Mr. Speaker, today I rise to speak on an issue that is close to my heart. It is an issue that my colleague, the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, has fiercely dedicated himself to over the years. We just heard about the long struggle and fight he had. I am humbled to share my time with him today, and I want to formally thank him for fighting to include explicit protection for gender identity and gender expression in the Canada Human Rights Act.
I also want to add my tributes to the the groundbreaking work of former parliamentarians, Svend Robinson, Bill Siksay, and Craig Scott, all of whom were instrumental in bringing us closer to the inclusive society we want to create.
As the deputy critic for LGBTQ issues, I want to acknowledge the work that the government has done to bring this file forward. I applaud it for bringing this first critical step forward, with the introduction of Bill C-16.
Let me begin by reminding the House, as my colleague has, that this legislation should come as no surprise. Identical legislation has been presented numerous times to the House over the last five years, most recently in 2015, when the bill was left to die on the Senate's Order Paper at the time that the election was called.
This bill has been studied, reviewed, and, most importantly, it has been accepted by elected members of the last Parliament. Now Bill C-16 presents an opportunity for this government and this Parliament to show leadership at a time when our country and our global community needs it the most. We know that existing provincial patchwork legislation is not sufficient. We know that only seven of the 13 provinces and territories currently protect against discrimination based on gender expression and identity in their human rights codes. Canadians deserve swift federal action to provide leadership and to ensure protection in federal law against discrimination.
Earlier this year, people around the world witnessed the heartbreaking and gruesome events in Orlando. Words cannot convey how needless this tragedy was. The recent election in the United States, sadly, has given all of us even more reason to fear for our safety and our rights. May it serve as a heavy reminder that our global community remains unsafe for people who identify as LGBT or Q, and may we redouble our efforts to end bigotry and hatred.
Canada has an opportunity to show leadership within the international community. I suggest that we remember our responsibility as a signatory state to the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity. Let us affirm our commitment to these obligations and secure equal rights for trans and gender variant Canadians by adding gender identity and expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination under the Canada Human Rights Act.
As our country strives to be more inclusive, I will reflect upon the past, which unfortunately is riddled with instances of discrimination and violence toward the LGBTQ community. Thankfully, it is also full of tales of hope and resistance.
Not so long ago, on February 5, 1981, more than 250 gay men were arrested in Toronto for visiting bath houses. Many of those arrested in Operation Soap were publicly humiliated and faced lifelong repercussions as a result of this assault. I urge that we do not forget these dark moments in our history, as we forge our way forward to a future that is more fair and just for all Canadians.
In my riding and the surrounding area, we have a strong record of organization and activism around LGBTQ issues, from the Saskatoon gay liberation, led by Gens Hellquist in the 1970s; to Gay and Lesbian Health Services of Saskatoon, started in 1991, which continues its important work today as OUTSaskatoon; to the annual Breaking the Silence Conference, now in its 20th year, organized by education professor Don Cochrane at the University of Saskatchewan.
In 1999, Mount Royal Collegiate, a high school in my riding, was the first high school in the province to have a gay-straight alliance for students, spearheaded by teacher Patti Rowley. In June of this year, Beardy's & Okemasis First Nation held the first-ever Two-Spirit Pride Festival and parade on a first nation in Saskatchewan. We are lucky to have a robust history of community activism and work.
This activism has pushed governments to recognize the rights of the LGBTQ community, and has in many cases provided essential services to those who need them most. However, organizations and community activists alone cannot ensure that the rights of the LGBTQ community are respected. We need federal protections that explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender expression and identity. We need Bill C-16.
When the Minister of Justice introduced the bill, she noted that all Canadians should be safe to be themselves. I do not believe any one of us would disagree with that.
However, the hard truth of the matter is that not all people in Canada are safe to be themselves. Systemic discrimination toward the LGBTQ community persists across Canada, and perhaps most notably in our schools. LGBTQ students are three times more likely than heterosexual students to be bullied. Roughly 74% of trans students report having been verbally harassed about their perceived gender identity or sexual orientation, and nearly 40% of trans students report having been physically assaulted.
The bravery displayed by our young people who report physical and verbal assault after it happens is truly remarkable, but I am heartbroken, as many are, and utterly dismayed by the fact that seven out of 10 trans students are being harassed because of who they are.
It is not just young trans Canadians who desperately need a more compassionate Canadian society. Trans and gender variant Canadians of all ages face unique barriers.
Many Canadians are unable to secure identification that correctly reflects their gender identity, which in turn imposes severe restrictions on their mobility and limits access to essential services. Those who identify as trans or gender variant face a real struggle to earn a decent standard of living. They are discriminated against in the workplace and are often unemployed or underemployed.
We cannot stand idly by while such discrimination takes place in the workplace. In 2016, we need safe gender neutral spaces, including public washrooms. For Canadians who identify as trans or gender variant, this challenge can be at best a nightmare, or at worst, life threatening. It is unacceptable that so many Canadians face these challenges each and every day.
We must do better, and we can start by extending trans and gender variant Canadians the same rights and protections that all Canadians enjoy under the Canada Human Rights Act.
We have so much work to do in order to achieve the inclusive Canada we all envision. However, we have an exciting opportunity before us to make the lives of trans and gender variant Canadians better, by supporting Bill C-16. The bill is an important and critical step forward on a long, slow, but steady march forward in the struggle to enshrine in law equality for all.
Next week, on Sunday, communities all over Canada and around the world will pause on November 20 to observe the Transgender Day of Remembrance. On that day, we will remember and honour those who have died due to transphobia.
Let us not just remember, let us not just honour, but let us act. I urge the government to act, to pass this long overdue legislation without delay. I urge all members of this house to support Bill C-16 to ensure the protection of human rights for all Canadians.