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No progress on trans issues in Ontario

Provincial government has done nothing since election last fall, charge activists

THE PUSH FOR EQUALITY. Trans activist Susan Gapka says Ontario has a long way to go. Credit: (Jenna Wakani)

Six months after the provincial election trans activists say there has been no progress in addressing their issues.

“It’s been much like the previous government, despite our best efforts,” says Susan Gapka of the Trans Health Lobby Group (THLG). “But we now have a fixed timeline — four years, until the next election — to make some changes.”

During the election campaign last year THLG campaigned on adding gender identity as a protected category under the Ontario Human Rights Code, making it easier to change gender on government identity documents and relisting sex reassignment surgery (SRS) under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.

Gapka says THLG is continuing to lobby MPPs.

“I think things are gearing up,” she says. “We’ve been meeting with MPPs on a lower-key basis. We’d like to think the work we’ve done has laid the groundwork.”

Gapka thinks changes to the human rights code might be the easiest change to accomplish. Gender identity is currently considered under the category of sex by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, but is not explicitly recognized by the legislation. The Northwest Territories is the only jurisdiction in Canada that explicitly includes trans people in its human rights legislation.

“When we’re asking for the same human rights as everyone else it’s less controversial,” she says. “We’re asking for that same explicit, enumerated human rights protection. If we get it in Ontario it really opens the door for other provinces to adopt human rights protection.”

In the legislative session before the election NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo tabled a private member’s bill calling for the addition of gender identity to the code. That bill died with the end of the session. DiNovo says she will reintroduce the bill if the government takes no action.

“I’m planning on tabling the gender identity bill again,” she says. “I was hoping I wouldn’t have to do that. The government could bring this in and pass it in a second. But my suspicion is if they were going to they would have done it by now.”

DiNovo admits a private member’s bill has little chance of passing.

“The only real hope is for the government to pick it up and do something with it,” she says. “I describe my role as pushing an elephant up a hill.”

DiNovo says the government is afraid the human rights bill will lead to pressure to relist SRS.

“The fear the government has is this will open the door for the relisting of SRS under OHIP, which it should,” she says. “It’s ridiculous. SRS costs such a small amount of money, $100,000 a year.”

DiNovo says she is unaware of any government plan to streamline changes to identity documents such as driver’s licences or health cards, even though health minister George Smitherman promised he would look into such changes.

“I haven’t heard anything,” she says. “I’m certainly happy to go to bat on that if needed.”

Gapka says the question of SRS is proving to be especially difficult.

“We’ve had a request in to meet with George Smitherman since December,” she says. “I’ll let you interpret that as you will.”

But Gapka thinks Smitherman has started to come around on the human rights code.

“Informally he’s agreed to support the human rights bill,” she says.

Gapka says THLG is gearing up to lobby for the passage of such a bill.

“We know where the undecided vote lies and we think there might be some movement,” she says. “There’s some education needed around the fact that we’re human beings and we want protection like everybody else.”

THLG will keep fighting whatever happens in the current session, says Gapka.

“If we don’t get it in the next four years we’ll have to do it in the four years after that,” she says.

For more on the Trans Health Lobby Group visit rainbowhealthnetwork.ca.