As federal politicians settle in for the fall session, NDP LGBT critic Randall Garrison is confident his trans rights bill will pass a third reading before Christmas, after the justice committee approves it.
In June, trans activists criticized Garrison, unhappy with his move to amend the bill and remove “gender expression” and replace the term with a definition of “gender identity.” Garrison maintains the amendment is necessary to get the bill passed.
If passed, the bill will add gender identity to the list of statuses protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act and will amend the Criminal Code to include anti-transgender violence, assault and harassment.
“We have agreed to discuss some amendments to the bill. We’ll see how that goes. If we can get an agreement on the amendments, I’m confident we can get it passed,” he says. “I’m led to believe if it passes the House again, the Senate wouldn’t dare defeat it.”
The bill was supported by 15 Conservative MPs on its second vote June 7
, with the stipulation that the amendments be made before the final vote. Garrison says 13 Tories will be required for the third vote.
Conservative MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay fully supports the bill yet feels the amendments are crucial to making the language clear for those not familiar with the trans community or the term “gender expression.”
Findlay has asked that Garrison include definitions of the term “gender identity.” She admits definitions are not required in the Human Rights Act for other groups, such as race or disability, but, she says, gender issues are still new for people.
“If there’s another category like ‘visible minority,’ there’s a general and common understanding of what that means. The debate really is over whether transgendered people are already covered under the legislation as it is now.”
Findlay, who was a member of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal from 2006 to 2011, says previous tribunal decisions have upheld trans rights under the category of sex, which has been interpreted as gender definition. She says the justice committee’s discussion will look at whether a specific statement or category needs to be added.
“The general public isn’t sure what that [gender expression] means, and it needs defining,” Findlay says. “It seemed better to take the one that most people feel they have a better understanding of, which is gender identity, and get a definition of that.”
Trans Pride Canada helped Garrison to ensure the bill contained proper language, says Nicki Ward, a Toronto trans activist and artist who is the group’s founder. Her organization is reaching out to all MPs who may be unclear about issues facing trans Canadians. Ward says it’s not just Conservatives who need to be educated.
“There are some politicians who feel that it’s possibly moral issues at stake here. It’s not just the Conservatives in this position. There are some members of the Liberal caucus who are less than supportive of trans rights,” Ward says. “From my standpoint it’s non-partisan.”
Ward feels Bill-C279 is fundamentally important to human rights and urges any MP who supports equality to vote in favour of the bill.
“The vote is so close it is one stomach flu away from passing or failing,” Ward says. “Every vote counts.”
During the second reading of the bill on April 5, Conservative MP Dean Allison said the bill would give “special rights” to “sexual predators” caught lurking in women’s washrooms. Garrison slammed Allison’s discriminatory comments as a “throwback to another decade.”