moved that Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud that on May 17 we introduced Bill C-16, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. The bill addresses a fundamental issue of equality and human rights, the discrimination and hate crimes experienced by trans and gender diverse Canadians.
At this time I would like to table, in both official languages, a potential charter impact statement for Bill C-16.
I would first like to acknowledge the efforts of colleagues in bringing this matter before previous Parliaments by the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, the member for Vancouver Centre, and the former member for Burnaby—Douglas, Mr. Bill Siksay. Their hard work on this issue helped start an important national conversation on gender identity and expression. I thank them all for their leadership.
Canadians know that trans people make the same important contributions to Canadian society as everyone else, yet their life journeys are often more challenging, as they have to overcome misunderstandings, prejudice, and hostility because of their gender identity or expression. With the bill, we unequivocally say that Canada can do better. As the Prime Minister has said, Canada is stronger because of its diversity, not in spite of it.
Bill C-16 reflects our commitment to this diversity and provides for equality and freedom from discrimination and violence for all Canadians, regardless of their gender identity. With the bill, we say loudly and clearly that it is time to move beyond mere tolerance of trans people. It is time for their full acceptance and inclusion in Canadian society.
Bill C-16 would bring us closer to this goal by amending two statutes: the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. These two statutes play an essential role in affirming the basic equality rights of all Canadians and reducing their vulnerability to harm. It would improve legal protections for trans and gender diverse people by updating the laws against discrimination, hate propaganda, and hate crimes. It would promote inclusion and respect for trans people who have so often been relegated to the margins, struggling for full recognition and participation in our society.
Some of the words and concepts used in the discussion on Bill C-16 may not be familiar to all Canadians. For this reason, I would like to elaborate on some of the terminology being used. The term “gender identity” is a person's internal or individual experience of their gender. It is a deeply felt experience of being a man, a woman, or being somewhere along the gender spectrum. Gender identity is a profound matter of self-identity. It shapes one's self-understanding.
Conversely, “gender expression” is how a person publicly presents their gender. It is an external, or outward presentation of gender through aspects such as dress, hair, makeup, body language, or voice. Trans and gender diverse persons are among the most vulnerable members in society. As parliamentarians we have the opportunity to make their lives safer and freer. Bill C-16 presents an opportunity to ensure that our laws provide clear and explicit protection to those who need it the most.
I will begin by discussing the proposed amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act. Parliament enacted this act in 1977 to promote equal opportunity in federal workplaces and in access to goods and services. The act says:
all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices
Canada has a long history of laws that recognize and seek to address harmful discrimination. Over the course of this history a theme has emerged, one of greater awareness of the barriers to opportunity that exist in our society.
When legislatures across this country came to understand the pervasive harm done by discrimination against women, they prohibited discrimination based on sex. Later, legislators expanded the laws again to legally protect persons with disabilities. Other prohibited grounds of discrimination are now common in human rights laws throughout the country, such as family status and sexual orientation.
Today, we are at a point in our history where we must act again. We must renew our commitment to equal opportunity and further extend legal protection to vulnerable Canadians who experience discrimination. In recent years, many legislatures in Canada have acted to protect the rights of trans and gender diverse persons. We can now see these legal protections are not just symbolically important; they are absolutely necessary. Significant Canadian surveys paint an alarming picture.
In 2009 and 2010, the Trans Pulse project studied the experiences of approximately 500 trans persons in Ontario. They reported significant employment barriers, including 13% having been fired and 18% having been refused employment because they were trans. Given these barriers, it is not surprising that trans persons are significantly underemployed, with a median income of $15,000 per year, despite generally high levels of education. In fact, 44% of trans persons in Ontario have a post-secondary degree.
Tragically, more than half of trans people in Ontario have symptoms consistent with clinical depression. A shocking 43% of trans adults in Ontario had a history of attempting suicide, including 10% having made an attempt within the past year. The difficulties faced by trans persons are significant and deserve our attention. The experiences of trans and gender diverse youth are especially troubling.
In 2011, Egale Canada conducted the first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools, collecting information from over 3,700 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans high school students. Results showed that 23% of trans students reported hearing teachers use negative gender-related or transphobic comments weekly and even daily. The study also indicated very high levels of verbal, physical, and sexual harassment. Specifically among trans students, 74% reported verbal harassment, 49% reported sexual harassment, and 37% reported physical harassment linked to being trans.
Not surprisingly, 52% of trans youth reported feeling unsafe in both change rooms and washrooms. This is completely unacceptable. Too many trans and gender diverse persons are being deprived the opportunity to contribute and flourish in our society. These figures reinforce the need for Bill C-16, through which we, as parliamentarians, can do our part to address this shocking reality.
It should go without saying that discrimination is a matter of public concern. When a person loses the opportunity to work or faces persistent discrimination, we all lose potential contributions to our society, to our workplaces, and the Canadian economy. Depriving individuals of freedom to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have undermines their ability to participate in society.
