After almost a decade of lobbying, transgender Canadians are one step closer to equal protection under the law.
The federal government has tabled a bill that would enshrine transgender rights in Canada’s human rights and hate-crime laws.
Bill C-16 was introduced in Parliament on May 17, 2016, after a morning press conference that made headlines worldwide.
The timing was symbolic — May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
“This is an acknowledgement of the decades of advocacy on behalf of the trans community,” Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said, flanked by more than a dozen trans people in the foyer of the House of Commons. “Because as Canadians we should feel free and safe to be ourselves.”
The bill would add both gender identity and gender expression into the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code’s hate crime laws.
Provincial laws, judges and human-rights tribunals have effectively folded gender identity and expression into existing gender-discrimination laws on a case-by-case basis. Wilson-Raybould said the bill would make these protections clearer, and help authorities to collect more accurate data.
If passed, Bill C-16 would also compel judges to consider a victim’s “gender identity or expression” as possible aggravating factors when sentencing people who have committed violent acts. It would also add protections for trans people in the military and the federal government.
Charlie Lowthian-Rickert, a 10-year-old trans girl, told reporters the bill could help soften the daily bullying she faces at school.
“Hateful propaganda, assault, rape, stuff like that — it could protect us and stop the people who would have just gone off and done it in the past and maybe discriminated or assaulted us,” said Lowthian-Rickert. “I feel much safer.”
Politicians have tried multiple times to integrate trans rights into federal law over the past nine years. This is the first time the government has introduced a bill, which is much more likely to pass than a private member’s bill.
However, the Liberal government wouldn’t say whether it would compel its MPs to vote for the bill. While the bill is likely to pass in the House of Commons, it remains unclear how it will be treated in the Senate, which gutted key parts of a similar bill in 2015. The Conservatives still retain a plurality of seats in the Senate, while the Senate Liberals no longer caucus with Liberal MPs.
That former bill, which died when the federal election was called, had been tabled by NDP MP Randall Garrison, who was included in the May 17 press conference.
“I want to remind people this is the seventh time this bill has been introduced in the House of Commons,” he said. “I’m looking toward a commitment from the government to pass this expeditiously.”
Hours later, he tabled a motion that would have fast-tracked the bill in the House, though it failed to get enough support.
Morgane Oger, chair of the Trans Alliance Society in Vancouver, said she was thrilled to see her peers in the morning announcement on television.
“Symbolically, that was wonderful. It was only a year ago that I was hearing transphobic messaging coming from that building,” said Oger, who was consulted by the drafters of the bill.
“There will be a challenge in the Senate, I’m aware of that, but I’m excited that finally, in 2016, our government is listening to us.”