Third reading of Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal CodePublished on 7 June 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Jim Munson
Hon. Jim Munson:
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-16. The proposed changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code add necessary protections that will make real and tangible differences for trans people in this country. While we sit and debate whether a group of people should have their rights recognized, we seem to have lost sight of what this bill would actually do for Canadians. Bill C-16 would allow a trans person to come out in a federal workplace. They could change the way they express their gender and request to be referred to with a different name or pronoun without fearing for their job and safety.
If a trans person is discriminated against because of their decision to come out in a federal workplace, Bill C-16 provides complaint mechanisms that acknowledge gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination.
Currently, honourable senators, trans people are not protected against discriminatory practices in federal workplaces. Although the provinces have led the way in recognizing the rights of trans people, there is an inconsistent gap at the federal level. Despite the fact that trans people are statistically a highly educated group, 13 per cent of people have been fired for being trans, 18 per cent have been turned down for jobs for being trans, and the median income of trans persons is $15,000 a year. These statistics do not include the trans people who are discouraged from pursuing certain job opportunities because they fear unjust discrimination because of their gender identity or gender expression.
Bill C-16 would recognize gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act and set a federal standard about how trans people should be treated in all Canadian workplaces. This is an important step towards making sure that all workplaces are trans-inclusive spaces. Canadian workplaces need to be safe spaces for anyone to express their gender as they would like without fear of discrimination.
Trans people and others who speak out for trans rights are often targets of both verbal and physical abuse. People are called derogatory terms and receive death threats simply for being advocates for trans rights or for visible trans persons.
Cartoonist Sophie Labelle gained public recognition for her web comic Assigned Male about a young transgender girl navigating life in Montreal. As a trans person herself, Labelle was no stranger to hate mail, threats and cyberbullying. But this May the Quebec comic book writer was forced to go into hiding after someone hacked her personal information and posted her personal address online. This, honourable senators, was followed by serious death threats.
Bill C-16 would make it a criminal offence to incite hatred against trans people. Currently, trans people do not have specific legal protection from hate speech and hate crimes as a person would have if the speech or violence was motivated by colour, race, religion, age, sex and sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability.
Trans people require protection from hate-motivated crimes. Trans people often cannot go out into public without being visible. This visibility can cause unequal treatment. They experience a spectrum of treatment from inquisitive scrutiny to violence. Trans people are treated differently once they start expressing their gender in a way that conflicts with traditional views.
They not only experience discriminatory treatment, but they often experience violence. Without the proposed changes to the Criminal Code, criminal sentencing cannot correctly acknowledge the true nature of a crime if gender identity or gender expression motivated the crime against a trans person. The proposed amendment to the Criminal Code recognizes the particularly egregious nature of violence against a trans person that is motivated because of their gender identity or how they express their gender.
Honourable senators, historically minority groups have always been met with resistance as they fight for their rights — their human rights — to be recognized. They often face discrimination, hatred and violence. Our children are often startled when they hear that the rights of ethnic minorities and women were ever in question, because when you grow up in a society where fair treatment is generally the norm, anything less is so obviously discriminatory. Hopefully, we have finally reached the threshold with trans rights where we can clearly see that trans persons deserve legal recognition of their rights and protection against hatred and discrimination.
Canadian society benefits when we acknowledge each other’s rights and protect vulnerable communities. Trans persons have been fighting a long time, too long a time, for their voices to be heard, but their voices are often drowned out by misunderstanding and fear.
It is long past time for the Senate to pass this bill and for senators to stand up for trans rights — for human rights.
It is truly a simple concept, honourable senators. Everyone in Canada should have the right to express their gender identity as they wish to do so. You and I and trans persons all should have this right. It is a human right. It does not harm other Canadians or infringe on their rights; however, it gives great validity and protection to many Canadians to live freely as to who they truly believe themselves to be.