I have had the privilege of representing constituents in Calgary Centre North for nearly two years now. In this time, I have had the opportunity to review many pieces of legislation and debate both their merits and their flaws. As I have done so, I have been struck that oftentimes, we have to evaluate two components of legislation: the why of the bill and the how of the issue. Many times we disagree, sometimes vociferously, about the why. We have differing political ideology, thoughts on how public policy should be best utilized and thoughts on how this country should be governed. It is in this context that I first speak to the why of this bill.
After reading testimony from witnesses during this iteration of the bill and in the last Parliament, and after consulting with those who work with members of the trans community and members of the community itself, I am frankly shocked by the discrimination this group of people faces.
The member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca and witnesses to this bill at committee, and indeed members here today, have given this House so many examples that I cannot reiterate them. Suffice it to say that I would offer that the summary of evidence could read as follows: the trans community in Canada has, on frequent occasions, experienced elevated levels of sexual violence committed against members; frequent workplace discrimination and job loss based on gender; lack of clarity on health care provisions and sometimes access to health care; lack of clarity on processes related to obtaining identification documents; bullying in places of employment and educational institutions; discrimination in accessing housing accommodation; and numerous other incidents of discrimination.
Most importantly, they live with the consequences of these acts of non-compassion, of false assumptions that, simply by virtue of their state, they are sexually promiscuous, or more ludicrously, that they are criminal. In this, the trans community experiences very high levels of both depression and suicide. This is not acceptable to me, and this is the why of this bill. It is my hope that no one in the House, either on this side or the other side, could read the testimony, could talk to people in the community, and argue that this is acceptable or tolerable in our country.
The question set upon us as legislators is the how. How do we prevent these situations from occurring?
I have spent a lot of time on the how. I found that this bill seeks to address the how by addressing the following assumption, using the language of the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca during the bill review at the Standing Committee on Justice, that “transgendered Canadians do not enjoy the same protection of their rights as other Canadians”.
This is a very serious charge that is worthy of study, as the ideas and values that are the heart of how our country operates, the freedoms it affords to all groups to worship without persecution, to seek prosperity in one's field of work, to choose whom we love, and to speak with conviction on issues that impact our communities, are all based on the assumption that Canadians have equality of rights in freedom of expression and can do so without the threat of discrimination or violence to their person. However, to assess whether this bill provides an adequate how, I first evaluated the validity of this assumption.
Except now that the Canada tribunal has emphatically stated that there is no longer any doubt, I would suggest to you that your first hurdle has been cleared by precedent... There is now case law that supports the proposition that individuals who have a genuine gender identity disorder are entitled to human rights protection.
There have been numerous examples given in the House and at committee of case law that shows that this provision exists. I understand the member for Halifax when she says that she wants to see herself in that human rights bill. The case law does exist to show that it is there.
Mr. Ian Fine, the acting secretary of the human rights commission, stated the following, “the commission, the tribunal, and the courts view gender identity and gender expression as protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act”. Having said that, he also stated that “adding the grounds of gender identity and gender expression to the [Canadian Human Rights Act] would make the protection” of the transgender community explicit. The rationale that he stated for this necessity was as follows: “This would promote acceptance and send a message that everyone in Canada has the right to be treated with equality, dignity, and respect”. I do not disagree with the latter part of that statement. It gave me quite a bit of pause for thought, and that has been at the heart of my deliberations on the bill.
It could be argued that this is contradictory in some regard. Mr. Fine previously made a statement that the tribunal, the commission and the courts do view gender identity and expression as protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act, and that somehow even though this protection exists, it does not send enough of a message to Canadians on this issue. While this contradiction may be well intentioned, I feel there are many examples where serious issues arise when legislators equate symbolism with social action or when we inadvertently dilute the role of social activists by being reactive to an issue with legislative symbolism.
The member for Halifax has my playbook because she stole my speech on International Women's Rights Day. I would like to speak on the social action process for the struggle for female gender equality.
Even after laws were passed to enshrine women's gender equality within our laws, the member is right; we did not see those changes happen overnight. In fact, lawsuits still had to be fought and won, offenders had to be charged, battles had to be waged to change workplace codes of conduct, and awareness training programs had to be crafted. I would like to highlight that in the British parliament, even after women had been elected, as little time ago as 1993, a woman in this place did not make it to a vote because she could not find a bathroom.
I have also stood in the House to highlight that sexism does happen with frequency in this country in spite of these laws. I am not trying to imply that the struggle for trans rights is directly concurrent with the struggle for women's rights, but in my deliberations on the bill, I found there is a burden of evidence which suggests that case law does exist to provide the trans community with protection under the law against discrimination and violence. Here is my concern. In this fact, the how of this legislation may not achieve the ultimate solution to the why, in that it may place too much of an emphasis on symbolism over direct social action.
As always, the member for Halifax makes a very compelling argument.
A question that I have struggled with in evaluating the validity of the bill is what guidance we, as legislators, are truly giving judicial organizations in how to carry out the intentions of Parliament in this regard. The way the term “gender identity” is defined in the preamble of the bill, even with the amendments, played a large part in my decision to vote to study the bill further. I am still not entirely clear on how parliamentarians, the human rights tribunal, criminal courts, sentencing judges and the broader community at large will be required to interpret this term.
I am also not clear on the following key issues. What constitutes the scope of discrimination against someone based on his or her gender identity in the eyes of my colleagues, as legislators, of members of the trans community and the courts? What kind of speech based on someone's gender identity could be considered hate propaganda? What does it mean in defined terms to have a bias based on a person's deeply held internal and individual experience of gender?
Admittedly, the evaluation of this legislation has been very difficult for me because I believe that the why it presents is concerning. Any time we as parliamentarians are faced with clear situations where fear of differences or lack of awareness allow hatred to mushroom, we have to take note and ask ourselves what role we play in breaking down these barriers. This legislation has opened my eyes to the plight of a group of people in this country who experience extreme discrimination. Both sides of this debate should agree that equality and protection against harm are two fundamental values that all Canadians of any gender, any age, any background are entitled to.
However, as legislators we are also tasked with deciding if the proposed legislation is sound. Given the lack of clarity that I found in the bill, I do have concern about its viability and if the how will achieve what the community and Canadians hope for in addressing the why.