Mr. Speaker, I stand today to address an important piece of legislation. I applaud in particular the Minister of Justice, who has introduced two substantial pieces of legislation in a relatively short time span. I admire the efforts and the work that she, through her department, has done in order to present Bill C-16 to the House. I understand that the legislation was part of the mandate letter that was provided to her by the Prime Minister. That speaks to the degree of importance that the Prime Minister, cabinet, and the government as a whole, any political party, place on the legislation.
I listened to the many speeches that have taken place today and I have found that all political parties support Bill C-16. We do not often get that sort of support and it is worthy of notice.
I would like to again highlight the effort put into this file by the Minister of Justice and her department. This did not just happen overnight. When legislation is brought forward a significant contribution is made by many different stakeholders from virtually every region of our country. It is important that we acknowledge the efforts of the many individuals who have allowed us to get to this point where we are now debating Bill C-16.
It is important to recognize that Ottawa played an important role, a strong leadership role with respect to the legislation. I will get back to that leadership role, but it is important that we recognize that there are other jurisdictions.
I asked the member for Richmond Hill if I could quote him specifically in his response to a question because it is pertinent to today's debate. He said, “many other provinces and territories across Canada had adopted legislation that sought to protect the rights of trans and gender diverse persons in Canada. Most Canadian provinces and territories now list gender identity, and some have included gender expression, among the prohibited grounds of discrimination under their human rights law.” He also said, “The human rights laws in the Northwest Territories, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, while the human rights laws in Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, including Newfoundland and Labrador, prohibit discrimination based on both gender identity and gender expression.”
When members think of Bill C-16 and how they might vote, they need to recognize that Ottawa, albeit an important player, has a leadership role to play. It is also important to note that while most provinces have amended their human rights laws to provide explicit protection as noted above, gender identity and/or gender expression had previously been implicitly included in some jurisdictions under other explicitly enumerated grounds, such as sex, as a matter of policy, and/or as a result of court decisions.
It is important to recognize that while New Brunswick, Nunavut, and Yukon have not amended their legislation to explicitly include gender identity or gender expression in their laws, the New Brunswick and Yukon human rights commissions have published guidelines on human rights that indicate that gender identity discrimination is a form of sex discrimination.
It is important to recognize that across Canada we are moving toward a more modern and a more inclusive society. The legislation would align with Canadians' wishes and truly represent them.
As a representative of the great constituency of Winnipeg North, I believe that I represent all the people of Winnipeg North. I want the members of my constituency to feel comfortable knowing that I will represent their interests first and foremost. This is something I do in different ways. For example, in caucus discussions, we know that we can say whatever we want. We know that at times there are some limitations in the chamber regarding what a member might want to say. However, I want my constituents to understand that no matter what their background is, whether based on ethnicity, religion, or belief, when coming to talk to me, I will not discriminate in any way so that I can represent their interests, no matter what percentage of the population they might claim to be part of in my constituency. I say that because this debate should not be about one's faith or religion; it is a fundamental right we are debating.
Back in 1948, the United Nations brought forward a universal declaration about the importance of human rights. Since that day, there has been the intention and goodwill of politicians around the world to honour it by bringing forward ideas, resolutions, and legislation to try to embody what that declaration was proclaiming.
We often hear about the lack of studies and reports. The nice thing about Google is that it does not take much to get a sense of what might be out there. I would like to make reference to a report I was able to identify. I would encourage members who are having a difficult time with this issue to try to get a better understanding of what many individuals in our society are trying to come to grips with. Many are trying to make a difference by, for example, seeing legislation such as Bill C-16 pass.
It is a report by the Trans Pulse project team in Ontario. I would like to provide some selected comments from that report.
I will start on page 1, which highlights how effective this report was, and still is.
To date, the project has produced 14 academic research articles in peer-reviewed journals, 5 reports created at the request of government or community service agencies, and 8 e-bulletins to provide short summaries of key findings in easily accessible formats.
I would emphasize that this report originated in Canada's largest province, Ontario.
It posed this question: “Who are Trans People in Ontario?” I love the response. I believe it is appropriate for me to read the response to that question.
Trans people in Ontario report a full range of ages and occupations, and are geographically distributed across the province proportionally to the population.
This is something members have actually raised. This is not just an urban issue. It goes on:
They belong to all ethno-racial groups, and 7% identify as Aboriginal. Of course, trans people also form families: 44% are in a committed relationship and 24% are parents.
While they may not have had language for it at the time, 59% knew that their gender identity did not match their body before the age of 10, and 80% had this knowledge by the age of 14. Gender identity is often clear years before people socially transition to live in their core gender. While approximately 80% of Ontario trans people have socially transitioned to live their day-to-day lives in their core gender, most full-time, only 8% report that they had begun living in their core gender by age 14. It is import[ant] to note that there is a lot of sex and gender diversity within trans communities. About three-quarters of trans people indicate they need to transition medically, which may involve different combinations of hormones and/or surgery for different individuals. Though trans women have received greater media attention, there are about equal numbers of trans people on male-to-female and female-to-male spectrums in Ontario.
