Last Wednesday, the House of Commons narrowly passed MP Bill Siksay’s (NDP Burnaby-Douglas) private member’s bill to enshrine gender identity and gender expression in the Canadian Human Rights Act as well as the Criminal Code. The bill was based on research by social-work students at the Carleton University, and mirrors two private member’s bills that Svend Robinson – the first MP to come out as gay – sponsored concerning sexual orientation.
Matthew McLauchlin, who co-chairs the NDP federal LGBT committee, worked with the trans community in promoting the bill and spoke to The Daily about its implications.
The McGill Daily: What kinds of discrimination do trans people face at the federal level, and how would the law affect judicial processes?
Matthew McLauchlin: Human Rights tribunals would hold private and public actors accountable at the federal level of jurisdiction. … Banks and air travel are the site of a lot of discrimination in the private sector. Federal government services such as the army, RCMP, and prisons are also the site of a grotesque amount of discrimination.For full human rights protection, the bill would have to have to see similar legislation in the provinces, so as to cover areas such as housing and health care.
MD: Private-members’ bills generally do not make it to third reading. Could you comment on the fear that it won’t make it through a Conservative-dominated Senate?
MM: The precedent has been that when the House passes a bill, the Senate has been wary of blocking it. That changed under the Harper government. He promised not to appoint new senators and then he did. The Conservatives have abused their presence in the Senate to block legislation, such as the NDP’s climate change legislation [Bill C-311]. We’ll be pressing the Senate hard and contacting the community to do so as well. … The bill now has to go through the same stages and readings at senate… and it would all have to take place before any elections were called.
MD: A McGill prof, Douglas Farrow, recently signed an open letter telling MPs not to vote for the bill, telling them it would open up a “can of worms” such as the bathroom scare, the provision of unisex washrooms, and over-crowding hospitals because of sex-reassignment surgeries (SRS). What is your response to this claim?
MM: First of all, hospitals fall under provincial jurisdiction, and secondly, well, there’s maybe ten annual SRS surgeries carried out in the province of Manitoba. If anything, this will be all for the good; there have been barriers to accessing what has long been established as a medically necessary set of procedures.
As for the bathroom scare, this one really hurts me. My partner is trans and I know what he goes through. In the more than one hundred jurisdictions around the world where similar protections have been put into place, there has never been a recorded case against anybody who has tried to engage in reprehensible behaviour in the washroom. Trans people already use washrooms and locker rooms, and it’s trans people who get subject to violence and discrimination. Crimes are still crimes, and trans people already use washrooms and locker rooms.
MD: Another criticism of the bill is that it does not define gender identity and expression.
MM: None of the other grounds for discrimination are defined…not race, religion, sex orientation, because the law is meant to be applied in terms of social understanding of what those concepts refer to. … If we have survived and managed to make use of the Canadian Human Rights Act without defining the other concepts, the same ought to be true for gender identity and expression.
As Bill Siksay said effectively in parliament, “A right that has to be explained is not an effective right,” and trans people or people who do not fit traditional gender stereotypes should not have to think their way into protection under legislation that defines grounds of discrimination for different groups.
For example, in New York City two years ago, a non-trans woman was evicted from a restaurant because she had gone to use the woman’s washroom and someone thought she was not a woman, and therefore had no business being there, even though she showed her ID. She won a human rights case because New York city human rights code specifies gender identity and expression.
—Compiled by Rana Encol