Bill on Gender Identity Protection Goes to Third Reading

Bill C-389, a private member’s bill entitled An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression) was “concurred in at report stage” in Parliament yesterday, and now will move on to third reading. The bill would add the phrase “gender identity, gender expression” to the list of prohibited bases for discrimination found in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the relevant hate propaganda and sentencing sections of the Criminal Code (ss. 318(4) and 718.2(a)(i) respectively).

There is a wide range of people who would be potentially protected by these terms, people often compendiously described as “transgender” or, simply, “trans.” The speech at second reading by the NDP member who proposed the bill, Bill Siksay, explains well those whom he means to fall within these protections. At one point he says:

Transgender people may live part-time or full-time as members of the other gender and they may live in a way that combines or blends genders or they may exhibit characteristics of neither gender. They include cross-dressers, transvestites, drag queens, drag kings, androgynous people, bi-gendered people or gender queer people.

None of us needs telling that our society strongly supports a simple binary notion of sex and gender, one consequence of which is the discomfort, indeed fear or hostility, some feel when faced with “gender bending.” Siksay pointed out that the findings of a 2004 survey of transgender people in Ottawa found that many had experienced verbal and physical harm: “verbal harassment, 74%; intimidation, 54%; hate propaganda, 41%; attempted assault, 38%; and physical assault, 32%.”

Conservative member, Sylvie Boucher, Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women, speaking for the government at second reading, expressed concern about the precise meaning of the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression.”

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