04 February 2014
Hon. Grant Mitchell: Mr. Speaker and colleagues, it is a unique situation and circumstance that I get to speak about this bill for a second time at second reading. That doesn't happen very often. It's unfortunate in some sense that it has to happen with this bill because we got it to third reading in the last session and could have had a vote on it.
Of course, I'm speaking of Bill C-279, which is a bill to amend the Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to protect the rights and the physical and psychological well-being, to elevate and recognize the importance of the issue of discrimination against transgendered people in our society.
It is worth noting that the reason that I get to speak on this for a second time at second reading is because of a particular set of rules that apply to private members' bills from the government side, after prorogation.
This bill was developed and sponsored by Member of Parliament Randall Garrison, a member of the New Democratic Party. I congratulate him on the work he did.
I also should point out that this bill was passed with all- party support in the House of Commons. It was across the sides. Eighteen Conservative members of Parliament voted in support of this bill. Four of them were cabinet ministers and at least one of them was a former cabinet minister. It says something about the context of what has been happening in this place about the importance and the significance of a non-partisan approach to bills and issues of the day.
I get to speak to it at second reading because, under the rules of parliament, after prorogation, the private members' bills, no matter where they were in the process through the Senate — so they have advanced from the House of Commons to the Senate — get to go back to first reading, essentially, as a matter of course, under these parliamentary rules. So, this bill went back to first reading.
That's different than what would have happened to a government bill. Had a government bill worked its way through to the Senate and not been voted on at third reading by the time prorogation occurred, then it would be off the Order Paper in both houses. So, this is quite unique and it's a unique rule to the Senate.
I want to say that I'm inspired to have the chance to speak yet again about this issue, because I think it is so important, so deeply significant within the fabric of Canadian society. It addresses rights in a way that reflects generally what Canada is and what Canada is acknowledged to be around the world: a great, wonderful, accepting, warm society that understands human rights and that each of us, as individuals, are profoundly important. This bill captures that.
It's unfortunate, on the other hand, that I have to speak to it a second time. That has occurred only because it got to third reading and didn't get a vote. My experience in talking to colleagues on both sides of the house, prior to its arriving at third reading in the previous session, was that there is a good deal of support, maybe unanimous on this side, and a great deal of support among Conservatives in the Conservative caucus.
The problem was that it didn't come to a vote. I would encourage members on all sides to encourage those who control the question of whether bills like this come to a vote to ensure that it does come to a vote.
We would think very rarely of defeating a government bill. Why? Because it has been supported and passed by elected representatives. Yet, we're a little more cavalier in this house about defeating private members' bills. At the base level of democratic representation, a private members' bill passed in the House of Commons is no less significant a representation of the will of Canadians, as reflected in their elected representatives, than is a government bill.
In fact, if you actually add up support, considering that the government received 40 per cent of the vote in the last election, any bill without opposition support comes across here as really reflecting, to use numbers statistically, 40 per cent of the population. However, if you consider that all of the opposition on the other side, plus 18 per cent, which is over 10 per cent of the Conservative caucus, supported this, you're talking about over 60 per cent of the Canadian electorate being reflected in the vote of their respective MPs in support of this bill. This is a bill that has had powerful support, therefore, by a broad majority, as reflected in the support that was accorded opposition and government MPs who supported this bill, and in the support they received in the last election.
This is a formidable bill with formidable democratic support under our democratic system, and it should be no less important to at least come to a vote than any government bill that comes from the other house.
I should say there's another unique feature to the bill that has changed since we last saw it at third reading, and that is that it no longer has the amendment attached to it that was moved by Senator Nancy Ruth. We all know of her profound passion for equal rights and for women's rights, and I think we can all appreciate what her amendment would have done, which was to add "sex" in as an element of the Criminal Code for determining the level of severity of an act of violence, a crime against an individual on the basis of sex — that is addressing, largely, violence against women, but violence against men as well. We all understand and appreciate the passion and the depth that she brings to that issue.
