Bill C-16: 7th Time Lucky for the Transgender Rights Bill?
Canada likes to tout itself as a kind and progressive country, and with the current American election cycle it seems to be easier than ever to buy into this idea. And to an extent, this is true – there is a reason Canada has a reputation as a progressive country after all – but there are still many places in which we fail to live up to that reputation. One of those areas is in the protection of transgender (or Trans) people in Canada.
This past May, Justice Minister and MP for Vancouver Granville Jody Wilson-Raybould introduced Bill C-16. This bill has the innocuous title of ‘An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code’. The title is accurate, but it is easy to overlook the impact it would have for trans people in Canada.
The purpose of the act is to add “gender identity or expression” as characteristics protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. Currently, gender identity or expression is only protected at the provincial level, in such human rights statutes as the BC Human Rights Code or the Ontario Human Rights Code. Bill C-16 would extend this protection to federally-regulated activities throughout Canada.
To many Canadians this would seem to be an obvious step forward and a reflection of liberal Canadian values. Many of those people would likely be shocked to discover that this is the seventh time that such a bill has been introduced in the House of Commons, and that each time it has failed to become law.
New Democratic Party (NDP) MP Randall Garrison, the MP for Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke in British Columbia, has introduced similar legislation multiple times over the years through private members’ bills.
Garrison himself is thankful that the government has introduced this bill and hopes the Liberal government will ensure its swift passage into law, but also recognizes the fact that this bill has faced and continues to face opposition.
This opposition can come from any corner and not only where you would expect to find it. University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson has called the bill draconian. Peterson became known to the Canadian public this past September when he posted a video saying that he refuses to use genderless pronouns such as ‘they’ even if asked to do so by a student.
Despite negative backlash from student protesters and activists, Peterson has not backed down and has continued to release videos and recently spoke at a controversial U of T Rally for Free Speech , where he continued to stand by his remarks.
However, sometimes where you would expect opposition you are pleasantly surprised. In an interesting turn of events, interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose has indicated that she will vote in favour of the bill despite the fact that she has opposed similar legislation in the past.
There is no indication of what has changed Ambrose’s mind on the issue, but it seems like a positive sign for the bill itself.
Canada is introducing this bill at the same time as various US states have been attempting to impose bills colloquially known as ‘Bathroom Bills’ to limit the rights of the trans community. While there is no guarantee that Bill C-16 will succeed this time and even if it does it will not be a cure all in regards to discrimination against trans people in Canada, it is the introduction of bills like this that garner Canada a reputation of a progressive country.
We are certainly far from what many Canadians would like to believe, but values are often an idealistic thing and while the past failures of this bill make it clear that we are not there yet, it is important that we do not give up. The Bill passed a second reading in the House of Commons by 248-40 this past Wednesday. This time it just might pass.
Kali Larsen (2L) is the News Editor of Juris Diction.