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Nunavut passes trans-rights law

Legislature unanimously votes to add human-rights protections for trans people

Minister of Justice Keith Peterson (left) credits Catherine Lightfoot (right) and her son, Kieran Drachenberg (centre) for helping to build support for the trans-rights bill.

Credit: Courtesy Michael Courtney

The Nunavut Legislative Assembly voted unanimously on a comprehensive trans-rights bill on March 13, 2017, making it the latest jurisdiction to acknowledge the need for explicit human-rights protections for trans people. 

Bill 31, An Act to Amend the Human Rights Act, had just two clauses, which added the categories “gender identity” and “gender expression” as prohibited grounds for discrimination in the territory.

The massive Arctic territory includes 20 percent of Canada’s land mass and is home to about 35,000 people. Nunavut was created in 1999 as part of a land claims agreement meant to be a separate territory and home for the indigenous Inuit people. 

Justice Minister Keith Peterson introduced the bill by speaking of the inclusive values of Nunavut’s people.

“To include gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination .  . . will make clear that Nunavummiut who are transgender have the same right to live a full and productive life as anyone else in the territory, free of discrimination,” he said in the Legislature. “This change will help . . . prevent discrimination and prejudice against people who are transgender in Nunavut.”

Peterson also credited local activists Catherine Lightfoot and her son, Kieran Drachenberg, who is trans, who helped build support for the bill.

“All parents want to ensure the safety and well-being of their children. Most take it for granted their kids’ rights will be protected and respected,” Lightfoot says. “That is what I wanted for [Kieran] and today with the passing of Bill 31, it happened.”

“I am so proud of the Nunavut government for taking such an important step in recognizing transgender people are entitled to all the rights and protections of all Canadians,” Lightfoot added.

Drachenberg says the bill is monumental for trans people in Nunavut.

“[It’s] is a long overdue step forward in improving and catching up to the other provinces and territories of Canada. It shows that the people in our government are willing to do what is best for its people, regardless of how they identify, gender-wise,” he says. “It makes me feel safer, more protected and more like a proper citizen of Nunavut. It also makes me prouder to be one,” he says.

Rob Salerno/Daily Xtra

The Nunavut legislature is non-partisan and typically works by consensus. 

All provinces and territories except for Yukon and New Brunswick have explicit protections for “gender identity” in their human-rights acts. In Yukon and New Brunswick, protections for trans people are currently only implied under the category of “sex,” which trans activists say is not clear. Yukon new government announced its intention to add trans protections last December, but its legislature has not sat since it was elected in November.

A bill to add “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the hate crimes section of the Criminal Code has passed the House of Commons and is before the Senate. It is expected to be debated in committee in April before third and final reading.