Now that issue, interestingly, is no longer attached as an amendment to this bill; we're starting over. What's also interesting is that the government has actually accommodated her amendment in Bill C-13, the cyberbullying bill. In fact, that bill, now under section 12, will include, among other new definitions of identifiable groups in the Criminal Code under section 318(4), national origin, age, mental or physical disability, and it will include sex.
Therefore, the need for Senator Nancy Ruth's amendment to this bill has really been usurped, if I can say, in a good way, by the government's own Bill C-13. It's quite a breakthrough for women's rights, for recognition of those rights and for dealing with violence against women. To some extent, it will smooth the process of Bill C-279. I don't agree this amendment would have necessarily held the bill up, but there were those in the public with whom I've spoken who were concerned that that amendment did do that. Now, that's off the table, as it were, because it has been dealt with in another piece of legislation.
I've said that this is an important issue, and we all know that it's important because it addresses rights, equality rights, and it really is a reflection of what we, as Canadians, believe ourselves to be. We're not perfect when it comes to discrimination, but we go a long way past many societies and nations in this world. I think we have a great deal to be proud of.
One of the proudest moments, and perhaps one of the best things I feel I've ever done in politics — and I've said this a number of times — was one of the first major bills that I worked on when I was first appointed in 2005 and that was the gay marriage bill. I remember working on the committee with, among others, Senator Joyal, as we sat through the summer to hear some remarkable testimony. It may have been that our Speaker, himself, was on that committee.
That was a very powerful experience for me, to see both sides of the debate, and to see the quality of input and the minds of the witnesses before our committee is something I will never forget.
The moment that bill passed, for me, was one of the proudest moments I've had in politics over the many years I've been here, because I felt it captured and reflected what we are as Canadians, and it provided leadership in the world. If we weren't the first country to do it formally and officially, we were one of the first countries to do it. I think it is something that we, as Canadians, can be immensely proud of.
What is interesting about the debate about gay marriage is that so many of the elements that were argued against gay marriage — this argument that it might damage the family, that somehow it would erode society, that somehow it would weaken the concept of parenthood, and whether or not gay couples should be allowed to raise children — really and truly have all been settled.
Our society hasn't changed in a negative way because of gay marriage. In fact, I would argue quite the contrary; there are a lot more happy people in our society because they can express their love for somebody in the way they choose and they get recognition from our society in a very high and significant way — marriage — to do that. For me, it was a very powerful experience and a very proud moment.
Now we have another chance to do it, to extend rights — recognition, in one sense. I know this rights thing is a loaded idea in this kind of debate, so let me clarify it. The bill extends recognition to the extent that it will modify the Canadian human rights bill, and it extends protection to the extent that it will define transgendered people as an identifiable group under the Criminal Code, ergo increasing, enhancing and giving more power to their defence in our society.
So it's not just a question of rights, which, as I say, is loaded; it's a question of recognition, of giving these many people a sense of place in our society, to confront the alienation, the distance and the real lack of place that they feel — not only in our society, but sometimes in their own families.
It also just protects people. When I look at Bill C-13, the anti- bullying bill, at the very root of Bill C-279 is the case to be made and the mechanisms to be implemented to fight bullying. Bill C- 279 is absolutely an extension, if not an enrichment, of Bill C-13, the anti-bullying bill. Many of the people who would be covered to some extent by this anti-bullying bill, who are bullied in cyberspace, are in fact transgendered people, and they won't have the recognition in the anti-cyberbullying bill that other groups will, yet they are, to some extent, and there's evidence, perhaps one of the most bullied groups of people in our society. In fact, there is evidence that when it comes to violence against groups for identifiable characteristics, they may well be the single greatest recipient of and sufferer as a group from violence, certainly psychological and probably physical violence, in Canadian society.
So we have a chance to distinguish ourselves again and to reflect what I think Canadians believe fundamentally in their hearts, that all Canadians should be treated equally, and if any Canadian is in danger, is oppressed, is bullied or is the object of violence, we should be able to stand up and help defend them. We can do that.
