Two of Canada’s northern territories, Nunavut and Yukon, are moving towards passing comprehensive trans-rights legislation.

In Nunavut, Bill 31, which would add “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination under the territory’s Human Rights Act, has already cleared two readings through the non-partisan, consensus-based territorial assembly. It is expected to pass its third and final reading during the winter session, in February and March 2017.

In Yukon, the incoming Liberal Party government that was elected on Nov 7, has pledged to conduct a review of all of the territory’s “legislation, policy and practice . . . to ensure the Yukon Government meets rules and social standards for LGBTQ non-discrimination.”

Newly-appointed Justice Minister Tracy McPhee says the review will include amending the Human Rights Act to include trans people, and amending the Vital Statistics Act to allow trans people to change their legal gender without undergoing surgery.

The surgery requirement was the subject of an unresolved human rights complaint in 2015.  

“We have not set the legislative agenda just yet. That’s something being worked on over the next month,” McPhee says. “[Changes to the Human Rights Act and Vital Statistics Act] are already in the agenda and being worked on. We wouldn’t have any legislative changes until the spring.”  

The Yukon government will also be reviewing its own employment practices and its health-care policies as part of the review, McPhee says. 

“We want to make sure we have a welcoming workplace in the government in the Yukon Territory,” she says. “It’s 2016. It’s time to make sure our policies and laws are inclusive.”

Yukon activists have been agitating for the changes for a long time. In May 2015, the Yukon Legislative Assembly passed a motion calling for explicit trans rights in the Human Rights Act, but the then-government did not act.

If the Yukon and Nunavut bills are passed, New Brunswick will be the only place in Canada where trans people are not explicitly protected by anti-discrimination law — in that province, they must rely on the category of “sex” to be interpreted to include them. Explicit protections were passed in British Columbia and Quebec this year. 

A call to Donald Arseneault, New Brunswick’s minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, who is responsible for the province’s Human Rights Act, was not returned before publication. 

A federal trans rights bill that would bind the federal government and federally regulated businesses recently passed through the House of Commons and is in the midst of its second reading in the Senate.

Until recently, most provinces’ laws required trans people to undergo sex reassignment surgery before obtaining a legal gender change. 

The governments of the Northwest Territories, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and Quebec all updated their laws to allow trans people of all ages to change their legal gender without surgery in 2016. 

BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Nunavut and Nova Scotia had all made the changes between 2012–2015, in part due to successful human rights challenges in several provinces.

Ontario went one step further in 2016 by removing gender markers from health cards and allowing the use of an “X” mark on drivers’ licences.

Only Yukon and New Brunswick still currently require surgery to change legal gender markers.

Still, Nunavut’s small queer community welcomes the coming change to the Human Rights Act. 

“The exclusion of gender identity [from the HRA] sends the message that transgender people are not wanted, or seen as equal or as important of human beings as others,” says Kieran Drachenberg, a 16-year-old trans person who lives in Iqaluit.  

Drachenberg says the lack of explicit protections in Nunavut gives people a licence to discriminate and suggests that “the people who hold the power within Nunavut do not believe me to be of equal importance to them, or to those around me.”

“Passing this new bill will certainly create many ways in which Nunavut as a whole may grow and flourish into the great territory I believe it can be,” he says.

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