3 min

Bad Canadian laws and the best way to change them

Trans rights, sex work and Canada’s flawed electoral system

(Actor, writer, producer and political commentator Amy Fox, above, will help identify key election issues as part of the community panel at Daily Xtra’s Sept 10 candidates debate at the Odyssey. Tweet your candidate questions to #XtraDebate./Photo supplied by Amy Fox)

Under Canadian federal law, the following are legal:

1. Firing and evicting people for being trans.

2. Advocating for genocide against trans people.

3. Revoking the citizenship of Canadians who oppose oil pipelines if they have (or might be eligible for) citizenship in another country as well.

4. Deporting LGBT refugees to “safe” countries where they may be killed.

The following are illegal:

1. Sex work, sort of.

2. Voting if you live on an unnamed street on a reserve.

3. Pot.

Thankfully, it’s time to elect new MPs to make better laws. But before we mark our ballot, we should ask: how did these laws get passed in the first place?

First example: After a decade of inertia, the NDP pushed the trans rights bill into discussion between Conservatives, whose logic and research skills fell short of a middle school debate team, and MPs across parties who mistook repeating themselves for critique.

It somehow passed the House of Commons and reached the Senate — where Senator Don Plett, the former Conservative Party president now appointed to the body his party promised to abolish, amended the bill to legalize ejecting trans folk from bathrooms, change rooms and crisis centres, and locking us in the wrong prisons.

Second example: Before 2014, you could do sex work, as long as you never communicated about it, presumably leaving health, finance, consent and weeding out serial killers to a game of charades. It was illegal to work indoors, blizzard or no. Your accountant, security guard, partner and roommate, could all be charged with “living off the avails” of your work.

Since no parliament would do its job and fix this, sex workers fought this in court until they won in December 2013. The ruling: the government had to scrap this law or redraft it. The Conservatives obeyed — by drafting something worse

The opposition parties promise to fix all of the above in exchange for our vote. Well, almost. The Liberals helped establish the pseudo-terrorist bill that would deport dual citizens caught in the new, broad definition of “terrorist.” And how anyone plans to change anything when the unelected senate can block everything, I don’t know. But they solemnly vow to . . . give it a try?

Of course, sometimes four years just isn’t enough time for a thousand MPs, senators and staffers to change a few words on paper. But that’s just one more reason to re-elect them in 2019. Right?

So, how do human rights become law? The Liberals and NDP might remind us that they legalized gay marriage across Canada in 2005. That’s nice, but the federal bill trailed after citizens in the Yukon and every province but PEI and Alberta who had already forced this change through regional courts — in their free time and at their own expense.

How did common citizens outperform elected officials? By taking their case to court — where two small teams argue using research and logic. Judges weigh both sides and justify their decision publicly. It’s far from perfect, but it’s usually better than Parliament. Still, an unscrupulous government can simply redraft an unconstitutional law, forcing us to repeat the process.

The problem isn’t bad legislation; it’s the system that makes it. British Parliamentary Democracy was an experimental compromise between 1600s merchants and feudal lords. But we’ve barely updated it since. At elections, we still choose one champion from an arbitrary chunk of land to go off and shout over hundreds of other champions. And from this comes policy and law. Is it efficient or democratic? No. But it wasn’t designed to be.

Unelected senators. Antiquated voting systems. Parliamentary shouting matches. Disrespect for the courts. When parties promise to pass rights legislation without changing the system that blocks passage of these rights, they are both playing us and setting up their successors to undo their work and our dreams.

To win rights, we need a government as advanced as today’s world. So whichever politician will make their own job obsolete — that’s who we should vote for.

Who is that in this election? To find out, come to Daily Xtra’s candidates debate on Sept 10 at the Odyssey, where audience members and a community panel including myself will ask the main party candidates for Vancouver Centre these very questions. The new Odyssey was designed with an eye to physical accessibility, and the debate will have ASL interpretation.

It might be your civic duty. And it’s a great place to pick up.

What are the most pressing questions for you this election? Tweet your questions to #XtraDebate — and come to Daily Xtra’s candidates debate

(Daily Xtra Candidates Debate for Vancouver Centre

Thursday, Sept 10, 2015

7–9pm (doors open 6pm)

The Odyssey nightclub, 686 W Hastings St, Vancouver

Click here for more event details.)