It's also a remarkable opportunity, once again, for the Senate to emphasize and demonstrate how it works within the parliamentary system in the defence of minority rights. There is no question that this group, people with gender identity, some would say "issues" — they wouldn't — but who fall within this category, do suffer extreme discrimination and are a minority, absolutely. The numbers would indicate that there may be upwards of 170,000 or 200,000, but statistically and in every other way they are a minority, and we are here as a Senate to defend minority rights.
I'm not going to go through everything I said last time. I'm going to add to some of that, but I will summarize. The bill will do two things. It will amend the Human Rights Act to specify gender identity as a fundamental right and basis for defining discrimination. It will say after this bill is passed that officially you can be discriminated against for your gender identity. You shouldn't be, but if you are, it will be defined as a negative officially within the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Second, the bill will amend the hate crimes section of the Criminal Code to include gender identity as a distinguishing characteristic in defining hate crimes under section 318 and also as an aggravating circumstance to be taken into consideration at sentencing under section 718.2 of the Criminal Code.
I read before in my previous speech to second reading last year that the purpose has changed essentially only by adding to the list of discriminatory practices defined in the Human Rights Act based on a number of things: race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. Of course, it's straightforward how it would be included in section 318 and section 718 of the Criminal Code.
A lot of this bill hinges on the definition of gender identity. That has been a controversial feature. It was controversial on the other side, and in fact changes were negotiated in a way that allowed a number of Conservative members of Parliament who otherwise were reluctant to support this to support it. The definition of gender identity was more limited in its application and excluded gender expression, which I would argue isn't problematic but was seen by some to be problematic; but there are absolutely official definitions. This is the one in this bill is:
"gender identity" means, in respect of a person, the person's deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex that the person was assigned at birth.
We've all received the emails. Some people are concerned about how you could ever deal in law with something that's a deeply felt internal and individual experience. Well, that's what the courts generally deal with — people's perceptions, intentions. In fact, we accept at face value people's religion and their expression of their religion, yet that religion is not somehow evident. To some extent, if people wear certain kinds of clothing or certain icons, yes, but most of us have a religion, a religious association or a commitment of faith that is respected, and that's a deeply held belief. That already has been included in both of these acts, without any concern about how you define religion. I think the parallels there are very strong.
The Canadian Psychological Association affirms that all adolescent and adult persons have the right to define their own gender identity regardless of chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role. Moreover, all adolescent and adult persons have the right to free expression of their self-defined gender identity.
They go on to state that they oppose stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination on the basis of chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex or initial gender role, or on the basis of a self- defined gender identity or the expression thereof in exercising all human rights.
Some will argue — and I think it is much less prevalent — that gender identity is a choice, that somehow you can change yourself from your gender identity. But we have come to accept that in the case of homosexual gender identity, really and truly it isn't changeable. It is what you are. In fact, that's very much the case that's been made over and over again by people in the transgender community and by scientific study. Scientific studies indicate that roughly 60 per cent of all trans people are aware that their gender did not match their bodies before the age of 10 — this is not something a child would make up — and that over 80 per cent have this deeply felt awareness prior to the age of 19. It isn't something that somebody would make up, if you consider the intense discrimination, often psychological, often physical, often very violent, that they experience, if not every day, many days. Many of them will tell you that they experience this almost every day and that it pervades their life. They sense an alienation, a profound lack of acceptance, a fear of bullying, of violence, of rape, of economic discrimination, discrimination in the workforce, in housing and medical care, and they experience unprecedented levels of suicide.
It just seems to me that this kind of issue is so personal that nobody should stand in judgment of it. If someone decides that their gender identity is whatever it is, then it is their right to be who they are. In this country of Canada, if you can't be who you are under those circumstances, in what country could you possibly be who you are?
Oscar Wilde made a wonderful point and it was quoted by MP Randall Garrison. Wilde said, "Be yourself; everyone else is taken."
