Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House to support Bill C-279. I congratulate my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca for reintroducing this bill, which will add an important right to our legislation and protect people who are subject to a serious form of discrimination.
Including gender identity in our laws—in the Canadian Human Rights Act—would represent significant and necessary progress. In addition to protecting transgendered people who experience discrimination, this bill recognizes the fact that transgendered Canadians have an identity and a community, and that they are worthy of being officially recognized and protected by our laws.
This bill changes the wording in our laws to be truly inclusive, so that the law ensures that no one experiences discrimination based on their identity. We must recognize that these identities deserve equality.
This recognition for transgendered and transsexual people is not just symbolic; it is urgently needed. My NDP colleagues have provided many reasons for this urgency over the course of the debates in the House, since Bill Siksay introduced the first version of the bill in 2005.
It is urgent because transgender people are victims of violence and discrimination, and live in greater poverty. It is urgent because it is vital that transgender people be recognized as individuals in their own right with all the rights to which they are entitled.
In this House, we should not be afraid to recognize transsexuals, transgender people and intersex people as Canadians in their own right who deserve to have their identity included in Canadian law. We must recognize the fact that gender and sexuality are distinct. They are not a simple dichotomy. The lack of binary simplicity is uncomfortable for people who accept their gender identity as a biological imperative. But that in no way reflects reality.
The medical community is beginning to understand transgender identity and, step by step, is moving towards validating and supporting these facts.
Dr. Shuvo Ghosh, who is a trailblazer in this field is a pediatrician, a developmental-behavioural pediatrician to be specific, and an assistant professor at McGill University and at the Montreal Children's Hospital, noticed that he was seeing more and more transgendered children and decided that he would open a clinic to specifically support their needs. It is the first one of its kind, in fact. I am very happy and proud that it is in my province of Quebec and so close to my home in Montreal.
Dr. Ghosh wrote me this letter to share with the House:
To the Honourable Members of the 41st Parliament of Canada: Last year when Bill C-389 passed its third reading in the House of Commons, many questioned the wisdom of enshrining “gender identity” or “gender expression” in the Canadian Human Rights Act and whether this was redundant given that “sex” is already protected. With the NDP's Private Member Bill on Gender Identity now up for debate, these questions are once again being raised. As a paediatrician who cares for gender non-conforming children, adolescents and their families who are part of the roughly 1-2% of all Canadians with differences in their gender expression, I would like to highlight the main reasons why this issue is crucial for Canadian society. While “gender identity” and “sex” are related terms, they are no synonymous. The most obvious example of this dichotomy is in children born with medical intersex conditions who identify more with one gender of another, or rarely, neither or both; but their physical sexual characteristics frequently do not correspond with their identity. Are we to conclude, then, that they fall outside the protection of the Human Rights Act because their “sex” is indeterminate or incongruent with their behaviour? Youth with any variation in their gender identity...have been shown, in numerous studies and in various clinical databases, to be the group most vulnerable to extreme and violent bullying, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
Adolescents with gender variance are 14 times more likely to attempt suicide than any other sub-group of teens, including other recognized and protected vulnerable populations. They are also the most likely to be rejected by peers and family members, and often lacking even any legal recourse to simply “be” who they are, frequently enter a spiral of self-harm that can lead to substance abuse and alcoholism. This heartbreaking distress is seen and reported even in children as young as 4 years old who simply recognize that their gender identity does not correspond with their anatomic sex, and have asked their parents to help them die. So many families of gender variant kids experience severe discrimination, societal rejection, and serious psycho-social difficulty. This translates to higher levels of divorce, greater school and emotional problems in siblings, and severe marginalization. These families need their children to be recognized, included and protected, just as any family does.
Isn't it fair for Canada to stand up and to stand together, to say that our most vulnerable children and teens deserve to be specifically protected for the very characteristic that makes them vulnerable? Do we as a nation not have the responsibility to enshrine gender identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act? It is imperative. The medical evidence supports it; and these young Canadians, slipping through the cracks of our society, deserve to have their tears of loneliness and rejection wiped away so that instead of living and dying in fear, they may grow up to share and contribute to this wonderful country in which we are so privileged to live.
Dr. Shuvo Gosh
It is an incredible letter, and that is why I felt I needed to read it to the House.
Dr. Gosh sees firsthand every day how children suffer from the pressure to normalize and how space must open in our culture and in our minds to account for gender non-conforming children. Some children have biological gender variance, but nowhere do they see powerful reflections of themselves in mainstream society. However, a person must be recognized and must see themselves reflected in the world around them to feel healthy and accepted, and we as legislators have to make laws that recognize their inherent human rights.
Not only do we have the power to better protect trans folk from the disproportionate harm they face, but I believe we can be even more proactive about this problem. This bill is a very good first step, and I want to thank my colleague for all the work he has done for it to have the possibility of becoming law. It is my hope, though, that we can do even more to break down the inherent discrimination in our society. There are so many spaces that define and treat us by gender, spaces where trans folk face non-inclusion, discrimination and harm.
We must proactively train police, airport officials, teachers, legal personnel and medical personnel, and raise awareness among all Canadians that gender non-conforming people are equal members of our communities who deserve to be respected, treated with dignity and cannot be discriminated against, just the same as those of us who conform to our birth sex as our identity. This is about people whose rights are being ignored due to who they are.
In closing, I want to thank those who work on ensuring the rights and dignities of transgender and transsexual people, like Dr. Gosh and others I have heard from. Gwen Haworth, a trans woman, filmmaker and activist took the time to meet with me in Vancouver and to advocate for the rights of the trans youth she works with in the downtown eastside. I want to thank those who bravely face discrimination, hate, violence and marginalization every day because of who they are.
I would like to sincerely thank Bill Siksay, the first author of this bill, and the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, who has worked very hard to bring us to the point of adopting this very important measure today. Finally, I would like to thank in advance all members who will be supporting this bill. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.