NDP MP Bill Siksay hopes that third time’s the charm.
On May 15, Siksay tabled his private members’ bill titled An Act to Amend the Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (Gender Identity and Gender Expression) in the House of Commons.
Siksay says the bill will “add protection for members of the transsexual and transgendered communities to the Canadian Human Rights Act, by adding gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination in the Act. The bill also adds gender identity and gender expression into the Criminal Code so that it can be taken into consideration at the time of sentencing for hate crimes.”
This is the third time he’s tabled this bill, which previously died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued or dissolved for an election. But in this Parliament, he’s 65th in line for private members’ business, which means that if Parliament survives until autumn, the bill should come up for debate in the House.
But even though he’s higher up on the list, it’s still no guarantee that the bill will pass, but not necessarily because of any ill will on the part of politicians.
“It’s a stretch to get it all the way through the House and the Senate in a minority Parliament, and that’s generally a stretch anyway for most private members’ legislation,” says Siksay. “I’m hopeful that we’ll at least have a chance to debate it in the House this time around.”
There is already some high-profile support in the Liberal party, courtesy of Toronto Centre MP Bob Rae.
“I’m strongly supportive of it,” says Rae. “I’ve spoken to Bill about it, and I’m very hopeful we’ll be able to get it to come to a vote in the House. I think it’s very important — it’s the next thing that has to be done from a legal standpoint within Canada to ensure that the transgendered people’s rights are protected, and I very much hope that it passes.”
Rae also feels that there is support for it among the Liberals.
“It’s a private members’ bill, which means that people will reflect on it,” adds Rae. “But there’ll certainly be a number of people who will be speaking very strongly in favour of it including me, and I’m optimistic that it will get very substantial support in the Liberal caucus.”
“I would love to see something happen in Parliament — even to have the words mentioned,” says Ottawa trans activist Joanne Law.
Law was named as the Grand Marshall for the Capital Pride Parade on Thursday.
“We’d love to get involved with the hospitals, we’d love to get involved with the police departments, we’d love to get involved with the legal system on changing human rights for trans people,” says Law. “Gender identity and expression, and assumed identity and expression are different. Those are little things that we want to fight for, and if we can find someone to stand up, and if Bill wants to do it, then that’s great.”
Siksay hopes that similar legislation being discussed in the United States may also spur action in Canada.
“What’s important is when you talk to members of the trans community, it’s not long in the conversation that you hear about overt acts of discrimination and prejudice that they suffer,” says Siksay. “Members of the trans community will tell you that they feel like it’s acceptable for people to spit on them on the street, and that’s a kind of overt hostility, overt discrimination, overt oppression that we don’t tolerate in Canadian society.”
He also hopes that the changes under this bill will ensure that the Canadian Human Rights Commission has an explicit mandate to do education work around discrimination against trans people, and to raise awareness in Canadian society.
Siksay adds that there is currently protection under existing laws for trans people, but it is not explicit.
“I don’t want anyone to think that there isn’t protection for trans people already in Canada — it’s indirect through gender and through disability,” Siksay says. “That’s not the appropriate place — the appropriate place should be explicitly on the basis of gender identity and expression, and that’s what this bill will do.”
Read the full text of Siksay’s Bill C-389 on the Parliament of Canada website.