Mr. Speaker, I am honoured this evening to speak to Bill C-279, a bill that seeks to extend the scope of human rights legislation to include transgendered Canadians. I applaud the members who have led the charge in this regard, including the member for Vancouver Centre, the member for Burnaby—Douglas, as well as the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca in whose name this bill resides.
I will summarize briefly the thrust of the bill. Bill C-279 seeks to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity as prohibited grounds of discrimination. This is important because today, when transgendered individuals seek to allege they have been discriminated against, they have to fit their claim within the definition of either discrimination on the basis of sex or discrimination on the basis of disability. That is the state of the law at present. Bill C-279 also seeks to amend the Criminal Code with respect to hate speech to include gender identity and gender expression in the definition of what constitutes a recognizable group within the meaning of the code.
I support this bill and I do so without reservation. I acknowledge my colleague, the hon. member for Mount Royal, the former Attorney General and justice minister of Canada and an esteemed law professor. His interventions are always instructive. I certainly would not be able to improve upon them, and there are a couple that bear repeating.
The member for Mount Royal stated:
By adopting the amendments that have been proposed in Bill C-279, Parliament can send a strong message of support to transgendered Canadians, affirming their identity and acknowledging their struggles. Indeed, this legislation, again as my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca pointed out, ensures that they will enjoy the legal protections accorded to other targeted groups.
The hon. member for Mount Royal went on to dispel the notion we just heard from the member opposite, that existing legislation already covers those who identify as transgendered, when he said:
Some members of the House have argued that Bill C-279 is unnecessary because transgendered people are already protected under the existing categories of sex and disability. With respect, this position is misinformed. First, gender identity and gender expression do not refer to biological sex or sexual orientation. Rather, the terms refer to an inner feeling of being male, female, both or neither. Second, gender identity and gender expression are not a disability. Rather, they are a sense of self and a source of identity. To confound gender identity and gender expression with sex and disability is to ignore the unique experiences of discrimination and disadvantage that are faced by transgendered Canadians.
The member continued:
The Canadian Human Rights Act is more than just an act of Parliament. It is an act of recognition, a statement of our collective values, and a document that sets out a vision of a Canada where all individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from discrimination.
So in the context of this debate, which has at times been a vigorous debate and at times a debate with moments unworthy of this House, there are some who, contrary to evidence and facts, choose another path to make their case. They choose fear and innuendo, all the while claiming a moral high ground. They claim for themselves exclusivity to that which is right and decent, using language that is hurtful and demeaning. How can anyone claim to be of good heart or claim the virtue of “love thy neighbour” yet reduce this bill to gutter language when they call it “the bathroom bill”? It is an entirely offensive and erroneous implication to suggest that transgendered people would be lurking late at night in bathrooms should this bill pass.
These purveyors of fear and intolerance are often the same people who claim same-sex marriage would lead to the downfall of marriage or that same-sex marriage would lead to rampant polygamy. It was pure nonsense then and it is pure nonsense today.
In contrast to these voices of intolerance, we have the work of organizations like the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health. It has done excellent work using facts and evidence as the basis of this debate. This is what it said with respect to Bill C-279 and the so-called bathroom question:
It is also important to recognize that the provisions...will not create new or special rights for transgender individuals, and in particular, it will not change the law with respect to washroom use. Rather, its enactment will explicitly confirm the law’s protection of the safety and human dignity of everyone in Canada regardless of gender identity or gender expression. It will also ensure that gender variant people’s right to participate in, and contribute to, Canadian society and economic life are not hampered by ignorance, prejudice, hatred and violence.
Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to listen to interventions by Conservative MPs, whose passion and thoughtfulness at the justice committee was encouraging. I first acknowledge the member for Delta—Richmond East, now the Associate Minister of National Defence. She should be applauded for her courage in defending the rights of transgender Canadians at the justice committee. One can only imagine her embarrassment, however, when a fellow Conservative MP, a non-member of the justice committee, was sent by the Prime Minister's office for the sole purpose of hijacking the meeting in order to filibuster and prevent this important bill from proceeding through the committee. In the face of this intervention and filibuster, the Conservative member for Delta—Richmond East held firm to her convictions in supporting Bill C-279.
The second individual I would like to acknowledge is the Conservative member for Saint Boniface. She is a rare ray of light in this debate, using reason to construct an argument that is worthy of the House. Unlike the vast majority of her Conservative colleagues, she supports protecting transgender Canadians. Allow me to highlight one quote by the member for Saint Boniface:
To give hope and opportunity to transgendered people through a bill like this, to give them hope in knowing they will have clarity every single time they report, every single time they want to go before a commission or a tribunal, that gender identity means they can be a transgender individual and not have to rely on sex, which to most people means plumbing, or disability, which is not what many of them feel, I think is imperative. I think it's imperative that this move forward. I think it's imperative that we, as Canadians and parliamentarians, embrace the notion that we are inviting other Canadians to feel the sense of belonging that this bill will give them.
The march to full equality is never easy. There will always be voices opposed to progress and to full equality. Those voices of intolerance are now on the fringe of society, where they belong. One need only reflect on a time when women were not allowed to vote and treated like second-class citizens, if even citizens at all, or we think of the great injustice inflicted on black people who struggled and, arguably, still struggle for the justice and equal treatment they deserve by virtue of their inherent dignity, or we think of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and how they were treated, so marginalized and shunned. Many of those who oppose same-sex marriage are the same people who now oppose this bill.
Let me close by suggesting this. If the Conservatives use their majority to defeat this bill, they may very well take comfort in the victory of intolerance over justice, but the fight for equality and dignity will continue. Those who are vulnerable to hate speech, marginalization and discrimination in the workplace because they are transgendered will one day, despite the Conservative government, get the protection they deserve as full and equal citizens of this great country.