Mr. Speaker, it is an honour today to speak in support of Bill C-16, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, particularly because today we are on the eve of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is Sunday, November 20.
It is a day that gives us a chance to remember and reflect upon the discrimination that has been suffered and continues to be suffered in our country by the transgender community but also to give strength and think about how we go forward.
Today my heart has been warmed to hear the debate and the very non-partisan nature in which we have exchanged ideas. That helps to pave the way forward as we look at a bill such as Bill C-16.
Since I have taken my seat in this place, I have taken a lot of time to think about what it is I treasure about our country and about Canadian values. To me, it is being a safe and welcoming place and celebrating our diversity. The two are interconnected, because we cannot celebrate our diversity if we are not a safe and welcoming place. This bill helps us to become a more safe and welcoming place.
I grew up in the 1970s. There was a record that was very popular at the time called Free To Be You And Me. It said:
Don't dress your cat in an apron
Just 'cause he's learning to bake.
There were all sorts of other songs and poems, but the theme, the lesson for all of us, was that we all had the opportunity to grow up being true to ourselves and who we were and that no one should be defining us.
That is something that, as a parent today, I take very seriously. I want my children, all of our children, people growing up in this country, to know that they have that freedom. They should be comfortable and safe being true to who they are.
It goes to principles. An organization called Gender Spectrum states that a person's gender identity is “[o]ne’s innermost concept of self as male or female or both or neither—how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves”.
That is what we are talking about today. Bill C-16 creates a protection for gender identity and gender expression that helps pave the way. It states:
This enactment amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.
We have had some discussion about that today, and it has already been pointed out that this is not the first time this type of protection is being added to human rights codes. In fact, across our country, most of our provinces and territories have already adopted such protections. We are catching up federally. It is an important step we must take. Discrimination is still an issue, and it is something this legislation needs to address.
Trans Equality Canada has provided some statistics. The unemployment rate in Ontario for transgender people is three times the national average. Nationwide, from a survey of transgender youth, three-quarters of transgender youth have faced verbal harassment in school, and 37% have faced physical violence.
If we want to be that safe and welcoming place that I believe our country is and should be, then we need to step up and provide these protections.
The bill also makes amendments to the Criminal Code. It expands the Criminal Code prohibition against hate propaganda to include protections for gender identity and gender expression. It also requires sentencing judges to consider whether an offence was motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate based on gender identity or gender expression.
These amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code are particularly important, as I have said, as we lead into the Transgender Day of Remembrance and we take stock and reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that this does not continue to happen.
Transgender Europe is a European advocacy group. They monitor violence against transgender communities and gender-diverse communities worldwide. From October 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016, they recorded 295 murders. That is a tremendous number, and that is only what was reported and recorded. These are individuals who deserve our protection.
Bill C-16 is a first step in that direction. It is a first step for us federally to provide further protection.
I want to take a step back and acknowledge that it is not just legislation that is going to get us there. That has been mentioned in this place before. We are going to have to look at how we can be a safe and welcoming society. It is not just a matter of legislation, but it is a first step.
I want to acknowledge the work that is being done on the ground by so many people. I would like to begin by acknowledging the work that has been done by the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke on this issue. He has been working on it for a long time. It is important to have advocates who make sure that we keep working on issues.
My own community has the Triangle Program, which is Canada's only LGBTQ high school. It celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, which is really quite amazing. A member of my community, John Campey, helped to create that high school, and it is a safe and welcoming place.
Other individuals in my community work very hard. One is Susan Gapka. I am sure that Susan Gapka is watching closely as we continue this debate today. Another individual is Rachel Lauren Clark. These are two individuals who work fiercely to advance these issues.
We also have MCC Toronto, the Metropolitan Community Church. It works hard to build a safe place within a faith community.
There is a trans-resource education and advocacy team. I love that the acronym is TREAT. It creates an education network and an advocacy network for gender-diverse people and allies.
On Canada Day this year, I had the opportunity to go to the trans fair and see so many people taking on these roles. I have named some here today but there are many people who are working hard in our communities. They need to be honoured, because that is how we are going to make progress beyond having a bill, which as I said, is a first step.
Parliament has a poet laureate, George Elliott Clarke. I asked if he could write a poem to do with Bill C-16 and transgender and gender-diverse communities. He wrote quite a beautiful poem that really captures a lot of what we are talking about today.
I should mention that an excellent translation of the poem was done by Robert Paquin.
Today I will read the English version of the poem only.
Now, you and me and he and she and they
Are pronouns defining Humanity,
But they're not—really not—definitive:
For how we lean determines how we live.
Note that he is within she or that she
Includes he: fluid is identity;
Male is partly female, because female
Carries male. To whit, Gender's not a jail.
So, to be transgender is to be free
To be one's entire personality,
A chosen body, unfrozen from Fear,
Liberated from Custom, free to dare,
To wear what fits, not what suits restrictions,
And to be facts, not plausible fictions.
Transgender's transgressive because it frees
Masculine and feminine, as they please.
I would like to thank our poet laureate for that lovely poem that really summarizes a sentiment that I believe underscores Bill C-16 and why we need to move forward with this legislation.
It has been an honour to speak today in support of this legislation. I am hoping that we can stand up as a House and support this important step.