Grade 12 student Hannah Collins has mounted a campaign to encourage Conservative MPs to pass Bill C-279, which would see gender identity and gender expression included in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.
Currently, there are provisions to protect against hate crimes and human rights violations based on sex and sexual orientation, but none for gender expression or identity. A trans rights bill before Ontario provincial politicians recently received support from all parties.
“[Bill C-279] is important to a lot of people that live outside of the cisgender binary. There’s a whole group of people out there who aren’t protected,” Collins says.
Her first step was calling Conservative MPs to say, “You made this video, and this is what you can do to make it better.”
Now Collins, a co-op student with Jer’s Vision, is working with other Jer’s Vision volunteers to get Ottawa organizations to sign and send a letter to their MPs to show support for the bill. Signatures from Pink Triangle Services, Family Services of Ontario, Ten Oaks Project and others will, hopefully, show MPs that there is public support for Bill C-279.
“It feels pretty obvious to Canadian citizens. This is something people want,” Collins says.
In the coming weeks, Collins will be posting videos on Facebook and YouTube to raise awareness about the rights of trans and gender-variant people in Canada and to address Conservative MPs’ concerns about the bill.
“A lot of them are saying it’s unnecessary,” Collins says, adding that many people believe trans and gender-variant people are protected under the “sex” and “sexual orientation” provisions.
“Unlike ‘sex,’ which reads as natural and, despite precedent, most often is understood as referring to women […], ‘gender identity’ makes it possible to make more explicit the ways that gender is constructed and performed by all members of society,” says Carleton University professor Dan Irving.
Since 1999, people around the world have observed the Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20 in honour of those who have lost their lives due to transphobic violence.
In March 2012, Transgender Europe (TGEU) revealed that there were 816 reported murders of trans people in 55 countries worldwide between January 2008 and December 2011. TGEU also reported an “exponential increase” in trans murders in the past four years.
In May 2011 Egale Canada found that 90 percent of trans students reported hearing transphobic comments daily, and 74 percent reported being verbally harassed. Seventy-seven percent of trans people have considered or attempted suicide. Fifty percent have been sexually assaulted or raped.
The campaign is largely directed at Conservative MPs who have made It Gets Better videos to show them that they can make it better now by voting in favour of Bill C-279, Collins says.
One benefit of Bill C-279 is the symbolic recognition it offers trans individuals and communities in Canadian society, Irving says.
“Enshrining the language of ‘gender identity and expression’ within the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code acknowledges the existence of and diverse experiences of non-normative and non-normatively defined gender identities,” he says.
A similar bill passed the third reading last year, but progress was halted when a federal election was called.
“There was so much work done last year. It deserves to get through to the end,” Collins says.
The bill was introduced in September 2011. It was debated for the second time on April 5 and most recently on June 1.