Politics
3 min

NDP leadership hopeful Niki Ashton pledges to fight transphobia, gender-based violence through government action

Pledging $500 million of federal funding devoted to a national strategy

Niki Ashton at the NDP leadership convention in Toronto on March 23, 2012.
Niki Ashton at the NDP leadership convention in Toronto on March 23, 2012. Credit: Matt Jiggins/Flickr Creative Commons

For a decade, passing a federal trans-rights bill has been the primary goal of elected officials looking to fight transphobia.

But now that gender identity and expression have been enshrined into the Canadian Human Rights Act, some politicians are looking to find other methods to improve the lives of trans Canadians.

Niki Ashton, the MP for the Northern Manitoba riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski and a candidate for the federal NDP leadership, recently released a platform aimed at fighting gender-based violence and discrimination that includes a specific focus on trans people.

“It’s very important for us that we talk very openly about women, trans and nonbinary folks as a key focus of this platform,” Ashton tells Xtra.

While previous NDP platforms have included planks that sought to address gender-based violence and discrimination, these only made references to women. Ashton’s plan makes specific mention of trans and non-binary people and the specific struggles faced by gender minorities.

It’s the first policy plank in this race by an NDP leadership candidate that specifically targets the LGBT community.

Ashton is pledging $500 million of federal funding for a national strategy to end gender-based violence and discrimination, five times more than the Liberal government has set aside. That money would go towards a variety of initiatives, including beefed-up financial support for community-based organizations, better data collection, a global fund to address violence abroad and training for police officers, lawyers and judges.

Her plan also targets housing discrimination, sexual violence on post-secondary campuses and a revamped inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Ashton came in last out of seven candidates when she contested the leadership in 2011. But this time around, she’s running much stronger.

A recent Mainstreet/iPolitics poll found that she had the support of 20 percent of registered NDP members, placing her three points behind front-runner Charlie Angus.

“An intersectional feminist vision”

Ashton says that the Trudeau government hasn’t done enough to bring back federal support for community-based organizations that lost their funding under the Conservative government.

“Many organizations that used to exist don’t exist any more,” she says. “We need to recapture that ground.”

Data collection is another area that Ashton wants to address.

A study by the Trans PULSE project, one of the few projects that collects data on trans people in Canada, found that trans Ontarians report staggering rates of discrimination and violence.

According to the project, 26 percent of trans Ontarians reported having been assaulted, 24 percent said they had been harassed by the police and 39 percent said that they were turned down for a job because they are trans.

Ashton believes that the government needs to begin collecting more granular data to begin addressing some of these issues.

“There absolutely has to be federal leadership and investment on measuring progress towards ending violence,” she says. “It would have to be very clearly looking at the experiences of those who identify as women, as trans folks, as non-binary folks.”

Ashton is also promising to use the levers of the federal government to ensure that trans people have access to adequate health care, including transition-related surgeries.

Currently, the only hospital in Canada that provides vaginoplasties and phalloplasty is in Montreal, though Ontario has pledged to open another.

“It’s unacceptable that it’s such a patchwork approach, that it’s left up to the political whims of provinces,” Ashton says. “There ought to be federal leadership on that front.”

And when it comes to the legal system, Ashton believes that while the laws around gender-based violence and discrimination are often up to the task, officials in the justice system often rely on myths about sexual violence, rooted in rape culture and transphobia.

“We need to look into training and crushing the stereotypes that are all too pervasive,” she says.

Ashton argues that while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau often calls himself a feminist, those words need to be followed up with more concrete support.

“Feminism isn’t just about talk,” she says. “It’s about action, it’s about resources, it’s about an intersectional feminist vision.”