Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure tonight to rise and show my very strong support for Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression). I will speak to the amendments as well as the general bill in my speech tonight and the shorter form as it is often called, “the gender identity bill”.
It seems very apt to be speaking to the bill this evening, on the very day that tens of thousands of people across Canada are joining together to reduce bullying. We have had the famous Pink Shirt Day today, when people from all communities across Canada are joining hands and saying that this is something we must reduce, that it is something that is taking a terrible toll on our neighbourhoods and in our communities where we live and we have to do something to stop that.
With this bill, we are talking about making the world a better place by taking steps to protect those whom others abuse. The bill has been a long time coming but it is well worth supporting, especially with the amendments have proposed.
I am disappointed that some members on the other side are opposing the bill, as stated tonight, and I think we will hear it in other speeches. Their statements somewhat misrepresent the views of a number of members within the Conservative caucus, including the Minister of Finance who voted to support the bill at second reading. Where their arguments are often being masked in technical details, I think there are deeper and more disturbing reasons for not supporting the bill that underlie their objections. Again, I do not think this represents a good number of the Conservative caucus who have supported it at second reading and in the past as well.
The bill has been introduced and championed by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, whom I have the great pleasure of sitting beside in the House of Commons. Even though the member is newly elected, like me a rookie, the bill has shown that he is one of the smartest and most ethical MPs in this place. I have enormous respect for his work on it and also as our very able public safety critic. I am very honoured to support his heroic efforts to support the trans community and those within the LGBTQ community.
Besides sitting beside the champion of the bill, I have another strong connection with the bill other than my absolute belief that it is relevant and just in that earlier versions were championed by my predecessor in Burnaby—Douglas, Mr. Bill Siksay. It is really an honour to follow in the footsteps of Mr. Siksay. Through his efforts on this issue and many others, he is seen as a champion in Burnaby and the national and international LGBTQ community.
Bill Siksay first introduced the ideas contained in the bill in 2005, then again in 2006 and again in 2008. Members in the House may remember that predecessors to the bill passed through the last minority Parliament on February 11, 2011. Again, the bill has a long history. For eight years it has been winding through the House in various forms, having passed once and I hope pass again as it has passed second reading.
In 2011 the bill had the full support of the NDP as well as some level of support from all other parties. Unfortunately, the bill in the last Parliament died in the Senate without being considered once the election was called.
This hopefully amended Bill C-279 contains some simple and very just measures. As my colleagues have mentioned, it would add the term “gender identity” to the Canadian Human Rights Act, section 2 as prohibited grounds for discrimination. It would also amend the Criminal Code to include gender identity as a distinguishing characteristic protected under section 318 and as an aggravating circumstance to be taken into consideration under section 718.2 at the time of sentencing. This would mean that it would count as a hate crime, or consideration when prosecuting hate crimes.
Members again should remember that the bill passed second reading on June 6, 2012, with the unanimous consent of the NDP and support from Liberal, Bloc, Green and 15 Conservative MPs. I remind members who make speeches tonight that there is sizable support for it from a good portion of the Conservative caucus, including many frontbenchers.
I would like to thank those who supported the bill at second reading. It sends the right message to Canadians that the House of Commons takes care to ensure that justice extends to all Canadians. It is a good symbol and shows that we in the House of Commons care about this community and all communities in Canada and will make sure they are treated fairly.
These, of course, are in no way special rights. They are equal rights and they are ensuring that rights are being extended to all Canadians by enshrining the idea of gender identity in the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Bill C-279 provides remedy to transsexual and transgender Canadians who do not currently enjoy specific protections in federal law or specific protection against hate crimes.
Passing the bill into law would be an important step forward for Canadians expressing themselves as transgendered. Trans people have regularly been shown that they are denied things that we all take for granted, such as adequate access to health care and housing, the ability to obtain or change identification documents, access to washrooms and other gender stations, as well as very fundamental rights such as the ability to exercise the right to vote and to acquire and maintain meaningful employment.
I would also remind members that Canada is a signatory to the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity, and to meet our obligations it is necessary to add gender identity to our own Canadian Human Rights Act. Not only has this bill been winding its way through the House of Commons for a long time, but we also have an obligation not only to our citizens but to an international obligation to make sure we go forward with this measure.
The bill has had broad support from many across Canada. We have had emails, texts and twitters. I know people are following on CPAC and here in the House tonight, as well as many of our brothers and sisters in labour unions such as the CLC, CUPE, CUPW, CAW, CAUT and the British Columbia Teachers' Federation. It also has broad support from student groups across the country, including UVic Pride, UBC, York University, SFU and universities right across Canada.
We need to do this in the spirit of the anti-bullying pink shirt day that we are seeing here in Canada. Wearing a pink shirt is a good thing. It shows that Canadians care. However, this is an opportunity to actually do something concrete, to change the laws of our country to make sure that people who are facing discrimination are no longer discriminated against, or if they are, that they have remedy within our legal system, whether it is the Canadian Human Rights Act or the Criminal Code, in order to make sure that they obtain justice and are able to pursue their lives as they see fit.
What we need to take into account also is how the trans community is suffering under the current circumstances. Worldwide since 1970, 717 trans people have been reported as murdered. However, this of course is a severe undercount, because many countries do not collect adequate statistics in this area, nor do they correctly record violence against the trans community.
Finally, as we are here on pink shirt anti-bullying day, we should follow what Egale Canada says: that 90% of trans-identified students reported being bullied on a daily or weekly basis.
I am proud to stand up here today to support the amendments and the bill and to make sure this bullying and this injustice stop and the trans community is given proper remedies to fight back against this discrimination.