Mercedes Allen

Trans Rights Bills Read in New Canadian Parliament

Filed By Mercedes Allen | September 22, 2011 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Canada, human rights abuses, international, transgender, transsexual

In the first week of the 41st session of Parliament, two Private Member's Bills were introduced, both proposing explicit inclusion of transsexual and transgender people in the Canada Human Rights Act and the hate crimes clauses of the Criminal Code of Canada. Both were inspired by Bill C-389, which had passed in the last session of Parliament and was sponsored by the now-retired Bill Siksay -- but then the legislation died when the election was called.

Bill C-276 was introduced by Liberal MP Hedy Fry on Tuesday September 20th, 2011. On September 21st, the NDP's LGBT critic, Randall Garrison, introduced Bill C-279.

It is not unusual to have multiple Private Member's Bills with similar wording or intent, since it is sometimes a bit of a lottery to get such a bill to progress to Second Reading. Garrison's position on the Order Paper (which determines which Private Member's Bills proceed to Second Reading) is fairly high, and he expects that he could possibly see his bill advance to Second Reading and discussion in as little as six months from now -- meaning that the second bill could be read and debated first.

At Vancouver Pride, this summer, Nycole Turmel (interim leader of the NDP), Hedy Fry (Liberal MP for Vancouver Centre) and Elizabeth May (leader of the Green Party) all vowed to support trans rights legislative efforts.

In Canada, Members of Parliament who are not in cabinet can initiate legislation as Private Member's Bills. The road is long and difficult for Private Member's Bills (as opposed to government bills). Bill C-389, which proposed to add gender identity and gender expression (transsexual and transgender people) to human rights and hate crimes legislation, was introduced by then-MP for Burnaby-Douglas Bill Siksay in the last session of Parliament on May 15, 2009. It came up for Second Reading and was referred to committee for review on July 8, 2010. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights approved it on November 3, 2010, and on December 8th of that year, it was approved by Parliament and moved forward to Third Reading. On February 7th and then 9th, Bill C-389 went through its two hours of debate and was passed. The following day, it was first read in the Senate, and awaited a sponsor to shepherd it through when an election was called, killing all legislation in progress. All in all, it was a journey that was almost two years long, was highlighted by the first two votes ever on trans issues in any Parliament (both narrowly in our favour), but wasn't quite long enough to see the bill passed into law.

I provide this background because I know that with the following news, my trans readers will be tempted to either be over-excited or overly discouraged, and will need to balance all of that.

During Bill C-389's trek, it was noted that sex and/or gender still aren't included as protected classes in hate crimes clauses in the Criminal Code of Canada, either. 22 years after Marc Lepine murdered 14 women and wounded 14 other people in Montreal, it is a sad reflection on Conservative, Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments that this omission still exists. Thus far, I haven't seen any Private Member's Bills introduced to correct this -- I understand that there were no less than four waiting to be heard in the last Parliament, so I will keep watching hopefully, and encourage people to press for action on this as well.

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Update: Good news. It appears that I spoke too soon on that last paragraph. Bill C-285 was introduced today (23rd) to amend the Criminal Code to include sex as an identifiable group.