The bill is a step toward allowing transgender people the greater possibility of being themselves without the fear of psychological and physical bullying, and sometimes even worse.
Let me give you some specific statistics. I will highlight them.
Job statistics: In recent studies only one-third of trans Ontarians were working full-time, and upwards of 20 per cent were outright unemployed. That is over three times the current rate of unemployment in Canada today. Not only that, but if they have a job they are generally significantly underpaid. Their average income is $30,000 per year, despite the fact that as a group transgendered people are highly educated.
Twenty-six per cent of them have some post-secondary education; 38 per cent have completed post-secondary education; and 7 per cent have master's degrees or better.
Not only do they have difficulty getting work and are underpaid when they get it, but they often have a difficult time in their employment due to hostility to their orientation, particularly at a time when they decide to come out and try to change their visible public gender identity, which is a powerful moving force in their lives.
The rates of depression among transgendered Canadians are as high as two-thirds. The rate of crimes against transgendered people is extremely high. They are the most likely group to suffer hate crimes involving violence. Research specific to the Ontario case — because there has not been a wide national body of research — is that 20 per cent of trans people have been physically or sexually assaulted because they were transgender.
Suicide, I know, is a concern for all of us. It has been a public policy debate and it's increasingly elevated now because of the situations with the military and RCMP. Seventy-seven per cent of trans people in Ontario reported seriously considering suicide at some time in their life; 43 per cent reported they had attempted suicide; and of those who attempted suicide, 70 per cent first tried at age 19 or younger. Adolescent youth transgendered people are twice as likely to consider and attempt suicide as their non- transgender counterparts.
This bill is about education and elevation of the issue. As Justice La Forest of the Supreme Court of Canada said, a failure to explicitly refer to transgender identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act leaves transgendered people "invisible."
Our colleague, Member of Parliament Irwin Cotler said in the house:
The Canadian Human Rights Act is more than just an act of Parliament. It is an act of recognition, a statement of our collective values, and a document that sets out a vision of a Canada where all individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from discrimination.
There is no question that transgender people are discriminated against for doing something that in no way, shape or form would hurt anybody else. If we can't defend them in these two acts, how does that reflect the fundamental values that Canadians share? It doesn't. We need to defend them by way of modifying these two acts in the way that Bill C-279 would do.
There have been many arguments against the bill. One was the definition issue, which I have dealt with. The other is the question of what was inappropriately, derisively and unfortunately coined as the "bathroom bill." The implication is so far from the truth; the idea that somehow, something inappropriate is going to happen in a bathroom has never been proven. Any experience in the United States where these kinds of rights have been extended — and four states responded to Randall Garrison's inquiry — there has never been a crime under this or a "misuse" of these rights.
Any court in Canada can distinguish between what is criminal and what is not criminal activity. That is what courts do. Our court system, which is clearly one of the most elevated in the world, would be more than capable of doing that absolutely adequately.
When I said that the experience of deliberating and reviewing the gay marriage bill was a powerful moving experience, I am reminded of my experience since undertaking to sponsor this bill. I met remarkable people in the transgender community, like the people who for 25 years in the gender mosaic have advocated, fought and struggled to come this close to getting these rights recognized.
I have been to two transgender days of remembrance ceremonies. A number of things were striking about them — the power of the presentations, the emotion, and the way that the transgender people and their parents who presented at these services and memorials were very moving. I wish every one of my colleagues in this Senate chamber had been there to see that.
What is also unique about the two I went to is that one was in Calgary and the Calgary police force had an element of their transgender rights group. That is a group of police people, constables and volunteers within the police department, who specifically work with the transgender community, so it's recognized clearly by that police department. In fact, the transgender memorial that I went to in Ottawa was at the Ottawa Police headquarters. The chief of police spoke there and underlined, as did others, the importance of this issue to them and how much a profound crime they see this discrimination and violence against transgender people to be. They get it. Those two police forces — and I expect you will find this across the country — get it. They understand that transgender people have every right to be protected. They protect them and focus on it in a special way because they understand they are treated with inordinate levels of violence and a motivation of violence that comes from a very dark place.
