BY DALE SMITH – Bill C-389 – which would add gender identity and gender
expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the hate crimes provisions of
the Criminal Code – is about to die on the Senate Order Paper.
But another private member's bill – C-393, which would ease access to cheap AIDS drugs for developing countries – still has a chance of passing. Why is that?
For one, the drug bill had a sponsor lined up in the Senate before it arrived, so there was someone there to push the issue this week. As well, another almost identical bill, S-232, made it to the committee stage and got as far as clause-by-clause consideration before it died because of prorogation. And that means senators could speed it through committee this time around.
But Bill Siksay, C-389's author, never found a sponsor in the Senate, though it wasn't because there was no one willing to take it up. Liberal senators have said almost universally that they supported the bill. Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth was also in support but didn't sponsor it – or assume the role of government critic on the bill – because she planned to propose an amendment to further extend the Criminal Code protections to the category of "sex."
Liberal senators I talked to said they hadn't been approached and they weren't about to jump up to support the bill unasked. Senators on both sides of the aisle resent being used as punching bags by the NDP; continually insulted for their appointed status, they have repeatedly cautioned MPs to be nice to senators if they want help shepherding their bills through the upper chamber.
For his part, Siksay didn't look for a sponsor before the bill passed the Commons, focusing his attention on getting the bill passed first – even though some of his NDP colleagues expressed amazement at the lapse. Siksay told me earlier this week that while there were still discussions going on, he wasn't going to make a push unless an election were ruled out.
Liberal Senator Claudette Tardif, the deputy opposition leader in the Senate, whose job it is to negotiate the progress of bills with the government side, expressed frustration with Siksay's failure to find a sponsor in a timely manner.
We spoke on Tuesday morning, before it was determined that an election was inevitable.
"I would think that with that case, the government should at least bring it up for second reading, whether they like it or not, because they are the ones that have the control," Tardif said. "We'll have to see with C-389 what's going to happen. I'm not going to let it sit there if no one comes through, and if there's no one that's been identified on the NDP side, and if the government doesn't put up someone to speak to it, we won't leave it lay there in limbo. We'll figure out something, so that at least it can hopefully on our side get it spoken to, and then we'll have to see what they do. But at this time, no one has spoken to it until that happens."
There was the additional issue that C-389 would have gone before the Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee because of its Criminal Code provisions. That's a committee already loaded with government tough-on-crime bills that take precedence over private member's bills. That would have been a hurdle nearly impossible to clear before the election, even if the bill had a sponsor.
There has been a commitment from both the NDP and the Liberals to revisit the bill in the next parliament, but with Siksay's retirement, advocates will have to find a new champion.