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Nova Scotia activists tackle trans rights

Rainbow Action Project hopes lawmakers will emulate Ontario's Toby's Act

Kevin Kindred says legal changes to the Human Rights Act are 'one piece of the larger puzzle' in achieving trans rights. Credit: Katie Toth
The Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project (NSRAP) is looking to push lawmakers to follow Ontario’s lead and amend the province’s Human Rights Act to include the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression.”
 
Kevin Kindred, the chair of NSRAP, says Nova Scotia needs these changes to protect trans people from discrimination.
 
“The particular push in Nova Scotia came about because of the progress at the federal level, and within other provinces,” he says.
 
On the national level, Bill C-279, also known as the trans rights bill, is slowly edging its way toward a third reading in Parliament. It is currently awaiting approval from the justice committee.
 
Meanwhile, Manitoba is looking to amend its Human Rights Code, and Ontario passed trans rights Bill 33 – also known as Toby’s Act – in June. Kindred and NSRAP modelled the language of their petition to amend the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act on Toby’s Act.
 
“There is political support for taking transphobia seriously and evolving human rights laws in the right way,” Kindred says.  
 
During summer Pride festivities, NSRAP volunteers collected more than 1,500 signatures in support of the changes. Kindred and other members of NSRAP have also been meeting with various members of the legislature to see where they stand on the issue. “The reason why we are building public support at the same time dealing with government in the major traditional lobbying way is that it’s important for the government to know that this is a priority for us and for Nova Scotians who care for equality issues.”
 
But the old adage that the wheels of justice are slow holds true, especially when bogged down by bureaucracy. “It’s about making a convincing case to those who are influential,” Kindred says. “Depending on how high a priority it is for the government, it can take some time.”
 
Before becoming an NDP MP for Halifax and a big supporter of Bill C-279, Megan Leslie worked with NSRAP on trans rights. “In Nova Scotia there is an incredible openness to trans rights that I don’t see in other provinces,” she says. “When we talked to the commissioners with the human rights commission, we talked about the fact that transgender people are not covered by the Human Rights Act. They fit in the margins under gender, sexuality, et cetera.  
 
“They were open on the fact that they would find ways to fit trans people under the prohibited grounds when they can,” she recalls. “But there was a recognition that it deserved its own listing.”
 
Kindred agrees. “The commission, despite it not being specifically in the act, try to take a pretty liberal view and try to keep their doors open to trans people who have experienced discrimination.”  
 
But he points out that NSRAP has heard from trans people who found that “there wasn’t a real understanding that the commission would consider transgender discrimination as a violation of the act.” This is why the NSRAP wants to make protections for transgender individuals more explicit.
 
NSRAP has already met with Nova Scotia’s minister of justice, Ross Landry.
 
“This issue is an important one, and it deserves meaningful consultation and consideration,” Landry says.  “The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission plans to look into the issues, and it intends to listen to the LGBTI community, stakeholders, other interested parties, the public and government.”  
 
Landry says the Nova Scotia government recently hired a manager of sexual orientation and gender identity issues to “foster better dialogue with the LGBTI community on matters that concern them.”
 
But legislative changes don’t always mean social changes, says a member of Halifax’s trans community. “For a trans person, having your identity and experiences of oppression recognized by the law can be very empowering,” Shay Enxuga says.
 
But Enxuga says it’s important “not to deceive ourselves that gaining legal protection is an end point in the fight for equality.  I’m sure that many of us can agree that the addition of sex, race and sexual orientation to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms did not end sexism, racism and homophobia.”
 
Kindred agrees, noting there are “a host of other issues on NSRAP’s trans agenda, like seeking funding for trans-related surgeries and eliminating artificial barriers to name changes and gender designation changes.”  
 
He also mentions the need for progress in terms of reducing transphobia in schools and providing clear information about trans support services. “NSRAP likes to think of legal changes as just one piece of the larger puzzle.”