What also came out of my experience at these services were the presentations by parents and by transgendered people. I would like to share that with you, because what we're talking about isn't some amorphous group; these are individuals. Many of us will know some or many. We will know them but not know they are transgender. They are sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers and they are Canadians and they are our neighbours. I will talk about one.
I will mention some excerpts from a presentation by one transgendered woman. She was assigned male at birth, lived a life and fought this presence in her life of in fact knowing she was a woman. She married and had children, tried to fit the mould that society imposes on people in these circumstances all too often. Finally, she very eloquently made her point in this speech that she could no longer live with herself if she couldn't be herself and if she didn't have the courage to come out to the world and live the way she was and be who she is.
I will list some of the things she had said, her fears, because they were deep and she was very nervous when she presented to us.
I was afraid that I would not be able to pass, that people would spot me from a mile away and know what I was. I was afraid of being ridiculed and laughed at. I was afraid that I would never be able to get a decent job and I would have to subsist on low-paying jobs and be poor for the rest of my life. I was afraid that I would lose friends. I am a spiritual person and I was afraid I would never find a church that would accept me. I was afraid of how my family would react, afraid that I would lose those relationships most important to me, especially my children. And I was afraid of the uncertainty. After many years of working and living, my life was predictable and I could chart a fairly comfortable course into my retirement. I was afraid I would lose any certainty in my life.
It is interesting that one of her biggest fears was to come out to her family. There are a lot of indications that that can be a problem. One of the very impressive people I have worked with on this bill is a transgendered woman, like this woman I am quoting. She is a very successful lawyer and clearly extremely intelligent.
Her parents are convinced that she is transgendered because she hit her head when she was eight years old. Since coming out, her sister has not spoken to her. She has never met her nieces and nephews. She is allowed to come home but not on Sunday and not if anybody else is in the house. Imagine what that would do to you. And then to come out to a society that does not acknowledge you even under the most fundamental, basic rights and recognition, which is the Canadian Human Rights Act.
However, this particular transgendered person I am quoting was fortunate in this way:
My father is elderly, conservative and religious. I didn't know how to tell him.... I had sent a letter on ahead with my sister, so Dad could read it and have time to absorb it while I drove back to his place.... He met me at the door, hugged me, said he loved me and I would always be welcome in his home. The world would be a better place if there were more people like him.
We could reflect in this bill by passing it that there are many more people like him.
Perhaps the most powerful testimonies I heard were from parents, because parents feel pain for their children. All of us who have children know how driven that is. There was a mother who presented. She hit on a number of important features of this issue. Let me talk about the whole idea of knowing what your gender identity is, even when you're young. She said, "When he," so her son was born female but has made the transition to male.
When he was 11 he wanted to join boy scouts, I asked him why not girl guides the answer was he didn't want to learn how to sew, cubs did cooler things.
That is a pretty basic, fundamental recognition by someone who is 11 years old that they're not what their mother thought they were.
She goes on to say that when finally this young man came out, "He explained how he looked like a girl but was really a boy inside. He told me about a meeting he had gone to" — this is in his early twenties — "a transgender support group, and for the first time in his entire 21 years he fit in, completely fit in and felt safe to breathe."
"He felt safe to breathe." Imagine the stress and the pressure of that young man's life for 21 years, alone, even with a mother who understood there was something but could never bring that out.
Listen to this, if you will, the growing up process and being the parent of a young person going through this:
One day I saw cuts on his arms. I questioned him — he pushed me away and got angry. He began coming home drunk and high often or just didn't come home. I cried a lot and prayed even more. I was losing him and feared the worst. I could not imagine my life without my child and feared that I might have to.
Of course, she is referring to the high incidence of suicide among transgender people. In her case, there is evidence that with parents' support, the likelihood of suicide is much lower. You can imagine that if society supported it, the likelihood of suicide would be even lower still.
