3 min

Trans rights bill heads to the Senate

Members of all political parties voted in favour of C-389

Bill C-389, which aims to give trans Canadians explicit rights under the Human Rights Act and the hate-crimes provision of the Criminal Code, passed the House of Commons Wednesday night with a vote of 143 to 135.

“I’m just very relieved,” says NDP MP Bill Siksay, the bill’s sponsor, in the wake of the vote. “I’ve been a basket case all day worrying about the numbers, and it was very close. We didn’t have an accurate count, because we didn’t have that kind of lobby, unfortunately. I was on tenterhooks right until the clerk announced the result.”

Nearly all opposition members stood up to cheer and applaud when the results were announced. While the entire NDP and Bloc caucuses voted for the bill, five Liberals abstained and seven voted against. Six Conservatives voted for the bill, including four cabinet ministers, while one minister abstained.

None of those votes were much of a surprise for Siksay in the end.

“We knew from the report stage vote who, basically, was on board and who wasn’t, and we knew other people who had questions who were still thinking it and possibly changing their mind,” Siksay says.

“Not anything super dramatic I don’t think, but it’s great to have support in all parties, and I think that’s indicative of the fact that transgendered and transsexual Canadians are members of all political parties. They’re in all communities; they’re in our families and our workplaces, and it’s not a partisan issue. And I think the vote demonstrated that tonight.”

For Ottawa trans activist Amanda Ryan, who attended the second and third reading debates for the bill, the vote is significant.

“It’s just a really exciting day for the whole community,” Ryan says. “We’ve made history today. That’s really cool.”

Ryan never considered herself an activist until the debates on C-389, when she ended up taking the lead on a Trans Day of Remembrance march from police headquarters to Parliament Hill on Nov 20.

“It was necessary,” Ryan says. “We had to show support for this bill and try to get it through.”

For MPs who voted, there was a sense of elation as they exited the House of Commons Wednesday night.

“I am ecstatic,” says Liberal justice critic Marlene Jennings, who spoke to the bill at third reading. “I’m delighted that this bill for transgendered people has been adopted by the House, and I’m hopeful that the Conservative senators will be respectful of this bill and be respectful of the House of Commons and allow it to proceed through all stages with fulsome debate before they do what everyone expects them to do, which is be nasty and kill the bill.”

Vancouver Liberal MP Hedy Fry was similarly enthused.

“When I first ran in 1993, I ran on the issue of LGBT rights,” Fry says. “We just got sexual orientation in the Human Rights Act [back then], and now that ‘T’ that I said was missing got put in.”

Fry says she is proud to have been in the House for votes on issues of sexual orientation, same-sex marriage and now trans rights, which she hopes will get swift passage in the Senate.

“Hopefully we’ll see things change in society,” Fry says. “When something becomes normalized and legal in a country, society begins to change its attitude toward those persons, and hopefully we’ll see some of those suicide rates dropping for transgendered persons.”

Bloc MP Nicole Demers, who spoke in support of the bill during second reading, expressed a mixture of joy and disappointment after the vote.

“I’m always shocked when I see people getting up and voting against human rights,” Demers says. “That shocks me. That angers me – I don’t know how, in 2011, we still have to teach people about those things, and when I see people from Quebec, like Christian Paradis and Jacques Gourde, getting up and voting against that – I’m saying to myself, my God, where have we gone wrong?”

Demers adds that she’s happy for Siksay and for the trans community.

The bill now moves on to the Senate, where according to parliamentary procedure, Siksay must find a sponsor in the upper chamber to shepherd the bill through to passage.

So far, he hasn’t found a volunteer, but now that the bill is through the Commons, he can begin that process in earnest.

“There are people who have been doing some checking around on that, and that’ll go into high gear now as we try to figure out how to get that started and get it through the Senate.”