It is not an accident that the federal Bill C-279 — which will enshrine “gender identity” in Canada’s Human Rights Act — heads to committee on the 14th annual International Trans Day of Remembrance, Nov 20.
NDP MP Randall Garrison says his office worked hard to make that happen. The landmark legislation represents a public statement by Parliament that transphobic discrimination and violence is not acceptable and that trans people deserve equality and respect — “a fitting tribute,” Garrison says.
The standing committee for justice and human rights will hear deputations on Bill C-279 over two days, Nov 20 and 22, before casting a final vote.
Garrison made the decision to compromise and seek Conservative support by amending the bill to remove “gender expression,” leaving only “gender identity.” Some trans activists have criticized the move, but he maintains the amendment is necessary to get the bill passed.
“That’s what I promised to get my 15 Conservative votes,” he says. “I don’t think it has any major legal implications, but it makes people more comfortable.”
While it’s not ideal, he says, most trans people are comfortable with that. “Otherwise we can’t make progress. Not everyone will be 100 percent happy. I’m not. But this is the reality of a Conservative majority government.
“I don’t think it presents any legal obstacles. The courts have always considered ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression’ linked,” he says.
Still, Garrison says, if Bill C-279 passes it should be lauded across Canada as a historic step forward to ensure trans human rights. It sends a strong message to the rest of the world.
“I will make a statement in Parliament to acknowledge [Trans Day of Remembrance] and the ongoing violence, but also note that there’s some positive things happening in Canada,” he says.
The Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR) started in 1999 as a response to horrific attacks on trans people. This year, the names of 265 trans people have been added to a growing international list, the Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) project reveals. The project monitors, collects and analyses reports of homicides of trans people worldwide.
“Trans Day of Remembrance is a day of mourning,” says Trans Lobby Group chair Susan Gapka. “It’s a day organized by people who want to remember those who have been brutally murdered. It makes them not invisible. It’s important to bring attention to those invisible lives.”
There have been 1,083 reports of murdered trans people in 56 countries since January 2008. The numbers represent only a fraction of the real figures, TMM states. “The truth is much worse. These are only the reported cases.”
This year there are a number of TDoR events across the country, including at Toronto’s 519 Church Street Community Centre from 7pm to 9pm.
“The reality is 50 percent of trans people will attempt suicide, and 50 percent live in poverty,” says NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo.
In June, Ontario passed Toby’s Act, a landmark piece of legislation that inserts “gender identity and gender expression” into the provincial Human Rights Code. By doing so, Ontario has stepped up as a leader in trans rights.
“Toby’s Act has global implications because it has set a bar. It’s the only piece of legislation of its kind that includes ‘gender expression,’” DiNovo says. “It’s very important that it now spreads province to province.”
DiNovo, who first introduced Toby’s Act in 2007, says she wants to see all Canadian provinces adopt similar legislation over the next five years. Manitoba has already drafted a similar bill, and Nova Scotia has promised to draft one soon, she says.
“And in Ontario it’s already being used. Trans people are asserting their rights,” she says.
Davina Hader, a member of the Trans Lobby Group and the newly elected vice-chair of Queer Ontario, says progress is happening because trans activists continue to push and be visible.
“I see a lot of things happening right now with students,” she says. “Monumental policies.
“This Trans Day of Remembrance I am thinking about trans people around the world who are victimized every day. But this has been a great year, which is good for Ontario and good for Canada.”
TDoR Global Murders List of Names