5 min

Bill Siksay on body scanners and trans folk

As part of my catching up with gay and lesbian MPs, I caught up with Bill Siksay today, who has just returned to his riding of Burnaby-Douglas after his caucus meetings in Ottawa.

Q: What did you get up to over the winter break?
A: That seems so long ago. It was good to be back in the riding and be able to do some things locally. I usually every holiday/New Year’s season, I have a New Year’s levee, so I my annual New Year’s levee at the Scandinavian Community Centre here, which is always a nice event. It’s not a big political event – it’s more of a meet-and-greet. There’s a big fireplace there, and you sit around and eat and have conversations – it’s one I look forward to. So it was nice to be back in Burnaby to have that kind of exchange with folks for a change.

That break period over the holidays is usually a time for me to spend with my family, which I don’t get very often, and to sleep in my own bed for a while, which is nice. We always have a staff retreat in that time too, the Ottawa and Burnaby staff, where we try to make some plans for the coming year and get a sense of where we’re going and what we’re working on and our priorities, and so we did that as well.

Q: I guess the plan for your caucus is to go around the country and do consultations rather than do them here [in Ottawa]. What are your plans for that?
A: In terms of my work for the next little while, one of the things that I’m going to be doing is trying to get thing set up for the Private Members’ Bill on adding gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act. It’s still likely to come up this spring, even though it might be a little later because of prorogation and because of re-jigging the Private Members’ List – it doesn’t drop off, it doesn’t change, and everything’s still intact, but it’ll take a little longer for the bill to come up than we expected, so that gives us some time to prepare a programme for contacting MPs, letting them know it’s coming up, and trying to build some support in the community for folks to go out and talk to their local MP and try to get them onboard with this bill for when it does finally get debated in the House. So that’s one of the projects I’ll be working on in this period.

Another one that I want to do some work on is the whole issue on the criminal code changes in Uganda. It seems like there’s been some movement there. The [President] of Uganda recently acknowledged that he’s been getting pressure from heads of [government] in the Commonwealth – he mentioned that he had a conversation with Prime Minister Harper about it. There’s been comment from other cabinet ministers in Uganda about that piece of legislation, so it sounds like things are percolating, and some of the efforts of members of the community from around the world are starting to pay off, and hopefully we can continue to work here, and I wanted to go to work with folks in the community here to figure out how we can keep that pressure coming from Canada.

Q: This is one of those things I’ve been wondering – is there any means by which we should examine the aid that we give to Uganda and start asking questions about that?
A: I’m not sure exactly what the level of aid is. I know the Conservative government recently changed their aid policies in Africa, and some countries were in and some countries were out. I think it’s probably too early to talk about changing any aid that we send to Uganda – I think we need to see what the outcome of their debate and deliberations are before we look at a step like that, but certainly I think on a fundamental level, if a country presents great to concerns to Canadians and to values that Canadians espouse, then we need to consider that kind of thing. But I think it’s probably early to do that when we haven’t seen exactly what the outcome of the debate in Uganda will be.

I also was doing some work on nuclear disarmament, and want to do some follow-up on that. We had a meeting in Ottawa on Monday of the Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, with the global coordinator of the organisation, Allan Ware. Allan was in Ottawa for a conference, and even though it was a Monday and in this funny nether-space between Parliaments, we had 12 MPs and a Senator out to hear Allan talk about how it was important that Canada play a more prominent role in the whole move for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Canada used to be a strong player and now is not to be found in that discussion, so we want to work on ways of bringing Canada back into that important discussion. Also on Tuesday, I attended a conference in Ottawa on practical steps that Canadians can take towards that goal. I think there’s important work to be done there. I think that’s an issue that is crucial – there’s a moment with the change in administration in the United States where we can make progress on that issue, and I think that on a very basic level, everyone’s security is bound up on our ability to make some progress on that front.

Q: Over in the Ethics, Information and Privacy committee – was there anything that died in prorogation?
A: Well one of the things that’s come up since the committee’s last meeting was this commitment to install these electronic full-body scanners in airports, and one of the concerns that I have is the particular concern that folks in the trans community have around those scanners. I’ve been making inquiries with both the government and the Privacy Commissioner as to what provision has been made around training folks who operate this equipment and also just general policy around how transsexual and transgendered folks are to be accommodated in those security searches. I think that’s a really important one, and it has a particular implication for certain members of our community, so I want to pursue that, and if we need to bring that to the standing committee when it gets back, then we’ll certainly try to do that. I think the whole follow-up to the Olympics and closed-circuit surveillance of city streets, certainly here in the Greater Vancouver Area, that’s an issue with the number of cameras that have been installed for the Olympics and we want to do some follow-up to make sure that those come down as has been promised after the campaign, and that we don’t go into this whole new era of video surveillance of community streets as an Olympic legacy, so I think that’s an important one. But just the pressure on the government around coming up with important reform to privacy legislation and Access to Information will certainly be on the committee’s agenda when it comes back.
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