Madam Speaker, Tuesday May 17 was an important day. It was the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. It was a day to recognize the efforts of everyone who has fought for equality, freedom, and respect for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, non-binary, and two-spirited persons. It was a day to celebrate the achievements of advocates and their friends and supporters in making Canada a more inclusive place in which to live. It was a day to look forward to a time when all societies embrace their diversity and draw strength and vibrancy from it.
May 17 was also the day on which the Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-16 to the House of Commons. The legislation proposes to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to add two prohibited grounds of discrimination, gender identity and gender expression. As a result of this amendment, it would be a discriminatory practice in matters of employment and the provision of goods, services, facilities, and accommodation, in the federal jurisdiction, to disadvantage people because of their gender identity or expression.
The legislation also proposes to amend the Criminal Code. It would expand the list of identifiable groups that are protected from hate propaganda by adding gender identity or expression to that list. Finally, it would make it explicit that hatred on the basis of gender identity or expression should be considered an aggravating factor in sentencing for a criminal offence. These are very important amendments.
The Canadian Human Rights Act advances the principle that all individuals should have an equal opportunity to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have, without being hindered by discrimination. All Canadians should be able to turn to the act and see their rights and obligations spelled out clearly. However, it is not evident from the current words of the act that trans and gender diverse persons have a right to equal treatment.
It is true that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has interpreted the act to prohibit discrimination against trans persons in some cases, but these interpretations are not easily accessible to the trans community, employers, or service providers who need to know whom the act protects. Moreover, these decisions concern particular individuals in particular situations. The full scope of protection for trans and gender diverse persons is not clear, particularly in relation to gender expression.
Gender expression refers to the ways in which people express their gender through choices such as clothing, personal appearance, name, use of pronouns, and other forms of expression. Adding this ground to the Canadian Human Rights Act would offer clear protection against discrimination by employers and service providers who would deny Canadians their dignity simply because they express their gender differently.
Trans people who have been discriminated against should not have to become expert in statutory interpretation or criminal law to advocate for their basic rights. It is not enough to hope that employers and service providers will look beyond the words of the act. As the bill proposes, Parliament should add these grounds to the Canadian Human Rights Act, as well as the Criminal Code, so they would be in the statute book for all to see.
Make no mistake, there is no doubt that trans or gender diverse persons face an elevated risk of violence at the hands of others. The Trans Pulse project studied the experiences of approximately 500 transgendered Ontarians. That study concluded the following:
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....
In 2011, a study by Egale Canada indicated very high levels of verbal, physical, and sexual harassment against transgendered persons.
Transgendered Canadians are often discriminated against by their own family members. No group of people should be exposed to that kind of daily threat. Given the high levels of violence and threats of violence against trans people, it is clear that our laws require measures to specifically denounce the violence and discrimination inflicted on the individuals because of hatred of their gender identity or gender expression.
Our duty as parliamentarians goes beyond simply maintaining the good order set out in legislation. Canadians expect us to speak on their behalf, recognize their qualities and vulnerabilities, as well as affirm and protect their basic rights and their dignity.
This bill is not only an opportunity for us to reinforce our support for transgendered Canadians, but also an opportunity for the House to send a clear message to all Canadians that they can now feel safe and free to be themselves.
On May 17, when I stood beside the Minister of Justice to announce this legislation, we were joined by people who were well aware of the need for this bill.
They, and we, saw in this bill a real sign of acceptance and unity. This bill says to every transgender and gender-diverse person that they do not need to choose between being safe and being who they are. This bill says to young people in all parts of this country who are struggling to understand themselves, who are realizing that they are a bit different from their peers, that it is okay to be different and that they are special, that they are unique, and that they belong.
This bill sends a clear signal to our transgender and gender-diverse community members that the government will not stand for discrimination and that we stand with them, shoulder to shoulder. For any members of this House who may be considering voting no on this important legislation, I must ask why. This bill is about equality. It is about respect for diversity. Even if they cannot fully understand the lives of our transgender community, surely they can understand that no group of people should live under such threat of violence in our country.
I appeal to each and every one of my colleagues in the House to support this important issue.
I stand with all trans and gender-diverse persons, and I call on this House to affirm their equal status in Canada, and I will fight every day to ensure they are protected and free to live their lives safely and free from fear. I do so as a member of this House who is a proud, openly gay man. I was able to earn a place in this House because of the hard work of those who went before me who stood to be counted, people who stood up to discrimination, who fought for individual rights, who stood for inclusivity and acceptance, who were bullied, and against whom the laws discriminated in the past.
Today, I and we stand shoulder to shoulder with the trans community to say, “No more”, and that we will continue to fight and stand up for those who still need our protection.
To conclude, the proposed changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code's sentencing provisions would help to create a better and safer Canada that is inclusive of all forms of diversity. I urge all members of this House to support the passage of this important bill.