Mr. Speaker, what often unifies our weakest moments, the moments when we inflict damage upon others, the moments that linger in our minds as regret long after they have happened, the moments that we later need to ask forgiveness for or make recompense for, is a failure to seek to grant compassion to others.
Few of us seek to be uncompassionate, yet, in our fragility, we often are. This is because compassion is a difficult thing. Compassion requires work. Compassion requires self-reflection. Compassion requires selflessness. Compassion requires humility. Compassion requires departure from dogmas that often define who we are. Compassion requires courage. Compassion requires empathy across cultural grounds, across religious views, across political ideology, and across the sins of others.
This is why most religious texts and teaching often weave consistent compassion as a thread through their teachings. This is because it is compassion that, in our worst moments, saves us.
Our charge as legislators is to seek and then to define a just and well-considered but ultimately compassionate course of action when a charge of inequality is levelled.
On our first charge, that of understanding, Bill C-16 seeks to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act by adding gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination.
It also seeks to amend the Criminal Code, to extend the protection against hate propaganda set out in that act to any section of the public that is distinguished by gender identity or expression, and to clearly set out the evidence that an offence motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate on gender identity or expression constitutes an aggravating circumstance that a court must take into consideration when it imposes a sentence.
In short, the bill seeks to provide remedy for the inequality and discrimination that the trans community faces in Canada.
The bill, in various forms, has been debated in this House for years now. That said, it has only been in the last few years that the issue of equality for transgendered Canadians has become ingrained in the awareness of the Canadian public writ large.
I remember the first time that someone explained what gender identity and gender expression meant. I remember it clearly. It was right after I was elected in 2011. I remember being shocked at myself for not understanding this, given the level of severity that it means for me, as a legislator, not to get that. I think it is probably worth having that discussion here today to remind people.
“Sex refers to biological differences: chromosomes, hormonal profiles, internal and external sex organs.” I am quoting from a paper from an Australian university.
Gender describes the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine. So while your sex as male or female is a biological fact that is the same in any culture, what that sex means in terms of your gender role...in society can be quite different cross culturally. These 'gender roles' have an impact on the health of an individual. In sociological terms 'gender role' refers to the characteristics and behaviours that different cultures attribute to the sexes.
It is very important for us to understand this, because our understanding of gender roles and our notion of gender is in fact fluid.
I look at myself today. I am standing in the House of Commons. I am a cisgendered woman. Only a few decades ago, if I had stood here in pants advocating for my community, as a divorced woman, as a woman without children, I think about how I would have been perceived, and what my gender role would have been decades ago. I would not have had the right to stand here. Our rights are so precious, and they are so fragile, and if we legislators cannot acknowledge when inequality exists, and if we cannot rectify that, then we are doing something wrong.
My rights as a woman and my equality were won by those who came before me, who challenged the norms assigned to my gender by society, and who still challenge those norms today and ensure that those challenges are remedied by reflection in law: the right to vote, discrimination based on gender, sexual harassment, equal pay for equal work. There is so much more work to be done, yet I am so far ahead of where members in the trans community in Canada are.
The reality is that many people who do not conform to the gender roles associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. This is not a defect. This is not an illness. This is an expression of our uniqueness and of our humanity against what others in our society may pressure us to conform to be, and nobody in Canada or in the world should face discrimination for living his or her personal truth. As legislators, we need to understand and acknowledge that great discrimination does in fact occur because of this.
When I last spoke to this bill in 2013, I noted that the trans community in Canada had on frequent occasions experienced elevated levels of sexual violence committed against members of that community, frequent workplace discrimination and job loss based on gender, lack of clarity on health care provisions and sometimes access to health care, lack of clarity on processes related to obtaining identification documents, bullying in places of employment and educational institutions, discrimination in accessing housing accommodation, and numerous other incidents of discrimination. Most important, they lived every day with the consequences of these acts of non-compassion, of false assumptions that simply by virtue of their state they were sexually promiscuous or, more ludicrously, that they were criminal. In this, the trans community experiences very high rates of levels of both depression and suicide.
Since I made this argument in 2013, very frankly and very simply put, little progress has been made on righting many of these injustices. All we can do is ask for forgiveness and then act.
This weekend will mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance, so it is fitting to recount the following.
Suicide rates among the transgendered community are incredibly high. As published by Egale Canada, in 2010, 47% of trans youth in Ontario had thought about suicide and 19% had attempted suicide in the preceding year. The Trans Murder Monitoring Project, a worldwide initiative to uncover the atrocities committed against transgendered people worldwide, found that from January 2008 to April 2016, over 2,000 members of the trans community were tragically murdered, and those are only ones that were reported. The most frequent ways these innocent lives were taken were by shootings, stabbings, beatings, strangulations, and stonings. This report also shows that 576 of these transgendered people were killed and brutally murdered in the streets. These lives were lost because of intolerance, of bigotry, and of hate.
This is not something that just happens overseas or somewhere else, or something that we can turn a blind eye to in Canada. There are many instances of this in Canada. January Marie Lapuz of New Westminster, B.C. is just one of the examples of transgendered violence that we have come to know in Canada. January was a 26 year old who was considered an involved local activist, and whom people in her community called a bright light and a shining star. She was murdered in 2012. Stories like this are all too common for those in the transgendered community.
