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Witness testimony overwhelmingly in favour of C-279

Federal trans rights bill passes through Senate committee

Gender Mosaic member Amanda Ryan looks on as Robert Peterson, co-chair of the Canadian Bar Association's sexual orientation and gender identity committee, testifies in favour of C-279 at a Senate committee on human rights meeting June 10. Credit: Source: senparlvu.parl.gc.ca
Witness testimony at a June 10 Senate committee meeting on human rights was overwhelmingly supportive of federal trans rights bill C-279, with Diane Watts, of REAL Women of Canada, being the only witness to speak directly against the proposed legislation.

The bill would add gender identity to the list of protected grounds under the Canadian Human Rights Act and under the hate crimes section of the Criminal Code.

Watts presented many of the same arguments she brought forward at the parliamentary standing committee on justice and human rights in November.

Watts’s main arguments are that trans Canadians are already covered, that the definitions in C-279 are vague and that the bill would harm trans Canadians rather than help them.

Trans individuals should be given “compassionate counselling rather than be encouraged in their dissatisfaction with a gender engrained in their DNA,” she concluded, urging the Senate not to give trans Canadians “special rights.”

>”This bill is about equality for everybody,” said Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, director of the equality program with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA).

The washroom issue is a very minor fear that has been raised by some,” Mendelsohn added. “There has been and continues to be possibilities and options for reasonable accommodation. I think we can comfortably put those fears to rest.”

If the bill is not passed because of the bathroom fear, “we are in fact holding a whole community of people hostage because of what somebody else might do that is wrong,” said the bill’s Senate sponsor, Grant Mitchell. “We simply don’t do that in our legal system, and we don’t do that in our society.”

Liberal Senator Jane Cordy addressed the notion that the bill would enable predators to commit crimes against women. She pointed out that 16 US states and 143 US cities or counties have similar legislation in place prohibiting discrimination against trans citizens.

<"In none of these jurisdictions has there been an increase in unlawful or inappropriate activity after this legislation has been passed. The perception is that there's a lineup of people, transgender people, waiting until the bill passes and then suddenly they're going to be breaking the law. I think that's unrealistic to have that expectation. There are no more criminally minded people within that community than there would be in any other community, would that not be correct?" Cordy asked. Watts responded by citing incidents where prisoners who transitioned are now at risk from fellow inmates. “I’m not sure I understand the connection between your answer and the question that was asked,” Mendelsohn said to Watts. Gender Mosaic member Amanda Ryan attended the meeting and says that as Watts testified, “you could just see quizzical looks in the eyes of the senators.”

Ryan says she was “pleased to see so many positive responses and positive testimonies.”

It is the CCLA’s view that C-279 is long overdue, Mendelsohn told the committee.

“The first place we have to start with is invisibility. Invisibility, in our view, goes together with the earliest and worst part of discrimination against any marginalized people,” Mendelsohn said.

Before sexual orientation was added to the Canadian Human Rights Act, many Canadians did not even think about gay citizens, Mendelsohn said.

C-279 will act as a deterrent to hate crimes and discrimination and make trans Canadians visible, she predicted.

Renowned pianist Sara Davis Buechner told her personal story of discrimination while transitioning in the United States. Buechner is now an associate professor of music at the University of British Columbia, but when she transitioned, she said, she went from booking 50 performances a year to two or three. Fired from her job at a New York City conservatory, Buechner said that she was the victim of an attempted date rape by a man who assumed she was a sex worker because she was trans.

“Bill C-279 assures protection for people like myself with gender identity needs,” Buechner said. “Our needs are not willful, they are not of passing choice, and they are not things that we can simply ignore. For transgender folks, identity issues are matters of life and death — of living openly, honestly and freely without fear of extra prejudice, malice or worse, violence. We do not ask or deserve extra rights. We need the same rights as our Canadian brothers and sisters of all races, creeds, denominations and identities.”

N Nicole Nussbaum, of the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health, said pervasive discrimination can cause “physical and emotional responses that accrue over time.”

Ryan says there is a connection between discrimination and health. She believes C-279 will improve the mental health of some trans Canadians.

“Discrimination protection is one thing, but just recognizing the trans community as an entity under the law gives validity to us, and that will have impact within the community to people who maybe don’t believe in themselves or have very poor self-esteem. If you can point to a law that has our name right in it, then there’s some credibility, and that helps an awful lot,” Ryan says.

Ryan is optimistic the bill will pass third reading in the Senate but is apprehensive about celebrating too soon.

“I am kind of sitting on a bubble right now, and that bubble seems like it’s very fragile,” she says. “The numbers seem to be there, but until the vote and we actually stand up and cheer, I am going to sit on that bubble and hope it doesn’t burst.”

Mitchell commended the bill’s originator, NDP MP Randall Garrison, in his closing remarks and clarified the mandate of the Senate.

“The Senate was designed with a number of things in mind, two things in particular: to protect regional rights and to protect minority rights, and if ever there was a case of minority rights needing protection, this would be one of them,” he said.

>”We will do this,” he added. “This kind of protection will be accomplished by Canadians at some point, and I’m simply saying why don’t we fast-forward it and do it now.”

Mitchell’s office confirms that the senator plans on speaking to C-279 on Thursday, June 13 on the floor of the Senate but cannot say when the bill will enter third reading.