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Prorogation once again stalls federal trans rights bill

'It goes back a few steps' leader of the opposition in the Senate says

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With Stephen Harper's finger on the reset button, the fate of the federal trans rights bill appears again stalled by the parliamentary process.

The prime minister will soon be walking down to Rideau Hall to ask the governor general to prorogue Parliament until October. The practice — a commonly used tactic to reboot the legislative session that has been used for more nefarious reasons in the past — will frustrate C-279, which was limping toward the finish line in the Senate.

The bill, which seeks to add gender identity as a ground for human rights protection under the Criminal Code of Canada, has had a long and arduous trek to the upper chamber. Its nearly 10-year history of being introduced — and ignored, defeated and killed on the order paper — nearly drew to a close in June, but the Senate failed to get the bill passed through third and final reading in the red chamber before the summer break. This, despite three marathon sessions in committee.

But with prorogation, the bill does not die. It goes back to the first step of its journey through the Senate, at first reading. From there, it will have to be debated on the floor, studied at committee and passed, before it can finally get royal assent.

The whole thing is like Bill Murray's Groundhog Day.

A spokesperson for James Cowan, leader of the opposition in the Senate, said that it's all "hypotheticals" of what could happen to the bill once it starts from the beginning.

"If you could use a metaphor of snakes and ladders — it goes back a few steps," he says.

The snakes, however, are hidden throughout the process. If certain senators so choose, they can bog down the bill in committee and delay its otherwise inevitable passage.

But Senator Mobina Jaffer, a Liberal and the chair of the Human Rights Committee in the Senate, is a "perpetual optimist" and figures that Conservative support for the bill means that its passage will be sooner rather than later. The bill proved popular in both parties during its time in the chamber and on committee.

"There are enough of us on both sides that genuinely believe [in the bill] that it should go through," she says.

When the Senate returns, the committees will be reshuffled — and Jaffer may no longer be chair. The committee, which will be more Conservative to reflect the increased Tory presence in the chamber, may not be as friendly to the bill as its current iteration.

If the senators so choose, they could expedite the process by referring the bill to the committee immediately, by unanimous consent. The committee could decline to hear any more witnesses and get the bill back to the floor relatively quickly.

But on that, Jaffer is more of the glass-half-empty mindset. "If that was going to happen, that would have happened earlier."

Since there is no government house leader in the Senate — Harper has not replaced Marjory LeBreton, who resigned as captain of the scandal-mired ship — Xtra reached out to the Senate Conservatives' whip office but did not receive a reply at the time of writing.