Mr. Speaker, as I join this third reading debate on Bill C-16 today, I want to take this opportunity to mark the Trans Day of Remembrance, which will be taking place this Sunday, November 20. This year marks the 17th annual Trans Day of Remembrance, which memorializes trans people who have been murdered over the past year. This year we remember the more than 86 lives that were senselessly lost to transphobia and hate around the world and in Canada. We know that this number is only the tip of the iceberg and that there are thousands of instances of violence perpetrated against trans people every year that go unrecorded or unreported.
This Trans Day of Remembrance is not only a day to mourn but a day for trans people, their loved ones, and allies to come together and to grow our strength and resiliency on the road to ending transphobia once and for all.
As people come together this Sunday across Canada and around the world, I want them to know that here in this House we know trans people are still targets of violence and hate at undeniably troubling rates. We see the statistics about homelessness and suicide rates among trans and gender-diverse youth, we hear trans people when they say they still cannot access necessary health care, and we hear trans people on the importance of being able to access appropriate identity documents.
Passing Bill C-16, whether that's this afternoon or Monday, is just the start of working through the challenges that face trans and gender-diverse Canadians, but it is a vital first step. The federal government and its agencies will have to get busy making sure policies and practices respect the full and equal rights of transgender and gender-variant Canadians.
I will spare the House an extended metaphor about Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football, not only because of its rigid gender stereotypes but also because of its deeply embedded misogyny, where the problems of men are always caused by women, but nevertheless I have to use that analogy to say that the trans community is justifiably frustrated as we are now on the way to the third passage of this bill through the House of Commons. What other group of people in Canadian society has had to wait while this House of Commons passes three times a bill that would only recognize that they are entitled to the same rights and protections as all other Canadians?
Let me repeat the story of the journey of this bill through Parliament, hopefully for one last time.
This bill was first introduced by former NDP MP Bill Siksay in 2005. He reintroduced it again in 2007 and again in 2009. On this third attempt, although it took two years, in the spring of 2011, Bill actually saw his bill passed by the House, only to see it die in the Senate when an election was called.
When I was elected, I spoke with Bill, and he asked me to pick up that private member's bill, on behalf of the NDP caucus, and to take that struggle forward into what was a Conservative majority Parliament and, therefore, did not look very promising for the bill. I introduced my version of the bill on September 21, 2011. I stand here now more than five years after I began my attempt to get this bill through. The bill was passed through the House of Commons on March 20, 2013, with the support of I believe it was 19 members of the Conservative caucus at that time. That came as a bit of a surprise to many Canadians. Then it went off to the Senate and what was even more surprising is that, though the Senate had more than two years to deal with the bill, it failed to do so before the election was called. For a second time, a bill guaranteeing equal rights and protections to transgender and gender-variant Canadians died in the unelected Senate.
While this proposed legislation has been languishing before our federal Parliament, some progress has still been made. I would again say that I would like to think that the debate here in this House has helped bring forward progress elsewhere. In the meantime, nine provinces have adopted corresponding provincial human rights legislation. I have to say that in my second reading speech I miscounted, which proves one should use notes for these things, but we have seen corresponding provincial human rights legislation first in the Northwest Territories, then in Ontario, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia in 2012, Newfoundland and P.E.I. in 2013, Saskatchewan in 2014, Alberta in 2015, and British Columbia and Quebec this year.
The issue of trans rights is not a partisan issue. Amendments to protect against discrimination on the basis of gender identity were proposed by NDP governments in Alberta, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia, a Liberal government in P.E.I., and Conservative governments in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland. The amendments to their provincial human rights codes in Quebec, Ontario, and B.C. passed with all-party support.
Nor is progress on trans rights limited to the Canadian context, and I want to say again that we have lost a chance by our delays here in the House to be a leader around the world. Now, more than 18 countries have passed Canada up with explicit protections of the kind that are proposed in Bill C-16, and the list is surprising in its diversity.
These are not just the western European countries or North American countries. In fact, they reflect all cultures around the world. Argentina has in fact been the world leader in protection of the rights of transgender citizens and continues to be so. However, the list also includes Uruguay, Bolivia, Spain, France, Ireland, Estonia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Israel, Cypress, Nepal, Australia, and New Zealand, among others.
In the United States, 16 states plus the District of Columbia provide explicit protections for transgender residents, and there are some good signs amidst the gloom in the United States. The North Carolina governor, Pat McCrory, who had brought forward a bill to explicitly allow discrimination against the LGBT community, was defeated in those elections and largely over what was called House Bill 2, which would have really gone against the American tradition of acceptance, tolerance, and liberty by promoting discrimination against North Carolinians.
However, there is still some gloom. The President-elect Trump has promised to rescind Executive Order 13672 that President Obama put forward in 2014, which protected transgender and gender-variant Americans against workplace discrimination. Interestingly, at the time, Obama pointed out that he felt the U.S. government was lagging behind business in the United States, as almost all the Fortune 500 U.S. companies, the biggest 500 companies in the U.S., already had internal policies protecting transgender people against discrimination.
I have said before in speeches here that certain businesses in federal jurisdiction, in particular the TD Bank, have set an example of how to deal with employees if they go through a transition. The Canadian Labour Congress has produced guides for transition in the workplace that it has made available to all of its union members across the country.
Again, others have moved forward faster than we have here in this Parliament. In fact, today we are here 11 years after the first introduction of the bill, nearly five years after it first passed, and coming up on three years since it passed in the previous Parliament. However, some things have changed, and now in the recorded vote at second reading, we saw nearly half of the Conservative caucus join the Liberals and New Democrats in supporting the bill.
What has really changed? I would say the important change here is that it has become a non-partisan issue, and that is due to the work of transgender and gender-varied activists who have been very vigilant about contacting their members of Parliament and talking to them about their stories and why they need the support of their members of Parliament to make sure that their rights and dignity are respected in this country.
Far too many of these stories are indeed tragic, and I can spend a long time recounting them, but time is, of course, short today. I will just point out the study by Egale, published in 2011, called “Every Class in Every School” shows the severe impacts of transphobia on students in this country, where 90% of trans students reported hearing daily or weekly transphobic comments, and where 78% recorded feeling unsafe at school.
No, the bill does not directly affect schools, as they fall under provincial jurisdiction, but it tells us the size of the problem we face in combatting transphobia in this country.
This is the last remaining gap in Canadian human rights legislation, and I do look forward to it being filled by judicious and expeditious action by the new Senate. The transgender and gender-variant community in this country is asking for equal rights and dignity; the same rights and dignity that all other Canadians enjoy, nothing more, nothing less.
I look forward to the passage of Bill C-16 today or Monday, as I have said, and I am hoping the Liberal government can ensure its swift passage through the Senate.
As I mentioned, what other group has had to wait over a decade while the House of Commons passes legislation to affirm their rights three times? If this is not the time to guarantee equality for all Canadians, then when would that time be?