This is an important point.
About 1 in 5 trans people do not identify as male or female, or even as primarily masculine or feminine. These more gender-fluid people can identify as both male and female, neither male nor female, or as something else entirely (e.g. as another traditional gender recognized by Aboriginal or other cultural groups).
The report provides some extensive polling, which I thought was quite interesting. The report talks a lot about the discrimination and violence experienced by trans persons.
In everyday life, trans people experience the effects of living in a society in which stigma and discrimination against trans people are common. In addition to instances of discrimination and violence that would constitute human rights violations, trans Ontarians nearly universally report that they have experienced some type of “everyday transphobia”. For example, 96% had heard that trans people were not normal, 73% had been made fun of for being trans, and 78% reported their family had been hurt or embarrassed. These daily indignities can take their toll; 77% worried about growing old as a trans person, and 67% feared they would die young.
There are some interesting numbers the report releases, but let there be no doubt that it is common that there is discrimination, violence, and structural barriers for trans people.
Continuing with the report, on the issue of violence, it states:
Trans people are the targets of specifically directed violence; 20% had been physically or sexually assaulted for being trans, and another 34% had been verbally threatened or harassed but not assaulted. Many did not report these assaults to the police; in fact, 24% reported having been harassed by police. Trans people also face violence in institutional settings such as prisons; 6% of Trans PULSE participants had been in prison or jail, and one-third of them reported experiencing violence due to their gender....
The majority (57%) of trans Ontarians had avoided public washrooms due to these safety fears....
Of those who had experienced physical and/or sexual violence due to being trans, 97% report avoiding at least one type of public space....
The impact of discrimination and violence on social participation and health is something that is very prevalent.
Mental health and suicide are very serious issues. A graph of the proportion of trans Ontarians reporting past-year suicidality by past experiences of transphobic assault or harassment has very interesting numbers. It is going up.
We need to look at what Bill C-16 is proposing to do. Canada celebrates diversity and inclusion. All Canadians should feel safe being themselves. As promised, the government has introduced legislation to add gender identity as a prohibited ground for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act and to list it in the distinguishing characteristics of identifiable groups protected by the hate speech provisions of the Criminal Code.
Our government believes that all people can live according to their gender identity and can be protected from discrimination, hate propaganda, and hate crimes. We are committed to ensuring that trans and gender-diverse Canadians are free from discrimination and are protected from hate propaganda and hate crimes. Bill C-16 would ensure that protection from discrimination based on an individual's gender, identity, or expression is included in the Canadian Human Rights Act.
The Canadian Human Rights Act was proclaimed in Parliament back in 1977. In reading through it, I found something worth repeating, which is the actual purpose of the act. It states:
The purpose of this Act is to extend the laws in Canada to give effect, within the purview of matters coming within the legislative authority of Parliament, to the principle that 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 based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.
I think all Canadians understand the importance of the Canadian Human Rights Act. There are agencies, such as the Canadian Human Rights Commission, that investigate issues and pass them on to the Human Rights Tribunal. There is an apparatus, whether through legislation or our bureaucracy, to ensure that discrimination is marginalized in our country.
Today we have before us legislation that would give more strength to what Canadians have accepted overwhelmingly, the Canadian Human Rights Act. That is what the government is proposing to do, recognizing that transgender people are suffering discrimination far beyond what the average Canadian suffers. Incorporating it into the Canadian Human Rights Act is the right thing to do.
If members listened to the speeches this morning, this has crossed party lines. I appreciate the opinions of all, but I would emphasize that this should not be a debate about faith. It should be a debate about human rights. It should be about discrimination and the role parliamentarians can play in minimizing discrimination.
It goes back to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights back in 1948 and the leadership role Canada can play. We have a Prime Minister who has mandated that the Minister of Justice make this legislation a priority so that it is passed during the first year of this government's mandate.
We recognize how important it is as parliamentarians to say that we will not stand for violence, bullying, and discrimination, When we are provided the opportunity to protect those rights and ensure there is a higher sense of equality, we will step up to the plate and support this legislation.
I appreciate and respect the opinions of all, but I look at this issue as a human rights issue first and foremost. We owe it to all our constituents, no matter where they come from or what their perspective might be, to represent them well. When we have legislation of this nature, which would ensure that sense of equality, we need to stand and be counted in support of the legislation.
I understand there is some reservation from opposition members. Let us attempt to address that by allowing the bill to go to committee and see if those points can be addressed, and then make that final decision on third reading. I encourage members of the House to pass this legislation at second reading, allow it to go to committee, and see what the members of the public and others have to say. How wonderful that would be in recognition of the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed many decades ago.