Trans people could soon have explicit protection from discrimination in Ontario through the addition of “gender identity” to the Ontario Human Rights Code.
“This is a critical step to take, and it’s a long time coming,” says Cheri DiNovo, NDP MPP for Parkdale-High Park. “Without including it, it’s like saying it’s okay to discriminate against trans people.”
DiNovo says she’s planning to table a private member’s bill to amend the code soon after the provincial legislature reopens on Mon, Mar 19.
“I’m hoping it’s a nonpartisan, no-brainer,” says DiNovo. “It will be up to the Liberal majority whether this will live or die. If they don’t pass it, it will certainly become an election issue.”
Even if it doesn’t pass this time, trans activist Susan Gapka says it’s an important and inevitable step.
“It’s something we can achieve,” says Gapka, chair of the Trans Health Lobby Group. “Our gay and lesbian friends were successful in getting sexual orientation into the Human Rights Code. We see it as a natural progression for human rights in this country.”
If the bill passes, Ontario would be the first province in Canada to include gender identity in its human rights code. The Northwest Territories included it in 2002.
The addition would create a clear legal avenue for those discriminated against because they are trans.
“The way the code stands now many transsexuals aren’t clear that there is protection out there,” says Rosalyn Forrester, cofounder of the Canadian Transexuals Fight For Rights. “Each time you file a claim, you have to dance around to figure out how you fit. But if you can say, ‘I’m discriminated against because of my gender identity,’ then it’s clear-cut.”
In 2001 and 2003 Forrester, a trans woman, filed complaints against the Peel Region police after multiple incidents of being strip-searched by male officers, despite requests that the searches be done by female officers.
“At the time I wasn’t sure if I should file under ‘disability’ or ‘sexual orientation’ because neither of those fit my case. We fly under the radar, because the terminology isn’t there.”
Last May the Human Rights Tribunal Of Ontario ruled that the police involved in the strip searches unintentionally discriminated against Forrester on the basis of ‘sex.’ Now trans people can choose whether the officers conducting strip searches be male, female or a combination of the two.
Forrester believes her grievance against the Peel police would have been more efficient if she could have filed it on the grounds of gender identity. In addition to easing legal matters, Forrester says the amendment would help to raise awareness of trans issues.
“There are organizations out there that aren’t clear about our rights and how we’re protected. By talking about gender identity as key to human rights, it sends the message that you can’t discriminate against us.”