Liberals introduce bill to protect transgender rights

The Liberals have taken a major step in reducing transphobia by introducing legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression. Presented May 17, the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, Bill C-16 seeks to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to protect transgender rights.</p>

The bill proposes listing “gender identity or expression” as a form of unlawful discrimination under the relevant sections of the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. In doing so, it would become a human rights violation to discriminate against anyone on the basis of their transgender identity. The Canadian Human Rights Act applies to anyone who is employed or receives services from the federal government (for example, health services or employment), or any private business it regulates (like banks or broadcasters). 

Furthermore, by being listed as an identifiable group in the Criminal Code the spreading of any hate propaganda against transgender persons would be a criminal offence, and committing crimes against a person on the basis of their transgender status would lead to harsher sentences. 

Denise Whitehead, assistant professor in sexuality, marriage and family studies, spoke to Imprint about the bill and its implications. “I think the purpose [of the bill] can be summarized as ‘explicit recognition of transgender persons and their rights.’ We are removing their invisibility in our society by expressly naming them and their entitlement to be free from discrimination.”

While similar bills to C-16 have been proposed at Parliament before, none have been passed into law yet. However, considering this is the first time such a bill has been proposed by the party in power, the chances of it being successful are much greater. 

“This new Liberal government is a significant reason for the introduction of this bill and its increased chance of success. Typically, private members’ bills that don’t have the support of the sitting government are less likely to pass,” Whitehead said. “This bill is likely to be successful because it is the first time that this legislation is being introduced by the sitting government and not through a private member’s bill.”

According to Whitehead, this bill is representative of a wider sentiment spreading through Canada in regard to transgender issues:

“The impact of this type of legislation is to make more visible that discrimination is not allowed. Adding explicit language to the Canadian Human Rights Act sends the message that discrimination around employment, housing, health services, and other accommodations will not be tolerated by organizations, employers, or government bodies, and that there is legal recourse.”

In fact, similar changes to human rights legislation have already occurred in most provinces, with Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador having “gender identity” and “gender expression” already listed as protected human rights, and with just “gender identity” a protected human right in Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, and Saskatchewan. 

Whitehead cautioned that even if these new changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act pass, it will still be the responsibility of the individual to seek out enforcement on human rights violations. “Unlike a crime, wherein the Crown will prosecute the matter, civil matters must be initiated and proven by the individual alleging harm,” Whitehead said.  “Having these amendments doesn’t automatically mean that all discrimination will cease — enforcement is available, but individuals will have to take the lead to make that happen.”

Bill C-16 still has to go through a few steps before it can be turned into law, including passing a vote at Parliament and being approved by the Senate. However, Whitehead is optimistic about the bill’s chances.

“The hope is that the success of similar bills in provincial legislatures, and wide public support for this measure, will give it the impetus to pass. This new bill won’t automatically address implementation issues — we are still likely to experience growing pains as we put into practice what this means in the day-to-day, but where there is a will, there is a way.”


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