A recent study in 2014 found that in Ontario alone, 96% of the community had heard that trans people were not normal. Shockingly, the study also found that 76% of trans Ontarians worried that they would die young. They also found that members of the trans community had actively avoided public spaces out of fear. The project also found that two-thirds of trans Ontarians had avoided public spaces as they fear harassment, being perceived as trans, or being outed as trans. It is an irrefutable fact, one that we cannot ignore and one that we should not even be debating in this place, that the trans community faces challenges and barriers that most of us do not.
In 2013, after a review of the bill, I concluded the bill would only amount to symbolic action for the trans community. I was wrong. In the last three years, I have watched this community face bigotry, more discrimination, and becoming a flashpoint for fights that we should no longer be having in Canada.
It is for that reason that I believe it is time that Parliament passes the bill. It is clear to me, after watching provincial governments, employers, court cases, and the trans community itself struggling to rectify these injustices, that action cannot be taken to right these injustices without the bill passing.
Before it does, I want to talk about bathrooms. It is an unfortunate fact that in Canada rape occurs. Men go into women's bathrooms and rape them. That is a fact. That is why there are panic buttons in many bathrooms in university campuses across Canada. That is why we have laws to harshly and strongly punish the perpetrators of sexual violence. That is why we educate people on the effects of violence to try to deter them from doing so. That is why we have police. However, here is a horrifying statistic.
Jody Herman of UCLA's Williams Institute found in her study, conducted between 2008-09, that members of the transgendered community tended to be incredibly at risk in public restrooms. In her study, about 70% of the sample of transgendered people reported experiencing being denied access to restrooms, being harassed while using restrooms, and experiencing forms of physical assault. Additionally, this study showed that nearly 10% of the respondents reported to being physically assaulted in public restrooms.
Therefore, while some like to blame and insinuate that transgendered people are the predators in washrooms, research indicates that they instead are vulnerable in these public spaces. Making a value judgment that because people are trans they are likely to prey upon people in bathrooms is wrong.
The argument the bill would impede religious freedom is also wrong. Religious freedom cannot be discriminated on in Canada. We already have laws to that effect. Moreover, I believe that when we talk about compassion and about righting injustices, that is the reason most of us have faith to begin with. It is the act of charity and compassion that comes through religious belief and the belief in a higher good that sets us apart. The ability for us as Canadians to worship in that regard, to express that freedom, and live that truth should also be reflected in our laws.
I have also heard an argument against the bill that it will prevent parents from educating their children. The irony is that right now it is parents who educate our children on gender norms as it is. It is often our parents who reinforce what our role in society is to be based on our gender.
I do not see that changing, but the bill will open up the fact that we can be compassionate and we can look at how people can best contribute to our society by living out who they want to be. I cannot imagine a more beautiful expression of Canadian pluralism than that, of Canada becoming a place where we embrace uniqueness and diversity and also respect the rights of people to express their faith.
I also believe very firmly that the bill fits squarely in line with the principles of my political party. In our guiding principles it says:
The Conservative Party of Canada is founded on and will be guided by in its policy formation the following principles....A belief in the balance between fiscal accountability, progressive social policy and individual rights and responsibilities....The goal of building a national coalition of people who share these beliefs...The goal of developing this coalition, embracing our differences and respecting our traditions, yet honouring a concept of Canada as the greater sum of strong parts....A belief in the value and dignity of all human life....A belief in the equality of all Canadians.
This is why I am part of the Conservative Party of Canada and this is why I firmly believe in the capacity of our party to show Canadians that we are compassionate, that we do believe in equality and support it through legislation.
The white elephant in the room is that the bill will challenge deeply entrenched norms on how we need to behave. We should not fear that. We should embrace the fact that Canada is such a free and true nation that we value equality over dogma.
I want to thank the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke for taking time to educate me and many other people in here, in a very quiet and patient way. I also want to commend my colleagues who may have different views on the bill, but who seek to be compassionate and reflect their views in respectful debate.
I especially want to thank the trans activists who have lived through this discrimination, through the upheaval of transition, through the upheaval of guilt or confusion over knowing their truth is something different than what society pressures them to be. While they have lived through that, they have had to sit through years of committee meetings, while their sexual behaviours have been questioned. They have stood up against intolerance and in doing so, they have sustained Canada's pluralism.
They deserve our thanks, and they also deserve an apology for when we have failed them in the past.
It is always a rare day when a Conservative member quotes a former NDP member, but I will do it today. I followed a speech by my former colleague, Megan Leslie, on this in 2013. I had the grave misfortune of following a Megan Leslie speech. She closed by saying this:
I was at a community event and a young person came up to me. I do not really remember it. I do not remember if this person was a young man or a young woman, blond or brunette, but this person came up to me, took my hand and opened it, put something in my hand and closed it up. Then they left.
I opened my hand and there was a tiny little note.
It said: Thanks for giving...[an eff] about trans people.
I think that is why we are here.
Megan was right. That is why we are here. We are also here because I believe in the capacity of my colleagues across party lines to be compassionate, to be strong, to stand up for Canada, and to stand for what is good, what is just, and what is beautiful.