Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege and pleasure for me to speak this evening about the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca's bill, particularly since I had the pleasure of examining and fine-tuning it with my Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights colleagues.
It was a very intense experience. We had to establish the parameters for the debate on the bill, which seeks to amend the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act.
First, it is important to point out that gender identity and gender expression are basically a state of being, or in other words, something that cannot be fully explained outside the personal experience of the individual in that state.
I am well aware that some of my colleagues are somewhat reluctant to deal with differences related to gender identity and gender expression. They may even feel uncomfortable or unable to do so as a result of their own personal experiences.
I would like to use my own experience growing up as a heterosexual in a very common family situation as an example. Like any individual in our society, at some point I had to deal with my gender identity and gender expression. We have no choice about this state of being. We cannot really change it and we have to live with it, yet we still have to make decisions dictated by societal conditions and our ability to deal with those conditions.
From this perspective, for certain groups in our society, it may be difficult, if not practically impossible, to deal with one's gender identity and expression and the decisions associated with that without a certain amount of suffering and a feeling of helplessness.
I would like to come back to my personal experience. I am 46 years old, and I had my late father as a role model. If he were still alive, he would be 80 years old. He was a man from a certain era who quietly shouldered his responsibilities, keeping many questions and doubts, as well as his share of heartache, to himself. That was the example I had, and I had to decide whether or not to follow it. I also had to determine how far I was prepared to go and how much of his legacy I was prepared to accept.
That sometimes put me in uncomfortable situations as a heterosexual. It can be difficult to be at ease with being a man. We are told that real men do not cry, that they shoulder their responsibilities, that they should take their place in society, get a job, have children and have a nice little family. Having to conform can be a heavy burden, especially as society evolves. We experienced that in Quebec, with the upheaval of the Quiet Revolution.
Sometimes, our grandparents' reference points, which seemed to be set in stone, are jarred or even swept away by compelling movements that force people to question themselves and face a reality that is completely different from everything they have every known.
We all experience frustrations in life. Some people, however, not only experience frustrations, but also face suffering because of conditions in society and repression by intolerant groups that have no place in a society that prides itself on freedom and on giving every individual an equal opportunity and an equal place in society.
We should not hide the fact that the testimony we heard in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights was shocking. I would like to repeat part of what the member for Calgary Centre-North said. At times, we were outraged and at times we were simply pained by their stories. I cannot describe how it felt to hear people testify about the humiliation they endured in everyday situations that I, as a heterosexual man, could never have imagined.
At times, an overwhelming sense of outrage came over me, and I had a hard time accepting the systematic obstruction, the underhanded attempts to obstruct the committee's normal work in order to gain the upper hand in this debate.
All of my colleagues in the House will agree that human dignity is non-negotiable. It is very simple. I would even add that the sanctity of human life is something we value so highly—at least we should—that we cannot put a price on defending it. We must never tolerate pettiness or compromise.
I have spoken about my faith before, and I want to share some of the Catholic Church's social doctrine. It very clearly states that every human being has the unalienable right to exist and to have dignity within society. That represents a tremendous challenge, because it means that we must allow the right to be different, the right to a certain degree of dissidence, the right to go against the established norm and the right to go against the stream.
This also means that people like me, who have the privilege to have a favourable—even comfortable—place in society, must make concessions. I am very pleased to be able to reach out to a group in our society whose rights are too easily violated and to offer them some progress. It may not be perfect, but it is still progress.
With respect to the work in committee, it is no secret that transgender and transsexual individuals too often face problems with the courts. I do not want the courts to determine their rights. That is my role and my duty as legislator, and that is what I want to do, here in this House, with Bill C-279.