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Trans rights bill moves to second reading in Ontario

MPP hopes fourth time's the charm for bill that now has all-party support

Activists from the Trans Lobby Group were all smiles at Queen's Park Feb 21 watching Toby's Law be tabled for the fourth time. Credit: Andrea Houston

UPDATE: Feb 22 – Members of the Trans Lobby Group watched with reserved excitement as NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo tabled Toby’s Law for the fourth time at Queen’s Park Feb 21.

The bill will amend the Ontario Human Rights Code to include gender identity and gender expression. This is the first time the bill has the support of all three political parties, which DiNovo says may help to speed its passing.

Ottawa Centre Liberal MPP Yasir Naqvi says he proudly put his name on the bill.

“Today we made history tabling Toby’s Law with support from members from all three parties,” he says. “This is the first step. It will now be debated in the legislature and passed. This will ensure we protect the human rights of the trans community in Ontario.”

PC MPP Christine Elliott, who also supports the bill, was not at Queen’s Park to watch it be tabled.

Naqvi says credit goes to the Trans Lobby Group, which has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to generate support that crosses all party lines. “And that’s no easy feat. They were able to do it because this is an issue that goes to all of our core principals.”

Trans activist Martine Stonehouse was beaming.

“I think this time we have a good chance to see the bill passed. We will make a difference,” Stonehouse says. “I also think it shows that all those years of work educating people is paying off. People are beginning to understand the hardships that trans people go through and the need for adequate protections in the Ontario Human Rights Code.”

Activist Christin Milloy, another member of the Trans Lobby Group, says it was exciting to watch the tabling of the bill in the legislature.

“What needs to happen now is people need to write to their MPPs and tell them that they support this bill,” she says. “Watching this gives me hope. It gives me hope that one day people like me will be able to go and get identification documents changed with dignity, not face discrimination in employment or any other situation in life.”    

Trans rights bill to be reintroduced in Ontario

Feb 16 – For the fourth time, NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo is tabling Toby’s Act, a private member’s bill to amend the Ontario Human Rights Code to include gender identity and gender expression. This time, the legislation has support from all three political parties.

DiNovo was joined by Trans Lobby Group chair Susan Gapka and lawyer Douglas Elliott at Queen’s Park on Feb 16 to announce her plans to table the bill when the house returns Feb 21.

“This is fourth-time lucky. And this time it has all-party support,” she says, adding that Liberal MPP Yasir Naqvi and Progressive Conservative MPP Christine Elliot support the law.

DiNovo says Premier Dalton McGuinty does not need to wait for second reading. The law could be ushered in quickly.

“As a tri-party sponsored bill, it really has a good chance of success,” she says. “What I am hoping is it takes a much more direct method. The government can bring it in after first reading. Maybe they just need a nudge. So we are appealing to the premier and appealing to the cabinet to do the right thing and move on this.”

DiNovo says Toby’s Act could be law by summer. “Wouldn’t it be great to have this done in time for Pride?” Elliott asks.

In a letter to the Toronto Star in 2007, Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Barbara Hall wrote that the “lack of explicit inclusion in the legislation means that trans people’s distinct experiences of discrimination remain unacknowledged . . . Amending the Code would provide clarity and greater recognition of the dignity of transgender people, and would leave no doubt, in the eyes of the public or the law, that they are entitled to the same human rights protections as everyone else.”

Gapka says including gender identity and gender expression should not be a partisan issue. “This is a human rights issue.”

Trans people should not have to fear being fired from their jobs, thrown out of an apartment or denied service in a restaurant, she says.

From a legal perspective, Elliott says protection for trans people is certainly needed. “So many Canadians don’t understand the lived reality of trans people. Life is indeed very tough for them, and they do not have the legal protection that the lesbian, gay and bisexual community has enjoyed.”

“Many people think that we have done all that is needed with respect to human rights for sexual minorities. In fact, we are pretty far behind other jurisdictions like Europe, Australia and even some American states,” Elliott says.

If the bill does not pass, the trans community has another weapon in its arsenal, he says. The community can take the government to court. “It is absolutely clear to me that litigation would be successful. It will be expensive and hard on the trans community and embarrassing to politicians because they will be forced to do the right thing . . . I am convinced the Charter of Rights does protect trans people and our courts will back them up if they have to go to court.

“It is time to do right by the trans community in this province.”

The last time DiNovo introduced Toby’s Law was in 2010. At the time, Attorney General Chris Bentley dismissed the legislation, claiming that trans people are already protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

DiNovo first introduced Toby’s Act as a private member’s bill in 2007. It is named in honour of Toby Dancer, a music producer and transsexual.

The statistics remain startling, she says. More than 50 percent of trans people live below the poverty line and about 50 percent attempt suicide. In employment, 97 percent of trans people face discrimination, proof that current protections are simply not enough, she says.

“To be a trans person means you are at high risk in society,” she says. “We want to close any possible loophole. We want to keep our children safe.”