Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to comment on and contribute to the debate on Bill C-279, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression).
Bill C-279 has been studied by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. While at committee, the sponsor of Bill C-279, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, proposed several amendments. He proposed to add only the term “gender identity” and not “gender expression” as a prohibited ground in the Canadian Human Rights Act and to the hate propaganda and aggravated sentencing provisions of the Criminal Code. He also proposed to add a definition of the term “gender identity” to the bill's preamble.
I would like to begin with a discussion of the proposed amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act. In interpreting and applying this act, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has already accepted and considered several complaints brought by transsexuals on the ground of sex. In fact, the ground of sex in any discrimination law is interpreted broadly and has evolved over the years. It is usually understood to cover discrimination complaints based not just on sex, but also gender-related attributes, such as pregnancy, childbirth, and more recently, transsexualism. For those complaints brought by transsexuals, the tribunal has used the existing grounds already contained in the act.
I would like to give a few examples to illustrate my point. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decided one case involving a male-to-female transsexual who was incarcerated in a federal men's prison. This inmate brought a complaint before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal alleging discrimination because the prison refused to continue her sex reassignment treatments and did not want to transfer her to a women's prison.
The tribunal dealt with this complaint under the ground of sex. In its decision, the tribunal stated, and I am quoting directly from the 2001 judgment of Kavanagh v. Correctional Services of Canada, which says there is no dispute “that discrimination on the basis of Transsexualism constitutes sex discrimination as well as discrimination on the basis of a disability”.
In another decision of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, from 2004, Montreuil v. National Bank of Canada, a male-to-female transsexual, who was in the process of transitioning and was dressing in women's clothing, was refused employment at a bank. Here again, the tribunal dealt with this complaint using the ground of sex, as the parties agreed. The tribunal member commented that “as a pre-operative transgendered person, the Complainant belonged to the group of persons who cannot be discriminated against on the basis of sex, under the Act”.
In a 2009 decision from the tribunal involving the same complainant, the Canadian Forces had refused the complainant's application for enrolment in the forces after determining that she had gender identity disorder. While the complaint was eventually dismissed by the tribunal, the tribunal member stated quite plainly that “discrimination on the basis of transsexualism is discrimination on the basis of sex or gender, as well as discrimination on the basis of disability”.
In deciding that transsexuals are already protected by our federal human rights law, the tribunal's approach is consistent with that taken by the provincial human rights tribunals that have found discrimination against transsexuals to be covered by the existing ground of sex.
I will mention one more decision to make my point that discrimination against transsexuals can and already has been addressed by the current law. This example comes from a discrimination complaint that made its way to the British Columbia Court of Appeal. In this case, a male-to-female transsexual was refused a volunteer position at a women's shelter and rape crisis centre. Once again, the tribunal dealt with the complaint using the ground of sex, and the Court of Appeal accepted this. This is the Vancouver Rape Relief Society v. Nixon case, which was decided in 2005.
As I have just described, all of these cases were dealt with using the ground of sex. This makes sense, as the existing prohibited grounds of discrimination are subject to interpretation by the tribunals and the courts. The ground of sex has been interpreted broadly, as I mentioned earlier, which is in keeping with how human rights protections are generally interpreted by courts and tribunals.
Using all of these examples, I wish to make the point that transsexuals facing discrimination in federally regulated workplaces and in accessing federally regulated services are in fact already protected by the current law.
For similar reasons, we may wish to ask ourselves whether it is necessary to add these grounds to the sentencing provisions of the Criminal Code. The section in question lists a number of deemed aggravating circumstances on sentencing, including evidence that the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability or any other similar factor. Again, the list includes sex, and it also refers to any other similar factor. Consequently, judges may already be able to impose longer sentences for hate crimes against transsexual persons in appropriate circumstances.
If transsexuals are already protected from discrimination and are covered by the open-ended language of the sentencing provisions, we must ask ourselves this. What is the purpose of adding these terms?
It may be a largely symbolic or declarative purpose. In that case, on what basis do we decide to symbolically add one group and not others? Grounds of discrimination are not typically stated generally, like sex, race and religion. There are many different groups covered by these grounds. The Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code do not break these grounds into specific groups, which would involve selecting some groups over others for specific mention. If it turns out that, for example, people are being discriminated against on the basis of certain religious observance, then the general ground of religion is there to cover the situation. It would be inappropriate for Parliament to extend the list of grounds by adding particular religious observance.
If people with a particular disability are facing discrimination, then the ground of disability is in the act and can be used to protect these individuals. If we began to add specific groups, there might be no end to this kind of law reform and it could go on and on.
As I have said, the ground of sex is already in the act and has been used to address instances of discrimination against this group. The addition of gender identity is therefore unnecessary.
However, if its addition is not purely symbolic, as the sponsor tells us it is not, then we would ask ourselves this. If this ground were to be added to the Canadian Human Rights Act, what sorts of new complaints of discrimination will be brought before the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Tribunal? How will employers know what kinds of workplace behaviour and expression would be prohibited? The answers to these questions are not clear to me and they are questions that we should carefully consider.
As I have explained, I believe the amendments proposed by Bill C-279 are unnecessary. For these reasons, I will be opposing Bill C-279.