Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert will introduce a bill in the legislature on May 26 to add protection for transgender people to BC’s Human Rights Code.
“Justice has to be seen and protection has to be seen as well,” says Marie Little, chair of the Trans Alliance Society. “When a trans person gets refused rental or accommodations, they can show this law to the prospective landlord and say, ‘Look, you can’t do that.’”
Previous Human Rights Tribunal rulings in BC have expanded the protected class of sex to include transgender people. But protection for gender expression is not explicitly written into the Code’s section protecting people from discrimination.
“It’s being read into the law currently, but we want to make it explicit,” Chandra Herbert says, adding that the move could help educate landlords, employers and the general public about what the law is and who it protects.
“This kind of legislation can also help in terms of sending signals to health authorities who’ll say to a female, ‘Sorry, your birth certificate says you are a male; thus, we need to treat you like a male,’” he adds.
In February, the federal House of Commons passed Bill C-389, a private member’s bill introduced by former MP Bill Siksay, which sought to add gender identity and gender expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act, but the bill died in the Senate when Parliament was dissolved.
“With a Conservative majority, and having a look at who voted against Bill C-389, I don’t think we’ll see a federal one for another four years,” says Little. “Spencer and I started talking about [his private member’s bill] several months ago, but it certainly took on a more important role for the trans community when Bill C-389 died. I am in contact with trans people across the country, and I am hoping that similar bills will be introduced in other provincial legislatures.”
Chandra Herbert says the bill’s success depends on the BC Liberal government. “In BC there’s nothing stopping [the provincial government] from enacting this into law next week if they so desired,” he says. “Christy Clark says she’s about change, and she can change the Human Rights Code to protect British Columbians in a better and more explicit way.”
But the BC Liberals’ track record on gay issues is not strong, Chandra Herbert claims. “Ten years on, the government has not addressed this issue, let alone come up with ways to deal with homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools. But I’ll keep trying and hopefully good sense wins the day.”
If Chandra Herbert’s bill passes, BC will become the second province or territory to add gender identity to its human rights legislation. The Northwest Territories amended its Human Rights Act to add gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination in 2002.