If all goes according to plan, it will be the last time MPs debate trans rights in the House of Commons.
After debate today, Bill Siksay’s private member’s bill to protect trans people in human rights law heads to a final vote in the House. If it passes, C-389 still faces opposition in the Senate, where a Conservative majority could defeat it.
“Listening to the debate was incredibly validating as a trans person who has come out in the past 10 years,” says trans activist Susan Gapka, who was in the public gallery for the debate. “To hear MPs talk favourably about human rights protection in the lives of transgendered and transsexual people was really heartwarming, and there was [only] one speaker today that actually spoke against.
“That’s tremendous progress from where we were a few years ago, when there were a lot of myths and very little knowledge on the lives of trans people.”
C-389 would also extend protections under Canada’s hate speech laws to trans people.
The MP who spoke against was Conservative Brent Rathgeber, who laid out arguments that the bill was unnecessary because trans people are already covered in the Canadian Human Rights Act under the category of “sex.”
“We need visibility,” argues trans activist Martine Stonehouse, who was also in the gallery for the debate. “Burying us under the ground of ‘sex’ leaves us with no visibility, and people don’t know that we have protections, and it leads to endless cases that we end up launching human rights cases, court cases and so on against discrimination that doesn’t need to be happening.”
Conservative MP Laurie Hawn asked Siksay whether or not being so specific might make crimes more difficult to prosecute, thereby “actually make it more difficult to accomplish the aim.”
Liberal justice critic Marlene Jennings dismisses that argument as specious.
“If that’s their logic, I suggest they go back and they remove auto theft [from the Criminal Code], which they brought in as a specific particular offence, even though the legal experts told them the general criminal offence of theft, under $5,000, over $5,000 covered auto theft,” Jennings says.
“I wish they would just come out and say that they have great difficulty and discomfort with transgendered individuals being able to walk through all areas of our society, all milieus,” Jennings says. “At least be honest.”
Jennings’ speech in the House was devoted to debunking what she called the eight “myths” around the bill.
Jennings says the idea came after receiving letters and emails from constituents and other Canadians concerned about the things they had heard from people like evangelist Charles McVety.
“My assistant and I began actually listing the number of myths that people were bringing to us because they read an article or heard Mr McVety,” says Jennings. “We decided that we would counter it with actual facts to show that it was completely false.”
While Jennings was only able to get to seven of the eight myths before her time expired, she has provided them all to Xtra.
Other speakers to the bill included NDP MP Megan Leslie, who read out letters from trans individuals she received regarding the bill, getting choked up near the end of her allotted time. The Bloc did not put forward a speaker, though they have unanimously supported the bill in previous votes and debates.
If the bill passes, Jennings hopes that the Conservative majority in the Senate at least studies the bill, whatever problems they may have with the text, rather than killing it at second reading the way they did with Bill C-311 on climate-change accountability.
A standing vote will be held on Wednesday, Feb 9, and that has Siksay on edge.
“I’m still worried about what’s going to happen on Wednesday,” Siksay says. “It was close last time. With a different pattern of absences, different people away travelling on committee business, the outcome could change. I’ll be on pins and needles until we’ve had that vote.
“I want people to understand it could go either way still.”