Madam Speaker, here is a boy, and here is a girl. Easy, right? Not so fast. Let us just say that it is a bit more complicated than that. Sex assignment is not always clear-cut. Genetically, a person with two X chromosomes is a woman, and a person with an X chromosome and a Y chromosome is a man. However, some people have just a single X chromosome, and others have three. Others have two or three X chromosomes and one Y chromosome, while still others might have two Y chromosomes and one X chromosome. Clearly, this is anything but simple.
The bill before us today, Bill C-16, makes no mention of genetics. However, it does address an equally complex subject, that of gender identity and gender expression.
As far back as the 1950s, we began to understand that a person cannot be defined merely by his or her physical sexual characteristics and to distinguish between “sex” and “gender”. In 1994, United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the following in a briefing:
The word gender has acquired the new and useful connotation of cultural or attitudinal characteristics (as opposed to physical characteristics) distinctive to the sexes. That is to say, gender is to sex as feminine is to female and masculine is to male.
I think it bears repeating, so once again, the word “gender” has acquired the new and useful connotation of cultural or attitudinal characteristics as opposed to physical characteristics, distinctive to the sexes. That is to say, gender is to sex as feminine is to female and masculine is to male.
Justice Scalia clearly states that “sex” and “gender” are two different things.
Transgendered individuals are people whose sexual identity does not correspond to the physical sexual characteristics with which they were born. They literally do not feel comfortable in their own skin, in the body nature gave them. They feel feminine, but have a male body, or they feel masculine, but have a female body.
With that in mind, it is easy to imagine the discrimination, prejudice, harassment, and violence these individuals are often subjected to. A shy teen, a small man, and a kid with above-average intelligence are often harassed. Now imagine someone who is transgendered.
Statistics are an excellent way to illustrate the discrimination transgendered people are subjected to. In Ontario, for example, 71% of transgendered individuals earn less than $30,000 a year. My colleague from Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke provided some statistics earlier on poverty rates among transgendered people, and those figures were far more grim than what I just mentioned.
According to Egale Canada, 90% of of transgendered students reported being bullied on a daily or weekly basis. That is a lot. In addition, a few months ago, a medical clinic in Montreal that performs gender-affirming surgery was targeted by arson.
The prejudice and violence are very real. That is why, over the past several years, the NDP has been introducing bills in the House of Commons of Canada to stand up for the rights of transgendered Canadians and protect them from discrimination.
The main purpose of these bills was to add protections to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code based on gender identity and gender expression. That is what Bill Siksay, the former NDP member for Burnaby—Douglas in British Columbia, did in 2005. Because he thought this cause was so important, he introduced the bill twice in the House of Commons, in 2006-07 and 2008-09.
This issue is so important to the NDP that my colleague from Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, who sits beside me, took up the torch and almost succeeded in having the bill passed in Parliament. The Green Party, the Bloc Québécois, and many Liberal and Conservative members voted in favour of it.
However, the unelected and unaccountable Senate decided to let the bill die on the Order Paper, even though it had been passed by members who were duly elected by Canadians.
As a result, after over 10 years of debate, these people, who are too often the victims of harassment and violence, still do not have any protection. The NDP is therefore pleased to see the government introduce Bill C-16. We have been asking for this for a long time. However, I am worried that this is just smoke and mirrors.
Since I am an optimist, I want to believe that the government really intends to protect this vulnerable segment of the population. After all, the last time, all of the Liberal members who were present for the vote voted in favour of Bill C-279, which was introduced by my colleague from Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke.
However, this time, the context is different. Today, the Liberals form the government and hold a majority of seats in the House of Commons. They can therefore ensure that Bill C-16 is passed at second and third reading. I challenge them to do so.
The House has passed this bill twice already and the government can ensure that it passes quickly through all stages of the legislative process. Then there would be one remaining important stage, which, in my political party, we would be happy to do without. However, since the Senate still exists, we will have to work with it. I challenge the Liberals to talk to their Senate colleagues, those the Prime Minister kicked out of the Liberal caucus, but who still feel like Liberals, and to convince them that the changes that Bill C-16 makes to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code are just and important to transgendered people.
As far as my Conservative colleagues are concerned, during the March 2013 vote, 18 of them, including some cabinet ministers, supported a similar bill introduced by my NDP colleague from Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke. Other members among their ranks, including their leader, recently said that they would support Bill C-16. I hope that many others will join them to ensure that this bill is finally passed.
I would hope that, as with the Liberals, these Conservative members who see the merits of this cause will work to ensure that their Senate colleagues do not allow this bill to die on the benches of the other place yet again. I think it would be a national disgrace if this bill is not passed.
Bill C-16 would add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in section 2 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. It would also amend the Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression as distinguishing characteristics protected under section 318, and as an aggravating circumstance to be taken into consideration under section 718.2, hate crimes, at the time of sentencing.
Since 1970, 948 transgendered people have been murdered around the world. This number is probably much higher, but most countries, including Canada, do not note the status of transgender in files involving violence.
Nevertheless, the evidence is clear: transgender people are victims of discrimination, prejudice, harassment, and violence. Therefore, it would be disgraceful to let down transgender Canadians once again. Trans and non-binary gender Canadians have been waiting for far too long to have legal rights in Canada.
Let us work together for this humanitarian cause and ensure that Bill C-16 passes quickly in the House of Commons and in committee, and just as quickly in the Senate, so that it becomes a law that Canadians can be proud of.