In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

Gender identity

Posted 5/14/2013 by Grant Mitchell


Bill C-279 is Private Member's Bill from the House of Commons introduced there by MP Randall Garrison, a member of the NDP.  A Private Members’ Bill is a bill that is presented by any MP who is not in Cabinet.  I am the Liberal lead in the Senate for C-279. I am very happy to have this role.

One of the best things I have ever done in politics was fighting for and voting for the gay marriage bill in 2005. I have the same feeling about Bill C-279. Both the gay marriage bill and this bill lay at the very foundation of our commitment as Canadians to equality, acceptance, diversity and human rights.

Bill C-279 amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to include "gender identity" and the Criminal Code to make "gender identity" a category of hate crime. It is designed to give greater protection to transgender people against discrimination, abuse, assault and sexual assault.

Transgender people are those who are assigned a certain gender at birth, but simply know in a deep personal way that they are another gender.  Studies show that 60% of trans people know this before they are age 10 and 90% by age 19. They do not make this up - why would anyone willingly submit themselves to the ridicule, abuse, sexual and violent physical harassment that trans people encounter every day? They have great difficulty getting jobs, housing, adequate pay, and even health care. They are continuously harassed and often seriously physically and sexually abused. They are our friends, colleagues, neighbours and family members.

Arguments against the bill include:

1. The definition of transgender is subjective and based upon deep personal feelings and therefore cannot work in law. On the contrary, the law deals with subjective, personal feelings and state of mind all the time. Religion is protected in the two laws the C-279 addresses, and religion is deeply personal and subjective. Moreover, it is the beliefs of the discriminator which are at stake here, not really the beliefs of the person suffering the discrimination,  and all beliefs upon which someone discriminates against someone else are by definition wrong and therefore cannot be anything but subjective. The law sorts this out as a matter of course, in every discrimination case, and in criminal law where it determines state of mind, intention, including manslaughter versus other levels of murder, and more generally, accident or pre-meditation.

2. The bathroom argument goes that men will dress up as women to get into a women's washroom and use the new law as a defence. This never happens in jurisdictions in the US where provisions like these have been in place — never.  Moreover, how would women feel about a trans person assigned as a women at birth who now looks and acts like a man coming into their washroom? What would happen to a trans person who was a man at birth but is now a woman, dressed and acting like a woman, coming into men's washrooms?

The courts, once again, are continuously evaluating behaviour and would sort out contrived arguments based on this law very quickly and effectively.

Trans people are terrified of discrimination and abuse and are the target not the perpetrators of it.

3. ‘Trans people are already protected’ argument. They are to some extent but only with the "warping" of definitions in the laws as they exist now. Moreover, the Canadian Human Rights Act is a statement of Canadian values and recognition in it elevates the visibility of this issue and educates the public about it.  Why would we not want to add "belts to suspenders" in ensuring greater protection and sending a message of support and recognition to trans people while educating the general public?

4. The argument that trans people can be "cured." We have heard this in the case of homosexuality and, of course, that has been repudiated so effectively. Transgender people are not sick any more than heterosexual people are. It is who they are.


Why don't we just fast forward and pass this? Canadians always end up doing the right thing. It took upwards of 60 years for women to get the vote and about the same for women to be considered "persons" in the Constitution. It took even longer for Aboriginal Peoples to get the vote. And, it took almost 140 years for gay marriage to be approved. But we did these things. If we fast forward transgender protections, which we will inevitably do eventually because we always end up doing the right thing, we will avert at least some of the pain and abuse that trans people will have to suffer otherwise.

Interestingly, the bill was passed in the House of Commons due to the support of 18 Conservatives, four of whom were cabinet members: Flaherty, Baird, Raitt and Moore. The Prime Minister voted against it, but did not insist on the Whip requiring party discipline. There is a good deal of support amongst Conservative senators, too.

Here's hoping we can get it to a vote and get it passed.

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