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Update on Bill C-279: Fighting for the Rights of Transgender People

Posted 7/30/2015 by Grant Mitchell

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Very sadly, Bill C 279 died on the Senate’s Order Paper when Parliament ended for the upcoming election. This bill would have included gender identity in the Human Rights Code and the Criminal Code, recognized the equal rights of transgender people and increased the punishment for crimes committed against them because they are trans.

After passing in the House of Commons with unanimous opposition support and 18 Conservative MPs’ votes, the bill got as far as moving through the Senate’s First and Second Reading, and Committee Stage. However, at Committee Stage, Conservative Senators added an amendment that would have had the effect of discriminating against trans people in the use of washroom and locker room facilities. Just for the record, there are no credibly documented cases in any jurisdiction where trans rights have been entrenched in law of problems in locker rooms or bathrooms.

So, the Conservative Senators did not allow the bill to come to a vote at Third Reading and it died when Parliament rose for the coming election.

Being the sponsor of the bill in the Senate has been an honour and a remarkable, if often frustrating and saddening, experience. I have met so many amazing trans people and their families and supporters who live every day with discrimination and a feeling of “being outside” that few of us have ever experienced or can even really imagine. To see an 8 or 12 year old girl standing up to the powers that continue to deny them rights and protections is truly inspirational. I was so impressed by Jesse Thompson who won his case with the Ontario Human Rights Commission to be able to join his hockey team “buddies” in the locker room. I have been inspired too by the many trans people who have led the charge, rallied their supporters, made the legal arguments and sustained their determination in the face of great resistance and odds.

I feel so lucky to have met and worked with so many wonderful people on such an important issue. I am a better person for it.

The sadness comes from the loss of the chance to truly change lives for the better and to strengthen, once again, those essential Canadian values of acceptance and fairness. Now we have to wait until we get another government that will reintroduce this bill and get the Conservative majority in the Senate to pass it. That may, I hope, happen after the October election.

The uplifting news is that over the two years that the bill worked its way in the Senate and the period before in the House, I believe that the issue of trans rights has been elevated and that Canadians, as they have grown to know more about it, have come to increasingly accept trans rights and trans people.

Canadians always do the right thing on rights even if it sometimes takes time. I hope we can simply fast forward, in this case, right after the election.

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