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Trans rights at last in BC?

BC Liberals finally to introduce motion to add gender identity and expression to BC Human Rights Code

“It is the right thing to do,” says MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, left, of Attorney General Suzanne Anton’s proposed Human Rights Code amendment. Credit: Jeremy Hainsworth/Daily Xtra

After years of resistance, BC’s attorney general now backs adding explicit protection for trans people to the province’s Human Rights Code.

Suzanne Anton says the amendments to the Code will be introduced in the legislature next week.

Speaking to reporters on July 20, 2016, less than two weeks before Pride, Anton described the change to the Code as an easy but important step to ensure trans people know they’re protected by law.

“British Columbians need to know they are protected, regardless of gender identity,” she said.

The change means no one will be able to deny trans people work or accommodation based on their gender identity or expression in BC.

“All British Columbians need to know that kind of discrimination is not acceptable under the Human Rights Code,” Anton said.

It’s something of an about-face for the province’s senior legal officer.

Anton maintained as late as April 25 that “the law is crystal clear — transgendered people are protected.”

The BC government had said trans people are covered by prohibitions against sex-based discrimination already in the Human Rights Code.

But, Anton says, after meeting with trans people and their advocates, she understood their desire to see protections made more explicit by recognizing gender identity and gender expression expressly in the provincial code.

As a result, the code will now explicitly include the words “gender identity or expression.”

Anton says it’s important to name trans people in law to ensure all British Columbians know they’re protected.

"I’m overjoyed that these explicit protections will finally become law,” says gay Vancouver West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert.

Naming discrimination in the Human Rights Code is something Chandra Herbert has stressed for years. In fact, he tried four times to convince the BC Liberals to make this change. Four times they refused. Until now.

“It is the right thing to do,” he says now. “I’m very pleased.”

“I’m so glad the government has listened to the strong voices of the transgender community,” he continues.

He calls the change a victory for BC’s trans community that has advocated for this change for so long.

Chandra Herbert says the trans community has faced immense discrimination for too long.

“This legislation will change that,” he says.

Asked if Liberal MLAs will be whipped — made to vote along party lines — or if the upcoming vote on the Human Rights Code addition will be up to members’ individual consciences, Anton says, ”our caucus is unified, and I expect the NDP is as well, in believing every British Columbian should be protected.”

The changes will align with human rights legislation across the country, including the federal government’s proposed bill to add gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act, Anton says.

She stresses the change is not being made as a result of the province lagging behind the rest of the country in explicit protections until now.

“This decision is made independently in British Columbia,” Anton says.