Bill Siksay
3 min

Trans rights bill gets first hour of debate

The first hour of debate on Bill C-389, regarding including trans rights into Canadian human rights and Criminal Code legislation, began this morning in the House of Commons.

NDP MP Bill Siksay, the bill’s author, began debate by lamenting the fact that there were no openly trans people in Parliament, and therefore the debate would leave important things left unsaid, or that other issues would be said awkwardly for lack of personal experience. He also defined the terms “gender identity,” “gender expression,” and “transsexual,” so that the bill could be put into its proper context. He spoke at length about the need for the bill given that trans people are currently left without explicit human rights protections, that they faced increased violence and discrimination, and that the only jurisdiction in Canada with explicit protection for these kinds of protections was the Northwest Territories.

Siksay also outlined what are the common arguments against not proceeding, being the current problems that exist with the human rights frameworks in this country, and concerns about existing hate crimes legislation. Siksay also raised the “washroom debate” with regards to trans individuals, but said that this was largely a red herring, and that other jurisdictions that had protections for trans individuals hadn’t had any issues with washrooms and the fears of violations in those spaces by people pretending to be trans in order to enter them for illicit purposes.

For the government, the Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women, Sylvie Boucher, spoke and raised concerns that gender identity and gender expression went undefined in the bill, and worried that the bill was unnecessary given that trans people are already largely protected under the category of “sex” in most human rights jurisdictions, and while gender identity was protected in some other countries, gender expression was not, therefore why was it necessary. Boucher also raised concerns about freedom of speech if trans people were included in the hate crimes provisions.

For the Liberals, Rob Oliphant rose to speak, and admitted to being less than prepared given that Bob Rae was supposed to be speaking but was unable to be there, as he had to attend a funeral. Oliphant nevertheless spoke about how this debate touched him on three levels – on a personal level, as he had friends who had transitioned; on a pastoral level, as he had addressed the issue in his former career as a United Church Minister, and had congregants in a small-c conservative congregation come up to him to talk about how it affected their lives, either through family or co-workers; and on a professional level, as he had once served on a human rights organisation, and that they felt a need for clarity in the laws. Oliphant also said that Canada should take a leadership role on the issue of protecting gender expression, and that the issue has been raised in the Liberal caucus, where he believes that consensus has been reached.

Meili Faille spoke on behalf of the Bloc, expressing their support for the bill because of the loopholes in existing legislation that left the trans community by the wayside, and pointed to issues like police searches, and a 2009 case in Quebec of a transsexual teacher being fired.

For the NDP, Megan Leslie spoke about the respect owed to the trans community, her hope that “tolerance” and “accommodation” would be replaced by “respect” and “dignity,” and the need to be kinder to one another. She also spoke of the time she once had a friend ask her to draft a letter that outlined the case law on the washroom issue, which this friend then carried around in her purse should she ever be challenged – something Leslie termed an indignity.

At the end of debate, Lois Brown spoke again for the government, this time in English, outlining virtually verbatim the same points as Boucher did before her. With only four minutes of her speech spent before time for debate expired, Brown will have six minutes to continue when debate resumes.

Second hour of debate will occur when C-389 again reaches the top of the order of precedence, but that is not expected to happen for several weeks.
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