This is powerful to me when I heard it, because this mother has made the leap. She got past the idea that it doesn't matter which gender. She said that when she finally realized this child was a man and not the woman she thought he would grow into:
I did mourn the loss of my dreams for the child I met 25 years ago, and I learned that I was not losing anything of importance. The soul, spirit, and heart of this child are the same and always will be the same, there is just different packaging.
In the end, she finished by saying, again reflecting on the process of her child going through this profoundly difficult experience throughout his life:
What I did see was a miracle, a gift that was given to me to care for and love. What I now see too often is physical, mental and sexual abuse in the trans community. I have seen too much homelessness, despair, fear and death. I have seen too many people that do not have family support and have been told they are not worth the air they breathe. I have heard too many times I wish my parents would love and accept me. I have heard too many times that your son is lucky. Is he lucky to be loved by his mother? Is he lucky to be accepted as a human being? With deep sorrow I am sad to say he is lucky and he is one of the minority.
A father presented at one of these memorials as well. It is very powerful to hear a father speak in this emotional way. He said, "Gone are the many years of confusion," because his son transitioned to become a woman, so now he has a daughter. He said:
The only difference that is apparent to me is that my child is finally happy. Gone are the many years of confusion, buried feelings and having to live a lie. Finally my child is who she is meant to be! This is to my great joy also and explains some of the areas where I felt that I had been failing.
He had taken it upon himself.
He also said:
The overarching fact is that many of my close friends and family are very strong in their Christian beliefs.
He himself was born and raised a Christian.
My best friend is the finest Christian I know. Each and every one of them has said to me "but she is God's child". That is the true Christian message. My child is important. Do not let anyone tell you that your child is not equally important.
By passing this bill, we can say to every parent that their child is equally important.
I will read and quote from something that may sound odd in a way. I don't know what the average age is in the Senate.
An Hon. Senator: Sixty-two.
Senator Mitchell: Sixty-two. That's my age, so I'm perfectly average in that respect.
I don't know how many of you saw the Grammies, or the American Music Awards, with a rap artist called Macklemore, who has become extremely popular in the last year. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis wrote a song. The reason I became interested in it before the show appearance is because he appeared singing this song called "Same Love" at a rock concert in the States with two Canadian artists, Tegan and Sara from Calgary. They are hugely successful musicians. They are young women — twins — both gay. They sang with Macklemore the song "Same Love." It is an anthem for the new generation, a generation that will make this change if we do not do it first. And we do not just represent 62- year-olds; we represent every generation in this country. This is an anthem for that generation. I will quote it:
America the brave still fears what we don't know
At the basic root of discrimination is fear — fear of the unknown, often — and this primeval desire to make ourselves feel better by putting somebody else down. Macklemore captures this so well by saying, "America the brave still fears what we don't know." He is speaking for a generation. It is an anthem.
He goes on to say in this very powerful poetry:
I might not be the same, but that's not important
No freedom till we're equal
Again, this is an insight that should be at the basis of what we are thinking about when we consider this bill. This is his comment on the consequences of not accepting transgendered people, among others.
When kids are walking 'round the hallway plagued by pain in their heart
A world so hateful some would rather die than be who they are
When you get the level of suicide that you see in young adolescent transgendered people, that is exactly what they are saying. They are saying that they would rather die than be who they are because they are so frightened and there is so much social pressure against their being who they are.
In closing, I will go back to the father who said about giving advice to parents of transgendered people:
One major hurdle that you will face is societal pressure. It is incumbent on you to garner all the support you can from all politicians and parties to legislate that your child receives equal rights and protection under the law.
That is what Bill C-279 is about. It responds to that father and to that mother and to countless numbers of fathers and mothers and grandmothers and grandfathers and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters and friends and associates across this country who work with, know and love transgendered people in their families. That's what this bill is about. We can respond to that father's request by giving him the support that he's asking for and by taking a step to change the lives of these important Canadians who have been discriminated against psychologically and brutalized violently all too often. We can stand up and do the right thing.