Early in the day on February 9th, 2011, a press release entitled Ontario Federation of Labour Calls on Federal Members of Parliament to Support Bill C-389 to Enshrine Trans Human Rights was published. From the press release:
As Private Members’ Bill C-389, An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression), is put to third and final reading today, the Ontario Federation of Labour is calling on all members of parliament to vote in favour of the bill to protect the rights of trans-identified Canadians.
“This bill is about extending human rights to some of the most vulnerable among us,” said Sid Ryan, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL). “Denying the rights of some has never protected our society and has always undermined our integrity. It is past time that we extend human rights and criminal code protections to trans-identified people.”
The Canadian Human Rights Act and federal hate crimes laws do not explicitly protect people from discrimination based on gender identity or expression. Bill C-389, proposed by NDP MP Bill Siksay (Burnaby-Douglas, B.C.), seeks to correct that by amending legislation to include gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination and adding crimes motivated by transphobia to the list of crimes treated as potential hate crimes.
“How many assaults, how many suicides will be enough to make us take action? One is too many,” said Ryan. “It is a national shame that trans-identified people have been allowed to experience discrimination and harassment for this long.”
The bill passed, although not with the numbers the OFL would have liked to have seen. The Vancouver Sun, in their article Human Rights Act to shield transgender, transsexual Canadians from persecution, reported this:
OTTAWA — The House of Commons passed a bill Wednesday that will amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code to protect transgender and transsexual Canadians from discrimination.
“It’s a great day,” said the bill’s author, NDP MP Bill Siksay. “It’s been in the works for six years, and it’s great to see people from all parties supporting the bill. This is not a partisan issue, it’s a human rights issue.”
When all heads were counted, 143 MPs voted for Bill C-389 and 135 voted against.
The bill was numbered Bill C-389. Suite 101 reported the following in Bill to Protect Transgendered Passes House of Commons:
[More below the fold.]
Bill C-389, introduced by NDP MP Bill Saskay and read for the first time in May 2009, provides rights and protections to the transgendered. The bill, opposed by the Conservative government but supported by the three opposition parties, passed third and final reading by a vote of 143-135.
…The purpose of the bill is to extend the concept of equality to transgendered persons in respect to all matters that fall within the jurisdiction of the federal government. The legislation is to ensure the transgendered have equal opportunity and equal access in order to better meets their needs.
…Currently the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based upon race, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for which a pardon has been issued. The amendments add both “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the prohibited grounds of discrimination.
Two sections of the Criminal Code were also amended. Section 318 of the Criminal Code makes it an offence to advocate genocide. Genocide is defined as killing a group or inflicting harm on an identifiable group with the intent to bring about its destruction. An identifiable group is defined as any section of the public that is distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. Bill C-389 amends the definition of identifiable group to include “gender identity” and “gender expression.”
The Toronto Sun, in their piece MPs pass bill to protect ill-defined group, chose a headline that reflected a social conservative arguments against the equality bill. One of the first paragraphs from their piece reads as follows:
The bill, which never defines what gender expression or gender identity are, amends both the criminal code and the human rights act to make it a crime to discriminate on those grounds. Those who do would face harsher sentences for any crimes or could face a complaint through the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Of course, there were some opposed to the bill, and this opposition is using the same religious right talking points that they do in the United States.
Pastor Charles McVety, a family advocate and head of Canada Christian College, called the bill a danger to children.
“If ‘gender identity’ is enshrined in the criminal code of Canada, any male at any time will be permitted in girls bathrooms, showers and change rooms as long as they have an “innate feeling” of being female,” McVety said. “If I then try to stop such a man from showering with my little girl at the local pool I will be in breach of the criminal code of Canada and could face imprisonment for two years.”
McVety added that passing the bill will mean transgendered issues will end up in school lesson plans across Canada.
The religious right LifeSiteNews provided more on what the opposition to the bill states regarding C-889:
We find the whole thing appalling,” said Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition. “We find the lack of opposition from church leaders especially was deafening. The people are ignorant of it and what is going to happen next.”
“Hopefully the Senate votes it down or Parliament dissolves before it is signed into law,” he added.
The bill has been opposed by numerous religious and pro-family organizations including the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, Campaign Life Coalition, REAL Women of Canada, and the Canada Family Action Coalition.
It has been dubbed a ‘bathroom bill’ because it would allow men who say they are women to use women’s washrooms, with a danger of increasing bathroom attacks against women.
Pro-family leaders also warn that the federal government will be forced to hire gender-confused individuals, which could cause big problems for the military and the RCMP, for example. The government could even be required to pay for sex-change operations, and businesses could be obliged to hire transsexuals or install washrooms to accommodate cross-dressers.
And there is this looming regarding the bill becoming law: From the Suite 101 article Bill to Protect Transgendered Passes House of Commons:
Although Bill C-389 passed the House of Commons, the Conservative dominated Senate is likely to prevent the bill from passing into law.
Equality seems never to be easy, and civil rights protections for transgender people seems to me to be where the most contentious and difficult battles for freedom, equality, and justice are being fought.
The civil rights work required for passing protections for transsexual people, transgender people, and those who identify as both transgender and transsexual in Canada isn’t over yet.