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Canada's Transgender Rights Bill Moves to the Senate

Posted by Wayves volunteer Hugo Dann, March 21, 2013

Canada's Upper House will now debate the gender identity rights legislation, Bill C-279.

Reaction was swift in coming to last night's vote on the third reading of NDP MP Randall Garrison's Private Members Bill, C-279. Within minutes of MPs having voted in support of the legislation by a 12-vote margin (149 to 137), Canada's national LGBTQ rights organization, Egale Canada, issued a statement calling on the Upper House to follow the Commons' lead.

"Egale calls on the Senate to insure swift passage of C-279 as MPs stand up for Trans people. Today in the House of Commons, Members of Parliament voted to approve the inclusion of “gender identity” as a prohibited ground of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA), and as a relevant factor in hate crimes sentencing under the Criminal Code."

Helen Kennedy, Egale's Executive Director, said, “Today’s vote represents a significant step toward recognizing and affirming the equality rights of trans and gender variant people in Canada. For too long, social and political invisibility have enabled discrimination, harassment and hate-motivated violence against the trans community to continue unnoticed and unchallenged.”

"By voting C-279 through the House, MPs have taken a clear stand against hatred and discrimination and for the full equality and protection of all people in Canada,” stated Kennedy. “This is a huge step forward, and the onus now falls to the Senate to ensure that we as a country continue to move forward in our commitment to human rights. The Senate must take all measures necessary to ensure swift passage of this vital piece of legislation.”

Egale's statement adds, "This kind of explicit reference within the CHRA would afford trans and gender variant people explicit protection against discrimination and help create a safer Canada for all."

Prior to this final vote, the members voted on amendments to the Bill which had been discussed in committee, and debated in the House of Commons on March 7th. (Ed These amendments clarified the definition of Gender Identity and removed the words "and Gender Expression" from the bill. It was felt by the Bill's supporters that this concession was necessary to secure the bill's passage. The narrow 12-vote margin suggests they may have been right. (Ed.'s note: You can read Halifax NDP MP Megan Leslie's speech incorporating the testimonials of trans Nova Scotians here.)

Right wing and religious conservatives had been campaigning hard to stop Bill C-279. Some Conservative MPs, such as Calgary's Rob Anders, referrred to it as "The Bathroom Bill" and equated trans people with paedophiles. (Ed.'s note: You can read PEI Liberal MP Sean Casey's dismissal of such low debate here.)

When asked for his reaction, Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project Chair, Kevin Kindred was cautious in his optimism. "To see a Private Member's Bill make it through to the Senate is rare enough, let alone one coming from the NDP, who don't even have a single Senator. The Senate is stacked with Harper appointees with unclear queer rights records, and--perhaps most importantly--progressive groups have never quite known how to lobby an unelected Senate. It will be very, very interesting to see what lies ahead."

The Twitterverse lit up with comments following the vote. Randall Garrison, the openly gay NDP MP from Vancouver Island who brought C-279 forward as a Private Member's Bill, commented, "Proud to have all party support for C-279. Success due to hard work at constituency level by trans orgs and individuals."

Vancouver's Libby Davies, also openly gay, gave a shout out to former NDP MP and colleague, Bill Siksay, who brought a previous Gender Identity Bill this far, only to see it die when Harper called the last election: "This victory for [C-279 and tran srights] was a solid partnership of community advocates & work of [Randall Garrison] & before him Bill Siksay. Thankyou!"

All parties in the House of Commons had caucus members who supported C-279, including the Bloc Quebecois and some Conservative Cabinet Ministers. Elizabeth May, of the Green Party, tweeted, "Transgendered rights bill passes! Thanks to brave [Conservative Party of Canada] MPs." Conservative Nova Scotia MP Gerald Keddy also voted in support of trans rights.

Interim Liberal Leader, Bob Rae posted during the vote, "House voting for bill 279 which recognizes full civil rights for transgender persons - an important moment." Mr. Rae and the Liberal Party supported the Bill.

The Senate can either pass it or propose further amendments, in which case it goes back to the House of Commons. It is extremely rare for the Senate to reject a bill outright. If the bill passes the Senate, it is then ready for Royal Assent. by the Queen or one of her Canadian representatives (usually the Governor General or a deputy), making it law.

Editor's Note: Egale Canada is Canada's LGBT human rights organization: advancing equality, diversity, education, and justice. You can find out more about Egale here. In the days ahead, Wayves will have more on the issue raised by Kevin Kindred's comment about lobbying the Upper House. Hmmm! Just how does one go about lobbying an unelected Senate?