VICTORIA—Canadians may soon see legal protection for trans and gender-variant individuals.
Bill C-389, which is expected to go through its third reading in the House of Commons in December, would add gender identity and gender expression to the definition of an “identifiable group” in the Criminal Code’s hate provisions. It would also add gender identity and gender expression to prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act.
“[The bill would give]…explicit legal protections, rather than ones that are implicit,” said Meris Colby, UVic Pride’s representative to trans groups.
First-year UVic student Katie Fukada showed her support by signing an online petition that sent her MP an email in support of Bill C-389.
“I feel like this bill is really important. I wanted to make sure that my rights and the rights of people that I care about very much are protected,” she said. “Everybody has a right to safety and I think this bill would just help enshrine that.”
Fukuda didn’t, however, expect a response from LaVar Payne, a Conservative MP representing her home riding of Medicine Hat, Alberta.
Although she didn’t expect Payne to be in support of Bill C-389, Fukuda said the response she got was shocking.
The letter from Payne said that for gender identity and expression to be considered for addition to the criminal code, “We need enough evidence to conclude that there are enough cases of hate propaganda against transgender people.”
“That was really what bothered me the most,” said Fukuda. “He literally says that he doesn’t see there being instances of transphobia and I’m like, ‘Can you take a look around?’ So I found that to be really hurtful and really ignorant.”
Payne’s response also mentioned broadening identifiable groups in the criminal code “will further infringe on Canadians’ right to free speech.”
Payne could not be reached for comment as of press time.
Victoria NDP MP Denise Savoie, however, said the suggestion Bill C-389 would limit free speech is “ridiculous.”
“[The bill] doesn’t eliminate any existing right that’s held within our constitution,” said Savoie. “It simply gives people who are…marginalized and who do face prejudice and often violence…a certain protection that doesn’t exist now. So I would just say that seems like hogwash to me and an excuse for not supporting the bill.”
O’Connor echoed that trans and gender-variant people do face discrimination and cited a recent study that highlights the effects of that discrimination.
“[The study was] basically saying trans people have a 25 per cent higher chance of attempting suicide, and they’re significantly underemployed compared to the general population and generally discriminated against in health care because few people understand their problems. There’s a lot of societal momentum to work against and there’s really no indicators right now that it is something anyone cares about beside queer groups,” said O’Connor.
Colby is hopeful that Bill C-389 reaching its third reading in Parliament will help bring attention to trans issues.
“I think it’s just gaining a lot of momentum right now. There’s a lot more publicity now that it’s reached this point,” said Colby. “It’s the third attempt so it’s finally gotten far enough through that people are paying attention to it.”