Mr. Speaker, I am glad to be able to join the debate today on Bill C-279, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression).
As my colleagues are aware, Bill C-279 would amend both the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act by adding gender identity and gender expression. I understand that the member opposite now wants to change that with his amendments.
I am cognizant of the need to protect all Canadians from discrimination and hate crimes. I am proud of the fact that Canada is recognized internationally as a country that is deeply committed to the principles of respect for diversity and equality, but I would argue that the bill accomplishes neither of those goals.
The desperate attempt, I would say, by member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca to amend the bill shows that the bill itself is not adequate. The bill is just not up to the level it needs to be in order for anyone to support it in this House. The amendments to the act as proposed by Bill C-279 are largely symbolic and vague, and I would say that they risk introducing confusion to the law. I would suggest as well that the amendments he is making do not add anything to it.
The bill is not properly designed to remedy the supposed social problem that it is aimed at addressing, and I would argue that it is largely unnecessary as well. For those reasons and a couple of others, I will be opposing Bill C-279.
I first want to speak about the fact the bill is unnecessary.
The courts and human rights tribunals in this country have already developed jurisprudence to protect transsexual and transgendered people. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has already decided several complaints brought to it, and we heard about those earlier from my two colleagues. These complaints have been dealt with using the grounds of sex orientation or disability.
In fact, the grounds of sex in all anti-discrimination laws are interpreted broadly. They have evolved over the years and are usually understood to cover discrimination complaints based on not just sex but on all gender-related attributes, such as pregnancy, childbirth and, recently, transsexualism.
For those few complaints that have been brought by transsexuals—and I think one of my colleagues read four of them—the tribunal has used the existing grounds already contained in the Canadian Human Rights Act, and in fact there is no gap in protection. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has dealt with the four cases that were mentioned around gender identity and gender expression issues.
Furthermore, in deciding that transsexuals are already protected by federal human rights laws, the tribunal's approach has been consistent with that taken by provincial human rights tribunals as well. They have found that these grounds of discrimination are already covered by their existing codes.
All of these cases were adjudicated within the framework of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which designates sex and sexual orientation as prohibited grounds of discrimination. Both Susheel Gupta, as the acting chairperson and chief executive officer of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, and Ian Fine, who is the secretary general of the CHRC, spoke at committee about that and the fact that it does not need to be extended further than it is now in order to deal with those complaints.
My second problem with the bill is that it is undefined.
I understand that the member is now starting to try to put definition into some of these things because he is afraid he is going to lose the bill, and I think that he should lose it. Expanding the definition of sexual orientation to gender expression and to gender identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code makes who and what is being protected even less clear than it is. If the member's purpose was to clarify the existing grounds, which I would maintain is unnecessary, he could have proposed adding an appropriate definition to the Canadian Human Rights Act. He did not do that. He has come back lately with an attempt to do that, but it was not his intention at the beginning.
In fact, the member's intention at the beginning was that the courts and the human rights commissions themselves would determine the definitions of these things. He was quoted in Xtra magazine as saying:
Once gender identity is in the human rights code, the courts and human rights commissions will interpret what that means.
I would suggest that even with the definition he is trying to add today, he probably is still thinking that hopefully the courts and the human rights commissions will define it. However, I would argue that it is inadequate for a legislator to proceed in this way.
If our role is to bring laws forward, they should be brought forward with enough content that the courts and commissions are not the ones who are defining what those bills are and what they say. I believe that is inappropriate. It is an abdication of our parliamentary responsibility to pass laws that would leave us in a situation like that. For parliamentarians to leave new and undefined terms to the courts and human rights tribunals, I would argue, is risky and irresponsible.
I also want to point out—and I think this is probably something that the member hopes will happen—that when the courts rule on these grounds, they usually assume that the old language was inadequate and that they should make new and broader interpretations and that such broader interpretations must be sought.
Therefore, I would argue that in this case it is not defined properly and that those interpretations are inappropriate for good legislation. The definitions are undefined and inadequate and because of that alone, this legislation needs to be rejected.
There are a number of other things I would like to talk about, and I understand I have some time in the next hour. However, I want to mention that the member said earlier at committee that the United Nations had supported proposals such as his. The reality is that while the Commissioner for Human Rights has called for some of these changes, the United Nations has not supported them. In fact, several of its commissions have turned away from supporting these notions that he has brought forward today.
I look forward to finishing my speech when we meet again.