Partisanship strikes again. The House of Commons, through some procedural one-upmanship, has forced the standing committee on justice and human rights to adjourn until Nov 27. That means the NDP’s trans rights bill faces yet another hurdle.
C-279, a bill that would add gender identity to the list of protected minorities under the Human Rights Act, was scheduled to be moved back to the House Nov 22. Unfortunately for the bill’s author, BC MP Randall Garrison, the Liberals forced several votes in the House that were designed to throw a wrench in the machine of the Conservative government. The Tories were trying to shut down debate in the finance committee, so the Liberals used delay tactics in the House.
It meant that, twice, the bells rang – a sign that the MPs must return to the House for a vote – forcing the committee to rise, leaving witnesses to wait for its members to return. Eventually, running short on time, the chair moved that the committee adjourn.
The committee was supposed to hear from witnesses in the first hour – including testimony from the REAL Women of Canada, who oppose the legislation – and vote on amendments in the last half.
The amendments included a compromise to get Tory support and updates to the language in the bill’s French version regarding gender identity. Garrison capitulated on including “gender expression” – a term the Conservatives said was ill-defined and open to interpretation – and settled for adding just “gender identity.” That, legal experts told him, would still cover all trans people.
The committee heard from a number of trans people Nov 20 who spoke about their experience, accompanied by a brief vignette from one NDP MP’s experience with crossdressing for Halloween. They also heard from Ryan Dyck, director of policy and public education at Egale Canada. He took on the stance of the committee’s Conservative MPs that the Human Rights Act already protects trans people. Dyck testified that he, and Egale’s legal team, couldn’t find a single case where a trans person had used the Human Rights Code. The committee also heard from Sara Davis Buechner, a classical pianist, who provided the committee with colourful testimony of her own past.
“We are, as we say in music, variations on a theme — the human theme,” Buechner told the committee.
It seems that those changes have secured the support of enough Conservatives on the committee to get it back to the House quickly. Garrison told Xtra that he’s not just hopeful that it will get through the committee votes, but “confident.”
If the bill is passed through committee, it faces a long wait before returning to the House – likely February. But Garrison has a trick up his sleeve; he’s arranged to trade with another NDP MP to get his bill back before the House much sooner. And that’s the big issue posed by the committee’s adjournment – he had planned on getting the bill back on Nov 27, which now seems unlikely since the committee won’t throw the bill back to the House until 4pm on Nov 27.
But the setback hasn’t fazed Garrison.
“I’m still optimistic that we will get this through the House and then through the Senate,” he says.
Garrison has been working to win over Conservatives. On second reading, 15 Conservative MPs stood to support the bill.