On October 18 2016 Bill C-16 (An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code) passed Second Reading in the House of Commons. C-16 proposes to add protections for gender identity and gender expression to the Canadian Human Rights Code and to the Criminal Code of Canada. The bill passed easily by a vote of 248 to 40, with unanimous support from Liberal, NDP and Green Party MPs. Notably, 38 Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) MPs voted in favour of the bill – a significant increase in support since the issue last appeared before the House of Commons. LGBTory congratulates these MPs for their support of transgender rights but notes that all 40 MPs in opposition to the bill were Conservatives. We believe that concerns expressed by these MPs about the impact of C-16 are unfounded, and urge all CPC parliamentarians in the House of Commons and the Senate to support this much-needed protection of the civil and human rights of a vulnerable community.
The October 18 vote was the second step in a three-part process in the House of Commons before the bill is sent to the Senate for approval. The bill proposes to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression as a prohibited ground of discrimination. It also will amend the Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression as a distinguishing characteristic protected under section 318 and as an aggravating circumstance to be taken into consideration under section 718.2 at the time of sentencing.
There is a need for protection of the civil and legal rights of trans people in Canada. Statistics collected in Ontario show that 39% of trans individuals have been turned down for a job, 26% have been assaulted, and 24% have been harassed by police. Employment discrimination places a disproportionate burden on trans people in Ontario, resulting in both high unemployment and underemployment (EGALE).
Bill C-16 offers the same protection against discrimination and crime on the basis of gender identity and gender expression as is currently afforded on the basis of sexual orientation. Gender identity is the gender that someone identifies as and gender expression is the gender that others see. Adding protections for gender identity and gender expression to the Canadian Human Rights Code and the Criminal Code of Canada will codify in law that trans people have, like all Canadians, “the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination” as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Gender identity and gender expression are currently explicitly protected by the Human Rights Codes of Alberta, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island. Gender identity is implicitly protected by the Human Rights Codes of Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, and Saskatchewan. Transgender rights have been interpreted under other grounds in New Brunswick, Nunavut, Quebec, and Yukon. Bill C-16 codifies in law precedents that have already been established by jurisprudence in a number of jurisdictions (EGALE). LGBTory believes these examples have been successful and should serve as a model for passage and administration of similar federal legislation
Concerns raised by opponents of the bill regarding access to bathrooms and change rooms are overblown. Most of the provinces and territories have implemented similar legislation without any serious issues in this regard; we see no reason why the same protections recognized in federal law would have a different outcome. In the US, where this issue is hotly debated, there is no credible evidence to suggest that transgender people put anyone in danger while using the facilities that correspond to the gender they live every day (GLAAD). Furthermore, proposed rules restricting access to these facilities on the basis of a person’s gender at birth are unenforceable and violate existing human rights codes. Most provinces already allow trans people to change their sex designation on birth certificates and other primary identity documents (Service Ontario). Objections based on these issues do not justify blocking the passage of this bill.
We are encouraged by the level of support by CPC MPs shown by the vote on C-16. Of the 96 MPs in the CPC caucus, 38 voted yes, 40 voted no with the rest absent or abstaining. Among the yes votes were Interim Leader Rona Ambrose and most of the potential candidates for the leadership of the CPC: Maxime Bernier, Steven Blaney, Michael Chong, Deepak Obhrai, and Lisa Raitt. When similar legislation was last voted on in the House of Commons in 2013, 18 CPC MPs voted in favour with 137 CPC MPs opposed. (At that time, current leadership candidates Chris Alexander, Erin O’Toole, and Kellie Leitch supported the bill.) This represents a considerable increase in support from CPC MPs for LGBT rights.
There has been a massive shift in opinion in the CPC towards LGBT issues since the party was created in 2003. Since LGBTory Canada was founded in 2015 we have lobbied extensively for the LGBT community with Conservative politicians. We were overjoyed that, after months of hard work, we helped to change the CPC Policy Declaration to remove language excluding recognition of same-sex marriage at the Vancouver convention in May 2016, where delegates approved the change by a vote of 70% to 30% (LGBTory). We believe our efforts at changing attitudes towards LGBT issues in Conservative parties are achieving positive results and the CPC is becoming a more diverse, inclusive party without compromising its core principles. We are particularly encouraged by the fact that the leadership of the CPC showed solid support for Bill C-16.
And yet there is clearly work to be done. We are disappointed that a majority of the CPC MPs present for the vote chose to vote against protecting the rights of trans people, including two candidates for the leadership of the CPC – Brad Trost and Andrew Scheer. We believe that objections to the bill raised by CPC politicians are exaggerated and that similar legislation in other jurisdictions has been successfully implemented. We acknowledge the progress the CPC has made, but we will continue our advocacy work to increase awareness and support for trans rights and other LGBT issues in the Conservative Party of Canada.