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Trans rights bill coming soon, federal Liberals say

Justice minister assures advocates that bill will include gender expression

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told Parliament on May 10, 2016, that a new bill will add gender identity and expression to Canada’s federal human rights act and hate-crime laws. Credit: Submitted

The federal Liberals say a new trans rights bill will be tabled as soon as May 17, 2016, and will include both gender identity and gender expression.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told Parliament on May 10, 2016, that the bill will add gender identity and expression to Canada’s federal human rights act and hate-crime laws.

“Our government is committed to helping ensure that all Canadians feel protected from discrimination. This includes protecting transgendered people from discrimination and hate propaganda,” she said. “We will be bringing forward legislation on this matter in the very near future.”

Her director of communications hinted the bill could be tabled on the International Day Against Homophobia, Lesbphobia and Transphobia.

“May 17 is going to be a big day. We’re looking forward to fulfilling the minister’s commitment,” Michael Davis told Daily Xtra.

Morgane Oger, chair of the Trans Alliance Society in Vancouver, was among more than a dozen advocates invited to meet with Wilson-Raybould on May 10 to discuss the bill.

“There were a number of high-profile officials there,” Oger says. “Minister Wilson-Raybould expressed particular sympathy and support for urgency — that this needed to be done correctly and done now.”

In Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s November 2015 mandate letter to Wilson-Raybould, he listed 15 priorities for the new justice minister, the last of which included “legislation to add gender identity as a prohibited ground for discrimination.”  

The exclusion of gender expression had worried trans advocates like Oger, who noted that being visibly trans is what puts people at risk. Oger says the minister promised gender expression would be included in the bill.

“We were extremely pleased to see that gender expression was brought in,” she says. “With a new government, it’s completely changed.”

Gabrielle Bouchard, a support and advocacy worker with the Centre for Gender Advocacy in Montreal, was also at the May 10 meeting.

“Adding gender expression actually makes a world of difference in how we’ll be able to educate people,” says Bouchard, though she notes that human rights complaints remain difficult and costly for trans people.

“We can’t expect things to change in the short term. But it’s a very good recognition by the Canadian government about how trans, gender diverse, gender non-binary people are important to everybody,” she says.

“The Prime Minister wrote to the minister of justice, saying you need to do this. And she took the ball and ran with it in an amazing way,” she says. “What I’m sure of is that there is no intent to delay this.”

The Liberals won ridings with high LGBT populations with promises like ending the gay blood donation ban, including queer people in public housing legislation and codifying trans rights. Advocates have criticized the government for a lack of concrete action, and pushed for policy changes in advance of Trudeau’s anticipated historic appearance as prime minister in Pride Toronto’s annual march on July 3, 2016.

Various parliamentarians have tried for the past nine years to enshrine trans protections into Canadian federal law. In 2011, NDP MP Randall Garrison tabled Bill C-279, which the Conservative government amended to remove gender expression. Social conservatives vehemently opposed what they called “the bathroom bill.”

Garrison introduced his own private member’s bill on gender identity and expression in December 2015, though it will likely not enter debate for another two years. Several provinces have already added trans rights into existing anti-discrimination codes.

Although the Senate has a tradition of passing all government bills, Trudeau has not yet specified how he will address the other chamber’s Conservative majority, which had stalled and heavily amended Bill C-279.

“There’s probably going to be a lot of pushback,” Oger says. “We expect that this is going to create a fuss.”