UPDATE — March 6:
MP Randall Garrison has announced that the federal trans rights bill, C-279, will be back in the House of Commons for its final hour of debate Thursday, March 7 at 5:30pm.
The final vote is expected on Wednesday, March 20 and will be followed by a small reception.
The Speaker of the House of Commons ruled Feb 27 to allow NDP MP Randall Garrison to submit amendments to a federal trans rights bill at report stage.
“The chair would not normally select motions that could have been presented in committee,” the Speaker said. “I am satisfied that, despite the efforts of the member to have his amendments considered by the committee, he was unable to do so before the bill was deemed reported back to the house.”
Bill C-279 aims to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code to prevent discrimination against trans Canadians.
While the package of amendments is complex, Garrison said, they essentially accomplish two goals needed to maintain the support of 15 Conservative MPs: define gender identity and remove gender expression.
Garrison contacted four American jurisdictions that have similar legislation in place. Officials from California, Idaho, Washington State and Colorado report no instances of predators using legislation for illegitimate purposes, he said.
Anderson and Conservative MP Robert Goguen said they would not support the bill, arguing that trans Canadians facing discrimination are already covered under the Canadian Human Rights Act and in the hate crimes section of the Criminal Code under sex.
“Yes, it is true that the Human Rights Commission and the tribunal have in the past decided cases involving transgendered Canadians on the basis of sex discrimination,” Garrison said. “But as they pointed out, that’s no guarantee that all future cases would meet the test of sex discrimination. In order to make sure that all the possible issues that might arise are covered, it would be better to have an explicit statement.”
Gougen also questioned the merit of the amendments, calling the addition of gender identity to the Human Rights Act “largely symbolic.”
“On what basis do we add one group and not others?” he asked.
Liberal MP Irwin Cotler countered that while the bill may be symbolic, it would also have “substantive and practical effects to provide human rights protections to a group that. . . the Ontario Human Rights Commission has characterized as disadvantaged and disenfranchised as any in our society today.”
If passed, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal would begin compiling statistics on discrimination against trans Canadians and raise awareness, while public officials would become educated on trans issues, Cotler said.
Amanda Ryan, of Ottawa trans support group Gender Mosaic, applauds Cotler’s observations and calls the Conservatives’ arguments “weak.”
“There’s certainly a symbolic aspect to the bill, but there is absolutely a necessity for the bill as well. Overall, the entire Human Rights Act, with some of the specific groups that are in it, is symbolic,” Ryan says. “Race is in there, but race was covered by the act before it was put in specifically.”
Some trans Canadians object to the omission of the term gender expression from the bill. Garrison acknowledged that the bill is narrow but said C-279 “preserves the essence of the protection we are seeking here.”
Ryan says that Gender Mosaic once held firm that gender expression should be included in the bill but that the group is now softening its stance.
“I will support the bill. We need the bill,” she says. “We need to be in position to compromise now.”
NDP MPs Mylene Freeman and Kennedy Stewart, who represents Bill Siksay’s old riding of Burnaby-Douglas, also rose to support the bill. Siksay’s Bill C-389
would have accomplished a similar goal as C-279, with both gender expression and identity added to the Human Rights Act. C-389 died in the Senate after the 2011 federal election was called.
“[C-279] will make a statement about Canadian values. We all like to believe that we are a country where everyone is equal, where everyone is treated fairly, where no one is left behind,” Garrison said. “We have a case with transgendered and gender-variant Canadians where that is not true.”
The amendments and the bill will now be put to a vote in late March or early April, after the second hour of debate at third reading.