On August 19, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced he would prorogue Parliament, thus delaying its return until at least October, effectively killing government legislation currently being considered in both the House of Commons and the Senate. But Harper’s bringing to a formal end the last session of Parliament, may not much affect private member’s bills such as C-279, which would add “gender identity” and “gender expression” as specially protected classes in the hate crimes sections of the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.
Introduced several times in previous Parliaments, MP Randall Garrison (NDP, Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca) has once again sought special protections for people who self-identify as transgendered and transsexual. C-279 passed the House of Commons in March when it was supported unanimously by the opposition parties and 18 members of the Conservative caucus including Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and then Labour Minister Lisa Raitt. But C-279 stalled in the Senate when it failed to receive its third and final reading before Parliament recessed for the Summer.
Government business dies on the Order Paper when Parliament is prorogued; any legislation brought forward by the government — that is, bills introduced by the Prime Minister and his cabinet — currently before the House or Senate are scrapped although they can be re-introduced.
Previously, the rule affected all bills, both the government’s and private member’s, but since 2003 the rules were changed so that private member’s business in the House of Commons is unaffected by prorogation. The change a decade ago were reportedly made to ensure passage of then NDP MP Svend Robinson’s bill that added sexual orientation to Canada’s hate crime and human rights legislation.
It is unclear what happens in the Senate. When Campaign Life Coalition called the clerk’s office to see what happens to private member’s bills, the answer was that they stay in the upper chamber but go back to first reading but another query to the same office’s information officer by The Interim indicated that the bill will continue where it left off.
Regardless of the status, Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, told The Interim that prorogation gives Canadians concerned about C-279 more time to contact their senators to urge them to defeat the bill.
C-279 has been described by opponents as the Bathroom Bill because it could create a legal right for a man who calls himself transgendered to use a public bathroom intended for women. Jack Fonseca, project manager with Campaign Life Coalition, has called the bill “lunacy,” and a “threat to the lives of girls and women,” because it could give legal cover to pedophiles or rapists.
But pro-family and religious groups are concerned about the bill for its broader implications. Campaign Life Coalition, Canada Family Action Coalition, Catholic Organization for Life and Family, and REAL Women of Canada, all oppose C-279 because they fear it could normalize a panoply of sexual activities.
Gwen Landolt, vice president of REAL Women, warned, “it’s all in how the word ‘gender identity’ is defined,” explaining that “gender identity” is a catch-all phrase that could be interpreted by activist courts to legitimize “any kind of sexual deviancy.” These behaviors will be ‘normalized,’ accepted, and protected.” Landolt argued that C-279 is not necessary because all Canadians are equal before the law and therefore do not need special protections under the hate crime provisions of the Criminal Code and special rights under human rights law.
Parliament was supposed to resume on Sept. 16, but MPs will probably not return to Ottawa until after Thanksgiving, with The Hill Times suggesting that the House will reconvene Oct. 21, while other pundits are predicting Parliament will not sit again until after the Conservative convention in Calgary Oct. 31 to Nov. 2.