There is something you can do: Bill C-16 and Transphobia

February 6, 2017

By CJ Rowe

There is a lot going on in our world. Behaviours and thoughts that have typically lived under the surface, such as homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, racism, transphobia, sexism and so many other layers of hatred and fear, are at the forefront at this point in time. Every time I open Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or take a look at the news I see images, news coverage and updates about all that is happening “south of the border.” I feel like I have to work to unearth what’s happening here in Canada.

A case in point is a transphobic posterthat has been appearing in neighbourhoods across Vancouver. The poster, and its associated campaign, is designed to spark action with those opposed to the passing of Bill C-16 which would see the addition of “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the Canadian Human Rights Act and in the Criminal Code of Canada. This Bill is currently in its second reading in the Senate.

For me, one of the important elements that we as Canadians have access to is our Canadian Human Rights Act, at the federal level, and our Human Rights Code or Act at provincial and territorial levels.

On July 28th 2016, the Government of British Columbia joined a host of other provinces and territories and amended BC’s Human Rights Code to explicitly include “gender identity or expression” as prohibited grounds of discrimination and harassment. This after much hard work by dedicated trans advocates, supportive politicians and allies.

At the federal level, gender identity and gender expression is not currently included as protected grounds under the Canadian Human Rights Act. This is something that may or may not change over the coming weeks.

There is something you can do to help make a difference.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tabled new legislation to better protect the human rights of transgender people in Canada in May 2016 . This legislation is now in the hands of the Senate who has the opportunity to make this part of our human rights at the federal level. The proposed legislation would add “gender identity” and “gender expression” as prohibited grounds of discrimination to the Canadian Human Rights Act, along with the hate crimes provisions of the Criminal Code. It is hoped that by explicitly outlining the protections extended to transgender people across the county that we as a society might be able to begin to address the high rates of discrimination, violence and harassment experienced by transgender people on a daily basis. That said, legislation cannot do this alone, more has to be done in Canadian law and society to better protect the human rights of transgender people.

This is not the first time that a Bill of this nature has traveled along the long process any federal Bill must make before changes can be made. Bill Siksay, a former Burnaby-Douglas Member of Parliament, was a champion for the inclusion of “gender identity” and “gender expression” in the Canadian Human Rights Act. Back in the early 2000s, he and his team went across the country to consult with transgender and gender diverse individuals and asked them about their experiences and what specific human rights protections might look like. I was part of a few of the conversations in Ottawa and it was an experience that I carry with me today. Siksay’s engagement was genuine and he truly listened to those of us who participated in these conversations. It was heartening to see these consultations turned into true action in the creation of what became known as “Bill’s Bill.”

Despite Siksay’s tireless work the changes were never successful and the Bill and its subsequent iterationshave yet to succeed, having faced many barriers along the way. We are at a new point in time where our individual and collective action is needed to help support the passing of the new bill, Bill C-16.

You can help by reaching out to Canadian Senators and demanding that they vote in favour of adding “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code of Canada. This protection will make it explicitly clear that transgender and gender diverse people in our society are protected under the law. In addition, and potentially most importantly, this new legislation serves a symbolic function as it makes it clear to transgender communities that the law is there to protect them against the pervasive inequality faced in day-to-day life.

New human rights legislation is just a stepping stone in a much larger conversation. We as community members need to engage in conversations and develop concrete efforts to build communities that allow all members to flourish, regardless of their gender identity and gender expression.

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