Craig Speaks in Support of Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression)
Mr. Craig Scott (Toronto—Danforth, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by acknowledging the work of my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca for what he has been attempting to do here, including across the aisle, in a very effective and open way, and also the work of Bill Siksay, a former member of this House, who began the project over six years ago, and to remind everybody that this bill has in effect already passed the House once, only to stall in the Senate when the House was dissolved.
I have three main messages in my remarks.
First of all, I think it is really important that we see this bill as being centrally about recognition of humanity through recognition of distinct identity as part of our commitment to equality in Canadian society. I have found in the past the following approach to identity from an author south of the border, Audre Lorde, in her book Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference to be very informative, and it might help the members of this House.
Allow me to read, and I quote.
...I find I am constantly being encouraged to pluck out some one aspect of myself and present this as the meaningful whole, eclipsing or denying the other parts of self. But this is a destructive and fragmenting way to live. My fullest concentration of energy is available to me only when I integrate all the parts of who I am, openly, allowing power from particular sources of my living to flow back and forth freely through all my different selves, without the restrictions of externally imposed definition. Only then can I bring myself and my energies as a whole to the service of those struggles which I embrace as part of my living.
The connection here between identity, its recognition and one's ability to participate and contribute to society at large is extremely well put in this quotation, and I hope that we can all keep the ideas in that quotation in mind.
The second message I have is that this bill is hardly revolutionary. We already have an act in the Northwest Territories that reflects it. The Cities of Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver have already taken this step. We have a bill that has passed second reading, the bill known as “Toby's law”, Bill 33 in the legislature of Ontario, and we have a recently tabled bill—I believe it is a government bill—in Manitoba.
Also, as has been mentioned several times, we have a declaration of the United Nations, the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity, which Canada has signed, which has to be used as some kind of a normative reference point for our domestic law. As well, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has recently tabled a report at the end of last year on gender identity and sexual orientation that makes clear that even at the United Nations level, with all the diversity of member states, this is now recognized in human rights terms, and in the European Convention on Human Rights community, where we have almost 50 European countries, gender identity, through the recognition of transsexuals' rights in different parts of the European Convention on Human Rights, has for over a decade been recognized in that area of the world.
But my third, and most important, message comes from Ontario. It is to Ontario that I wish to focus, although what I am about to do is not very elegant or eloquent as a way of giving a speech. What I would like to do is share with the House some of the speeches that have already been given on Bill 33, Toby's law, in Ontario. That is an act to amend the Ontario Human Rights Code with respect to gender identity and gender expression. I want us to see what is happening in the House today as part of a bigger picture and not to have the House end up falling behind the rest of Canada.
Central to what is happening in Queen's Park is that it is a multi-party process, including Progressive Conservative MPPs who are as enthusiastically in support of the bill as Liberals and NDP members. Indeed, it is important to note that it is a co-sponsored bill, sponsored by Cheri DiNovo, MPP, of the NDP, Yasir Naqvi of the Liberals and Christine Elliott of the Progressive Conservatives.
My purpose in bringing this up in this way is to ask my Conservative colleagues to take notice of the developments in Queen's Park, and to allow to happen here what has already happened in Queen's Park, which is the bill has passed second reading and has gone to committee. Once this bill gets to committee, we can have a very different kind of discussion. I think it is very important not to cut this off before that stage.
Now allow me to do what I already indicated would not be very elegant or eloquent, and that is to dip in and out of some speeches.
First is a quote from a speech by Christine Elliott, who is the Conservative MPP for Whitby—Oshawa. She is referring to Susan Gapka, a trans rights activist from my area of Toronto, whom I also have the pleasure of knowing.
[W]hen I first met Susan, which was in 2006....as a member of the Standing Committee on Justice Policy....at that time Susan appeared and was making the same arguments that she has continued to make, which are that everyone is entitled to the dignity and protection of the Human Rights Code, and that the inclusion of gender identity and gender expression, along with race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, and all the other things that we talk about when we speak about the Ontario Human Rights Code, should be included. Gender expression and gender identity should be included with that, to clarify and make sure that the rights of trans people are included as well.
The Conservative MPP for Whitby—Oshawa continued:
Fundamentally, I agree that this is a matter of basic human rights, and that’s why I’m really proud to be able to co-sponsor this bill. I truly believe that everyone has the right to be fully included in our society, and everyone deserves the rights and protection of the Ontario Human Rights Code, period, end of sentence, no exceptions. That’s what I think we’re fundamentally dealing with here.
She went on to say:
There was a letter that was sent by Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Barbara Hall in 2007 on this issue, and she noted that “the lack of explicit inclusion in the legislation means that trans people’s distinct experiences of discrimination remain unacknowledged.... Amending the code would provide clarity and greater recognition of the dignity of transgender people, and would leave no doubt, in the eyes of the public or the law, that they are entitled to the same human rights protections as everyone else.”
The MPP for Whitby—Oshawa concluded:
I totally agree...and I think that some of the problems that people have encountered in terms of obtaining identification and obtaining travel documentation clearly show the fact that it hasn’t been completely accepted and understood by everyone. I hope that obtaining all-party support of this...would absolutely clarify the issue once and for all and we could move forward on this issue.
I think I only have time to move to one other speech in the Ontario Debates, and that is one by Mrs. Jane McKenna, Conservative MPP for Burlington, who stated:
I have said before that I believe we are all God’s children. I firmly believe this to be so. I have said before repeatedly that no one should suffer discrimination or persecution because of who they are and the road they walk in this life. We pride ourselves on being a modern society, a progressive place. We aspire to the ideas enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights....
And yet, under the current language of the Ontario Human Rights Code, the equalities and freedoms that most of us enjoy, and which far too many of us take for granted, are spelled out clearly for some and are implied for others.
If we truly want all Ontarians to enjoy these fundamental rights and freedoms, they should be extended to all Ontarians.
My intent in reading these two quotations from two members of the Progressive Conservative Party in Queen's Park who are in support of the analogue bill in Queen's Park is to plead to my colleagues in the Conservative Party to at least allow this bill to go to committee after second reading, where we can have a deeper discussion about the fundamental values of our country and the need to recognize the fundamental humanity of transgendered people.