaints have already been addressed under the current law. As a result, I question the legal need for the adoption of Bill C-279.
I also have some concerns on the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code. What kinds of speech based on someone's subjective or personal sense of being male or female would be considered hate propaganda? What does it mean to have a bias based on a person's subjective sense of being male or female? How do we single out one gender from the other?
By adding the proposed definition for the term “gender identity” in Bill C-279's preamble, it remains unclear what situations it would cover and how the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, or the criminal courts and the sentencing judges, would interpret these terms. This gives rise to the potential for subjective interpretations. These interpretations do not provide clarity nor certainty. In the absence of having greater certainty and a clear definition, it is important to recognize that existing laws already do apply to discrimination against transsexuals.
I respect what the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca is attempting to do in the bill. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, and our criminal courts and sentencing judges do not have that same luxury. They are bound to follow the language that is passed into law. If that language is too vague, then it becomes open to selective and arbitrary interpretation. This is contrary to the clarity that we seek to create in our laws.
While I do respect the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca's efforts and that the language as proposed in the bill is well intended, I submit it would not provide the clarity that is needed, and as such I regret that I cannot support Bill C-279.
In closing, I explained that the amendments proposed in this bill were largely unnecessary given the existing case law. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has already dealt with a number of discrimination complaints lodged by transsexual individuals. It is not necessary to add vague new terms to the Canadian Human Rights Act or the Criminal Code. That is why I urge my colleagues from all parties to vote against this bill.