Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Richmond Hill today.
I am very honoured to stand here today to support Bill C-16, which aims to amend both the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to add gender identity and expression to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination.
Canadians rightly expect their government, and their laws, to respect their fundamental values. It is something Canada does very well on so many fronts, but we all know that we can do better.
I am very pleased to be here today to talk about why I believe that this bill will do a great service for Canadians by bringing our current legislation more in line with some of the values we hold dear.
We, as Canadians, are fortunate to live in a country that embraces diversity. We see diversity as a strength and are rightly proud to celebrate those from all walks of life who contribute to the Canadian tapestry and our society.
We also know that diversity in our society did not happen by accident. The extension and protection of rights has been a work in progress for more than half a century. The two items we are here to discuss amending today, the Canadian Human Rights Act and the hate speech section of the Criminal Code, are fundamental to that work.
The changes proposed today are another step toward our goal of being a society free from bias and discrimination and in which every Canadian is valued and protected. The Canadian Human Rights Act, in conjunction with human rights legislation provincially and territorially, has played, and continues to play, a fundamental role in ensuring that Canadians, regardless of sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, or other grounds, can participate fully and equally in all aspects of Canadian life.
Unfortunately, we know that trans and gender-diverse persons have been, and continue to be, disproportionately impacted by discrimination and hate crimes. This, quite simply, is unacceptable.
We can, and we must, do more to ensure that gender-diverse Canadians are free from discrimination and are protected from hate propaganda and hate crimes. Bill C-16 would be critical in addressing the real and dangerous discrimination faced by gender-diverse and transgender individuals.
I would first like to speak about the amendments this bill would make to the Canadian Human Rights Act. The act is crucial in ensuring that Canadians have equal opportunities to live, work, and carry out their daily lives without discrimination, but it is not working for everyone. In a 2010 survey of 500 transgender individuals in Ontario, 13% of respondents indicated that they had been fired, and 18% were refused employment based upon their transgender status.
Again, this is unacceptable.
By adding gender expression and gender identity to the list of prohibited discriminatory grounds, we would make sure that all Canadians, regardless of gender identity, would have equal opportunities to participate in every facet of Canadian life.
Inclusion of gender identity as prohibited grounds for discrimination would be much more than just words on paper. It would provide individuals who have complaints with access to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. It would provide a fair and comprehensive process to ensure the protection of their rights and an opportunity for redress in cases where those rights were not respected.
It is my steadfast belief that when we extend and protect the rights of some Canadians, we do a great service not for just those individuals but for all Canadians.
Respect for human rights is so fundamental to who we are as Canadians that whenever we can act to do better to protect and enshrine rights in this country, we have a duty to do so.
Bill C-16 would also make important amendments to the Criminal Code to add gender expression and identity to the list of distinguishing characteristics of an identifiable group to ensure greater protection from hate speech and crimes motivated by hate.
The same survey I referenced earlier found that 20% of transgender individuals who responded had been physically and sexually assaulted, and far too many of these crimes were not reported to police.
Violence and hateful propaganda must never be tolerated in a fair and peaceful country like Canada, but when those crimes are motivated by hatred of specific or identifiable groups, it is incumbent upon us to do more to protect those targeted individuals and to hold the people accountable for their actions. The amendments to the Criminal Code proposed in this bill would provide increased protections for gender-diverse individuals and would permit longer sentences in cases where a crime was motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate.
We are under no illusion that the changes in the bill will end all discrimination against transgender and diverse populations, but it is an important step, one that builds on the advocacy work that those in the LGBTQ+ community and their allies have done for many years. I am proud that the Government of Canada is now catching up. These changes would put in place fundamental protections needed to ensure a basic level of protection.
There is more we can do. We must ensure equity for gender-diverse Canadians, but it starts with ensuring their inclusion in the Criminal Code.
On a personal note, it is particularly important to me to speak today to the bill, because as a black person and as a woman, there have been periods in Canadian history when people who look like me were not viewed as persons. During Women's History Month, and particularly today, on Persons Day, it is important to recognize this. I am a generation removed from those fights, so I recognize that the privilege given to me to serve in the House of Commons requires me, it is my duty, to do all I can to help extend those rights to all.
Further, I have three children at home, and in everything I do I cannot help but think about how it will affect their lives. It is important to me that they know that they are growing up in a Canada where same-sex marriage is the law of the land. This particular bill is a further extension of the values we hold dear and the values my children, as young as they are, hold very dear.
I hope that 20 years from now, there will be a generation of children for whom the idea of discrimination based on gender identity, or any other discrimination, is unthinkable. Bill C-16 is critical in making that a reality.
I would like to commend my colleague, the hon. Minister of Justice, for her hard work on this file. Her obvious commitment to diversity and inclusion is an example to all of us in the chamber. I want to thank her for her leadership. I am proud to stand with her today in supporting this legislation, and I encourage all my colleagues in the House to do the same.