Bill Siksay, the NDP MP for Burnaby-Douglas (the riding once held by his former boss, Svend Robinson, the (in)famous gay activist MP), has picked up where his mentor left off, introducing C-389 last May, a private member’s bill that would add protection for self-identified transgendered individuals by adding vague concepts such as “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the Canadian Human Rights Act.
The homosexualist newspaper Xtra! reported that the bill passed the Justice and Human Rights Committee on Nov. 2 “in minutes” after the Conservative government cooperated with NDP MP Joe Comartin (Windsor-Temcumseh) to expedite the process and not hear witnesses. Comartin told Xtra! that with an election possibly imminent, “speed was really of the essence.” He put forward a motion to deem all clauses carried so there was no clause-by-clause review of the bill in committee. Siksay said it was “a great thing for the members of the transsexual and transgendered community” to get closer to passing, but he would have preferred to give an opportunity to testify to people who think they are transgendered and transsexual.
Liberal MP Marlene Jennings (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Lachine) insisted on a recorded vote, and the final tally showed only two MPs opposed the bill: Conservatives Brent Rathgeber (Edmonton-St. Albert) and Stephen Woodworth (Kitchener Centre).
Supporting the bill were Comartin, Liberals Jennings, Brian Murphy (Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe), Derek Lee (Scarborough-Rouge River), Bloc MPs Marc Lemay (Abitibi-Témiscamingue) and Serge Menard (Marc-Aurèle-Fortin), and Tories Bob Dechert (Mississauga-Erindale), Rick Norlock (Northumberland-Quinte West), and Daniel Petit (Charlesbourg-Haute-Saint-Charles). Dechert and Petit are parliamentary secretaries to the minister of justice.
The Globe and Mail reported that Justice Department spokesman Pamela Stephens denies any deal with the NDP to pass the bill, but the same article said Charles McVety, president of Canada Christian College, says his sources within caucus say the government is willing to let it pass unimpeded.
Social conservative and religious groups are opposed to C-389. REAL Women and Campaign Life Coalition said that granting special protection to transgendered (those who act like the opposite sex) and transsexual (those who believe they were born the wrong sex) individuals could lead to dangerous situations. CLC said, “creating a right to ‘gender expression’ will result in male cross-dressers and male drag queens having the legal right to use girls bathrooms.” They said while this is a problem in its own right, it would also allow sexual predators to enter washrooms to prey on minor children. REAL Women noted that the bill would cause problems for federal institutions such as the military and prisons that segregate men and women.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has urged MPs to vote against the bill, noting that “gender identity” and “gender expression” are not defined by the proposed amendment to existing human rights law. EFC vice president and legal counsel Don Hutchinson warned “the results of passing the bill are unpredictable” and that it could force provincial human rights regimes to adopt similar language. He said that the only example of enforcement of prohibiting discrimination on the basis of the new law would be the use of public washrooms, but expressed concern that a Pandora’s box of new rules and regulations would be created by the courts and human rights commissions. Hutchinson’s concerns were expressed by Petit, parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, when he opposed the bill at second reading, declaring the language vague and problematic, although he reversed course and voted for C-389 in committee.
REAL Women said in a release that it had “learned that many if not most members of the Conservative Party are not aware of this bill,” but that with other “pressing matters to discuss” C-389 was likely taking a back seat to the economy, Afghanistan and constant election posturing.
REAL Women said that C-389 was likely to pass third reading in the House of Commons when it reaches final vote, expected Dec. 2, because the Bloc Quebecois, NDP and most Liberals support the bill. CLC and Real Women are asking their supporters to urge their MPs to vote against the bill.
The need for the legislation, however, was most clearly questioned in correspondence with one of C-389’s supporters. NDP MP Glenn Thibeault (Sudbury) said in a letter, that “C-389 would ensure that trans Canadians can directly challenge discrimination based on their gender identity in areas of federal jurisdiction,” although “It should be noted … that such protection has already been established in Canada by federal and provincial human rights commissions in response to complaints from trans people,” using the grounds of sex and disability.