Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege today to rise and speak in support of Bill C-279. The bill would add gender identity and gender expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act, section 2, as prohibited grounds for discrimination. It would also amend the Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression as distinguishing characteristics protected under section 318, and as aggravating circumstances to be taken into consideration under section 718.2, hate crimes, at the time of sentencing.
However, before I go into more detail on the bill, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the stellar speeches I have heard tonight. My colleague from Charlottetown captured what the legislation is about, but also identified how many of the fears are baseless and that a lot of flames are being fanned to scare people and make them not feel right.
My colleague from Halifax, from a legal point of view, but more from the emotional point of view, very importantly pointed out to us that we are not talking about giving people rights here; we are talking about acknowledging in legislation, laws that we are saying they already have. I have not heard anyone in the House say that transgendered people do not have these protections. Therefore, let us make them explicit by putting them in the Criminal Code and the Human Rights Act.
My colleague also went on to talk about, and we could see it in her presentation, the human toll it takes when we have discrimination and we have a minority group of people in our society who do not feel reflected in law. They have to find a corner that they can hide in or that they can fit in. That is not how we are as Canadians.
I also liked the struggle of my colleague across the way, the member for Calgary Centre North. What was so moving about her presentation was that she identified beautifully the very reason that we need this legislation. She felt, when she heard and read the testimonies, the pain and anguish that some Canadians are going through because of gender identity issues.
After listening to these three members, I cannot imagine anyone in the House being opposed to the legislation. We disagree in the House on all kinds of things, on the budget, on some pieces of legislation, but surely when it comes to fundamental rights and protections for every Canadian, no matter what race or gender, that is one thing we can all agree is fundamentally Canadian and the right thing to do.
My colleague articulated beautifully the struggle that women have had. When we look at history, it was not that long ago that women were not recognized as persons. I challenge anyone in the room to think that we could be sitting in the House as women representing our ridings if that legislation had not been enacted and we had not been recognized as persons. That did not automatically get rid of all the discrimination and all the barriers and glass ceilings that exist. However, what it did do was to open up a pathway, and it took away the greatest barrier, which was to not be recognized at all.
This bill, in turn, would do exactly that. It says to the members of our transgendered community that they are part of this society and they are explicit in our human rights code. They do not have to hide, nor do they have to go looking to see which corner of the human rights code they fit in, nor do they have to see if there is a judge who is going to be favouring looking for a spot or fear a day when the judiciary could turn around and say it is not explicit and cannot be found in here, so they are not covered. It is to avoid that very situation that we have to have legislation like this.
In our human rights code, we identify race, gender and many other things. This bill would add another specificity to the word “gender”. It would identify it to include Canadian society.
I do not know if members are aware, but I was a classroom teacher for a very long time. In that role, one of the things I discovered very early on in my teaching is that for children to be successful in life, they have to see themselves reflected, but they also have to feel themselves protected. When we have transgender young people in our community who do not feel protected explicitly in our law, we leave them vulnerable.
I do not have to explain and draw graphic pictures in words of the kind of discrimination many face. I am not saying this legislation would take it away, but when this legislation is passed, it would send a message to employers and to the very few Canadians who may have a tendency not to be so inclusive and not to be so accepting. There are very few of those in Canada, I find, but when it comes to imposing hurt on a person, one person can do a lot of damage. It is for that reason that we must have this law and this kind of explicit protection in our legislation.
As we sit in here, words are important, and words in legislation become even more important. I heard a colleague today speak from a legal perspective that I had not thought of, describing all the different areas the different judges have had to explore to see where discrimination on gender identity and gender expression could be covered under the human rights code. They actually have to struggle to find those areas, and if they have to struggle to find them, our human rights code needs to be made more explicit.
Once again I acknowledge the wonderful speeches made by my colleagues from Halifax and Calgary Centre—North and the emotion and empathy I heard from my colleague from Charlottetown. I am sure her colleagues on that side of the aisle heard the pain that she experienced as she chose her words very carefully and will see that it is time for this House of Commons to take action.
It would be fitting if we could all vote for this measure unanimously, especially when we are on the eve of International Women's Day. We would celebrate the fact that we have enshrined those rights into our legislation and into human rights.
I appeal to my colleagues across the aisle to vote for this unanimously. I know they are going to, because they are very caring Canadians.