After years of intense controversy stalled previous attempts to pass trans rights in the Senate, a new bill aimed at encoding protection for trans people into Canada’s human-rights laws could see smoother sailing, a survey by Daily Xtra suggests. Xtra emailed all 98 sitting senators, and the six appointees waiting to be sworn in, to ask if they support Bill C-16 in its current form. Only one senator plans to vote against the bill; nine declined to comment, but 15 say they’ll likely support the bill. Click here to see the individual responses.
The Senate is scheduled to give the trans-rights bill a second reading Nov 29, 2016, which is the first debate they’ll have on it.
In May, the Liberal government tabled Bill C-16, which would add both gender identity and gender expression to Canada’s anti-discrimination laws, and would let judges deem attacks against trans people as an aggravating factor in criminal sentencing.
Outcome of Bill C-16 to be different than Bill C-279
On Nov 18, 2016, the bill passed its final House of Commons vote, and it will soon be debated by the Senate. The legislation echoes Bill C-279, which the Senate gutted and delayed until Parliament dissolved for the October 2015 election. Bill C-279 was meant to codify human-rights protections for trans people in the federal Human Rights Act.
“The prospects are considerably better for C-16 than they were for C-279,” says Senator Grant Mitchell, who sponsored the previous bill in the last Parliament.
Unlike C-279, the current bill was tabled by the government, and it’s extremely rare for the Senate to turn down a government bill. Mitchell notes that Liberals and independents have since overtaken the Senate’s Conservative majority. He also argues that C-16 is a better bill because it hasn’t been watered down.
The previous bill saw several amendments, one of which erased the term “gender expression” in an attempt to gain Conservative support in the House of Commons.
When the old bill finally reached the Senate in 2013, Senator Don Plett moved an amendment to exempt trans protection from jails, women’s shelters, bathrooms and change rooms. “Whether or not it is called ‘the bathroom bill,’ it allows for pedophiles to take advantage of legislation that we have in place,” he told the Senate in February 2014. The bill spent 20 months in the Senate before the summer 2015 election call.
In May 2016, Plett told BuzzFeed that he might end up supporting Bill C-16.
“My feeling on transgender rights, they haven’t changed since the last time I spoke about it,” he said. “But because it is now government legislation, obviously a lot of the rules have changed.”
Plett’s office told Xtra on Nov 16 that he “still has concerns with the legislation.” None of the five senators who supported Plett’s 2015 motion, nor the one senator who abstained from the vote, told Xtra whether they’ll endorse Bill C-16.
Senate will likely pass Bill C-16
No matter how much support the bill has, a minority can continuously delay a vote by repeatedly adjourning debate.
Conservative Senator Vern White said the bill will likely pass, despite just one-sixth of senators replying to Xtra’s survey.
“There might be amendments or changes, so that’s likely why you probably won’t get many responses.”
In a rousing 20-minute speech, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel recounted a years-long journey from not understanding trans people, to advocating for them. She recalled her 2013 remarks that a similar bill was not necessary, noting trans people continue to face violence and discrimination.
“All we can do is ask for forgiveness and then act,” she said. “It is compassion that, in our worst moments, saves us.”
Through a shaking voice, Rempel added that just decades ago, gender roles would have prevented a divorced, childless woman like herself from being an MP.
“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.”
But two Conservative MPs, one of whom supports the bill’s aims, attempted to send the bill back to the justice committee. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and her ministry staff were the only witnesses during a fast-tracked study. Wilson-Raybould called the bill “a no-brainer” after the House passed three similar bills.