By adding gender identity as a prohibited ground to the Canadian Human Rights Act, Bill C-16 aims to ensure that people of all gender identities are protected from discrimination. We have heard from trans and gender diverse persons that their gender expression is often the basis of the discrimination they face. Gender norms are reinforced by our society, yet they do not fit all of us. There is great diversity in how Canadians dress and speak, in their appearance, and their behaviour. No one should be disadvantaged solely because they do not conform to someone else's gender-based expectations.
It is also important to understand what these amendments would mean to the Canadian Human Rights Act. The act defines a number of discriminatory practices, such as refusing to hire or promote an employee, or refusing to serve a customer based on the prohibited grounds of discrimination. By adding “gender identity or expression” to the list of prohibited grounds, it will be clear that practices that discriminate on these grounds will not be permitted.
People suffering discrimination can make a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The commission then investigates complaints and attempts to mediate between the parties to resolve the dispute. If the commission believes that a dispute should be given a hearing and an authoritative decision, it may refer the complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. If the tribunal determines that discrimination has occurred, it may order a range of remedies, such as reinstatement in a job, an order that the discrimination cease, or monetary remedies.
The purpose of the act is to end and correct discriminatory practice. The Canadian Human Rights Act already provides some protections for trans persons. Tribunals and courts in several jurisdictions in Canada have found that discrimination against trans persons is a kind of discrimination based on sex, which is already a prohibited ground of discrimination. However, it is not enough to leave the law as it is. Canadians should have a clear and explicit statement of their rights and obligations. Equal rights for trans persons should not be hidden but be plain for all to see.
The legal clarity would provide two tangible benefits. First, people who are subject to discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression would be able to make their case in precisely those terms. Making a formal claim of discrimination can be an intimidating process. Explicitly including gender expression or identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act would make it easier to interpret for those who have suffered this kind of discrimination, instead of forcing them to explain how the law on sex discrimination covers their situation. Second, these amendments would raise awareness of the protections and obligations under the act.
Bill C-16 does not define gender identity or expression. This is consistent with the majority of prohibited grounds under the act. There are good reasons to continue with this approach.
Many of the grounds, such as race and religion, cannot be captured in a single definition. There are more subtle and complex concepts that evolve over time and reflect the particular cases the act deals with. That does not mean that they are vague or obscure.
Gender identity and gender expression are increasingly common terms with enough subtle meaning to allow the commission and the tribunal to interpret them.Gender identity is now found in eight provincial and territorial human rights codes, and gender expression is found in five. In none of these are the terms defined by statute.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission is also able to provide detailed guidance on how to comply with the law. The commission has an important policy and education mandate, which includes interpreting the act and promoting compliance with it. The commission will continue to perform its role of assisting employers and service providers in understanding and complying with the law.
Next, I will turn to the amendments to the Criminal Code proposed in Bill C-16.
Trans people in Canada face a significant risk of violent crime. While official data from police services is scarce, 20% of respondents in the Trans Pulse survey had been physically or sexually assaulted, although many did not report these assaults to police.
A recent report by the National Aboriginal Health Organization indicated that aboriginal LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to face attacks as heterosexual youth.
The Criminal Code has specifically prohibited hate propaganda since 1970. There are criminal offences for advocating or promoting genocide against an identifiable group, for inciting hatred by communicating statements against an identifiable group in a public place that is likely to lead to a breach of the peace, or for willfully promoting hatred other than in private conversations against an identifiable group. They are found in section 318 and 319 of the Criminal Code. All three offences protect identifiable groups.
Until recently, this was defined by the Criminal Code as “any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation”. The list has been expanded over time to include national origin, age, sex, and mental and physical disability.
Bill C-16 proposes to amend the Criminal Code to add “gender identity or expression” to this list. As a result, the bill, if enacted, will extend protections to groups identifiable on the basis of gender identity or expression, which to date have been left out of the protections provided by hate propaganda offences. It will provide long overdue equal protection under the law.
Finally, the bill proposes to amend paragraph 718.2(a)(i) of the Criminal Code, which directs judges to consider as an aggravating factor in sentencing any evidence that an offence was motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, religion, colour, sex, language, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor.
While the term “any other similar factor” is open-ended, the purpose of this protection is to denounce crimes motivated by hatred. By adding gender identity and expression to the list, we will send a clear message that there is no place in Canadian society for crimes committed out of bias, prejudice, or hate based on gender identity or expression.
In Canada we celebrate inclusion and diversity. All Canadians should feel safe to be themselves. When I introduced the bill back in May, Charlie Lowthian-Rickert, an amazing young activist who I am pleased to say is in the chamber today, was here and very publicly stood beside me, proud of its introduction. She stated in the press conference that she now feels safer because of the legislation that had been introduced. Charlie is not alone in feeling this way.
Bill C-16, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, is an important step. It reflects Canada's commitment to equality and freedom from discrimination and violence. It affirms the basic equality of all Canadians and provides explicit legal protection to one of the most vulnerable communities in our society.
It is time for Parliament to ensure that our laws provide clear and explicit protection for trans and gender diverse Canadians. I very much look forward to the dialogue, and I very much look forward to all members in the House supporting Bill C-16.