When trans people look at how they are treated under the law in Canada, they see the lack of access to gender appropriate passports, poor treatment in the penal system, the lack of universal access to appropriate medical services and the lack of protection under hate crime legislation.
But as Bill Siksay, the NDP MP for Burnaby-Douglas, prepares to draw up a private member’s bill on trans rights, gettting trans people explicit protection in the Canadian Human Rights Act has become the focus.
Siksay, who is also the NDP critic for Canadian human rights, held a community consultation on his proposed bill at the 519 Community Centre on Jan 15. It was attended by more than 30 people, including trans people, representatives of the labour movement, representatives from the Unitarian and United churches, NDP members and other allies.
Through a series of three consultations (he’s also held one each in Ottawa and Vancouver), Siksay has been seeking input into what is the most advantageous legal direction and what wording would be appropriate when his name is drawn in the House Of Commons lottery to introduce a private member’s bill. In Vancouver and Ottawa there was consensus that use of the phrase “gender identity and gender expression” would work. In Toronto there was more discussion of what kind of bill would be likely to pass, particularly considering that private members’ bills usually don’t. Broad and inclusive language that is not able to be passed into law does not directly benefit anyone.
Participants called for support from lesbians, gay men and bi-sexuals. Particularly in the wake of Bill C-250, which added sexual orientation to the list of factors that protects someone from hate propaganda, there is a sense that trans people are active in progressing the rights of other queers, but when it comes to legislation, the trans people get left out.
As a longtime advocate for gay rights, Siksay said he had always been committed to protection for all. “If my liberation comes at the expense of my more feminine brothers, I’m not going there,” he told the group. Siksay made a statement in the House Of Commons this fall commemorating Nov 20’s Trans Day Of Remembrance, noting the violence and prejudice many trans people face and calling for inclusion, understanding and human rights protection.
For the bill to pass, it will need a broad coalition of support, and Siksay says he is committed to making it a non-partisan effort. NDP Leader Jack Layton strongly supports the bill, whatever form it will take, and Siksay says the NDP caucus is behind him. Other parties have not expressed their positions. National lobby group Egale Canada has struck a committee to support the bill which will, among other work, be preparing “a compelling and effective education/ lobbying package for MPs in support of the amendment.”
Many of the attendees at the consultation are themselves making considerable steps and taking considerable risks for trans rights. Several attendees have cases before the courts, or human rights tribunals that have the potential to improve rights for all trans people.