Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address amendments to Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression) to protect transgender Canadians. In its original form, it did this by adding “gender identity” and “gender expression” to both statutes. As I stated the last time the bill was in the House, I support this important effort, which will have not only symbolic but substantive and practical effects, to provide human rights protections to groups that, for example, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has characterized as being as “disadvantaged and disenfranchised” as any in our society today.
We are presented now with the unusual yet welcome opportunity to reconsider amendments to Bill C-279 that were raised at committee. These amendments, which remove “gender expression” and add an agreed upon definition of “gender identity”, were the product of a compromise solution, agreed to to maintain the support of the 15 Conservatives who joined with the opposition and voted for the bill at second reading. While I had hoped that both “gender identity” and “gender expression” would remain included in the bill, I appreciate the need for compromise in order to make progress on this critical issue. On that note, I would like to commend the sponsor of this legislation, the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, for the spirit of co-operation he has maintained throughout this process.
With respect to the amendments that add a definition of gender identity, I welcome the fact that the chosen definition makes explicit reference to the internationally recognized Yogyakarta Principles. While these principles are not themselves binding international law, they were developed by some of the world's foremost experts on international human rights law and are intended to serve as an interpretive aid to human rights treaties. As an international law scholar myself, I am always pleased to see us referencing elements of internationally recognized principles in our own domestic legislation.
As I mentioned with respect to the exclusion of “gender expression”, it was initially my preference that both terms remain in the bill. Again, I am cognizant of the possibility that even in the absence of “gender expression”, the term “gender identity” might, through case law and through an appreciation of travaux préparatoires, eventually come to encompass part or all that would have been protected by the former.
All things considered, the amendments in question today are reasonable given that Parliament would still be taking a significant step forward with respect to protecting the rights of transgendered Canadians. As of now, these individuals can only exercise their rights under the Canadian Human Rights Act by advancing a claim under the prohibited grounds of sex and/or disability, as the parliamentary secretary himself acknowledged. To be clear, tribunals do hear the cases of transgendered Canadians, but such claims are complex and costly and rely on grounds, such as in the case of disability, that may themselves be highly offensive to the claimants themselves.
Some might ask why this is necessary legislation if transgendered individuals already benefit from such protections, which is basically the query and complaint put forward by the parliamentary secretary. Besides the symbolic value of recognizing this group in statute, Bill C-279 produces three substantive and practical effects of note. First, the Canadian Human Rights Commission would begin keeping statistics on incidents of discrimination targeting transgendered individuals. Second, the commission would begin raising awareness of transgender issues in its communications. Third, public officials would begin receiving briefings and training on the matter. This is, of course, in addition to the most important change offered by the bill, the offer of a clear and explicit human rights recourse to transgendered Canadians, not only in that it provides an expressed protection for transgendered people but in that it provides an effective remedy. This is something that cannot be marginalized or ignored.
There is precedent for the use of the term “gender identity” in Canadian, provincial as well as international contexts, notably the United Nations declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity, which Canada signed in 2008 and what I mentioned earlier, the internationally recognized Yogyakarta Principles.
In a word, I believe that this legislation would better ensure that transgendered Canadians enjoy the same equality of opportunity and freedom from discrimination as all other Canadians, as the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca has so aptly affirmed and demonstrated in his remarks and in his work throughout this process.
However, it bears pointing out that we are in this rare situation today of reconsidering amendments because Conservatives on the justice committee engaged in a concerted and regrettable effort to thwart debate at the clause-by-clause stage. Indeed, the intention was clearly either to obfuscate the subject and spirit of the bill or, if nothing else, to torpedo the compromise arranged by the mover.
To start, they came with their own amendments, including a handful that only reinforced the status quo formula of “sex” and “disability”. Then there was a frivolous amendment exempting official Canadian sports authorities from the provisions of the bill, as if to contain some fictional mass of men trying to compete in women's sports, and vice versa. Finally, there was an out-of-context amendment that sought to ensure that no part of the Canadian Human Rights Act could infringe upon the rights of aboriginal peoples. While I firmly believe that we should only enact legislation that is mindful of the rights of Canada's aboriginal peoples, I found there was no reason to codify this specific protection into the act, as the charter supersedes any statutory act, which is clearly set forth in section 52 of the Constitution Act. It appeared that this, too, was a diversionary item.
Despite the tactics of diversion and delay, the compromise could still have been implemented at committee. With the support of one of the 15 Conservatives who voted for the bill at second reading, whom we should credit for open-mindedness, the committee accepted the amendment we are reconsidering today to remove “gender expression”, rendering several other Conservative alternatives inadmissible. Unfortunately, this procedural oversight by the Conservatives who were opposed to the bill spurred them to engage in a filibuster, behaviour which the Speaker has obviously himself acknowledged, given his decision today. Hopefully, we can now conclude the amendment process with an honest debate on the merits.
I would like to once again remind members of what is at stake with regard to this bill. To quote Mr. Justice La Forest of the Supreme Court of Canada at the time, “gender identity” must be included as a protected ground in the Canadian Human Rights Act because, “To leave the law as it stands would fail to acknowledge the situation of transgendered individuals and allow the issues to remain invisible”. We should also not disregard the history associated with this legislation, which has been introduced seven times since 2005. It was most notably passed by the House in early 2011, only to die on the Senate floor following the dissolution of Parliament that same year.
Today I urge my colleagues to not let this be another failed attempt at establishing equality and fairness for transgendered Canadians. The time to act is now.