FEDERAL POLITICS / Lesbian senator speaks against bill C-279
Bradley Turcotte / National / Thursday, May 30, 2013
After a week of debate that saw senators speak for and against NDP MP
Randall Garrison’s federal trans rights bill, C-279 passed second
reading in the Senate May 29 and will now go to the standing Senate
committee on human rights.
The bill would add gender identity to the list of protected grounds
under the Canadian Human Rights Act and under the hate crimes section
of the Criminal Code. C-279 passed in the House of Commons March 20 by
a vote of 149 to 137
<http://www.xtra. ca/public/ National/ Federal_trans_ bill_passes_ third_reading- 13324.aspx>
Conservative Senator Donald Neil Plett spoke against the bill May 23,
saying the definition of gender identity is an “entirely subjective
and self-defined characteristic.”
Plett further evoked the rights of women as a contributing factor to
his disapproval of the bill, reiterating the “bathroom bill” argument
<http://www.xtra. ca/public/ National/ Conservative_ MP_links_ trans_people_ and_sexual_ predators- 11803.aspx>
“There are reasons for separate male and female bathrooms. The reason
for this, honourable senators, is that men and women are biologically
different, whether we like it or not. Many concerned Canadians have
written to me asking me to stand up for women and girls,” Plett said.
“Many women have expressed that they would feel extremely
uncomfortable in a restroom or a change room with a biological male,
whether or not that person identified as female.”
Plett quoted an article he claims a concerned Canadian citizen sent
him that details a trans individual exposing themselves in a
Washington college change room.
“Women have worked and continue to work extremely hard to make headway
on the issue of equality and women’s rights. We now have the
opportunity to protect and defend the rights women have worked so hard
to obtain. I urge all honourable senators to stand up for the rights
of women and girls. I urge you to strongly consider the impact that
blurring the lines of gender will have,” Plett said.
When Canada’s first openly lesbian Senator, Nancy Ruth, spoke against
the bill May 29, she did so wearing pink shoes to emphasize her
support of women’s rights.
“Women and girls in Canada are not protected from hate speech under
the Criminal Code, and this bill does not rectify that when it could,”
“For 35 years, across numerous bills, Parliament has told the girls
and women of Canada that, despite alarming rates of violence against
girls and women, violence that typically includes hate speech, they
are not worthy of protection,” she explained.
“The omission is not an oversight. In 1985, the federally appointed
Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution said that there was
‘ample evidence’ indicating women were the targets of hate material.
The committee recommended that the Criminal Code hate laws be amended
to extend protection to women, but no Parliament has done that. Why? I
have spoken before in this chamber about this gap in the law,” she
“This bill will privilege men who choose to become women over women
who are born female,” Ruth said. “While I do not question the good
intentions of the sponsor and the supporters of the bill, I simply do
not understand how they could advance this bill without including all
women. Passage of Bill C-279 will mean that only if a woman is born a
man who later chooses to identify as a woman will she receive
protection, but a woman born a woman will not receive the same
Echoing Plett, Conservative Senator Don Meredith returned to the
“bathroom bill,” saying that although C-279 has been bestowed this
moniker jokingly, “this issue is no laughing matter.”
Meredith quoted Diane Watts of REAL Women of Canada, who testified
against the bill at the standing committee on justice and human rights
Nov 27 <http://www.xtra. ca/public/ National/ Bill_C279_ testimony_ met_with_ jeers-12869. aspx>
, saying C-279 would shield pedophiles from prosecution.
“Certainly not all transgendered people are sexual deviants, but it
cannot be ignored that there are certain individuals who could use
this proposed legislation to prey on society’ s most vulnerable — our
youth. The sponsor of this bill, Mr Randall Garrison, has dismissed
these concerns and referred to such claims as ‘offensive.’ I strongly
Meredith ended his argument by saying it is “offensive that people
would even consider putting women and children at risk unnecessarily.
If passage of this bill results in the potential for exposure to harm
of even one woman or child, that is one woman or child too many. I
urge honourable senators to join me in voting against Bill C-279.”
Not all Conservative Senators spoke against the bill.
On May 28, Conservative Senator Pierre Claude Nolin said: “If
discrimination based on the gender identity of some prevents them from
having an opportunity equal to that of other individuals to make for
themselves the life that they are able and wish to have, to the extent
of being a source of prejudice and causing a strike against the human
dignity of those individuals, such discrimination must become
prohibited and in so doing guarantee the equality of rights pledged
for all by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell
<http://www.xtra. ca/public/ National/ Liberal_senator_ delivers_ comprehensive_ speech_in_ favour_of_ trans_bill- 13448.aspx>
says he is hopeful that, thanks to Conservative Senators like Nolin,
the bill will pass by the end of June.
“I’ve had 16 say they would vote with us. But you don’t know until you
actually get there. If all 16 voted with us then it would pass. It
would be a little bit close but it would pass,” Mitchell told Xtra at
Ottawa trans support group Gender Mosaic’s 25th anniversary reception,
Addressing Gender Mosaic’s reception, Mitchell said passing the bill
would be his greatest accomplishment since playing a role in passing
the gay marriage bill in 2005.
“I was talking to Joanne Law and others about just what a remarkable
time it’s been. It really is a milestone. This is a very, very
difficult issue . . . the courage it takes to go through what Gender
Mosaic has done and [what they] do every day is absolutely so
worthwhile and so important,” Mitchell said.
The bill’s originator, Garrison, was greeted enthusiastically at
Gender Mosaic’s reception.
Garrison humbly said he “stands on the shoulders of giants.” He paid
tribute to former NDP MP Bill Siksay, who introduced C-279’s
predecessor C-389, which died in the Senate due to the 2010 election.
The omission of gender expression from C-279 is a contentious issue
for many in the trans community and Garrison acknowledged this fact.
“I know there are some in the room who are not happy because the bill
does not include the words gender expression. And I am not happy as
well,” he said. “However, our choice was nothing, or the bill with
Egale Canada believes that once the bill is passed and reaches the
courts, gender expression can be put back in the bill, Garrison said.
“Because after all, what does gender identity mean if you can’t
express it? It was a bit of a sleight of hand on our part with the
Conservatives to say, ‘if that’s the term that bothers you for some
reason, okay, we’ll compromise at this point.’ But we’re not giving up
on the whole queer community,” Garrison said.
But once the bill passes, there is more work to do, Garrison said.
“We need to take this bill to all those organizations, public and
private, who have not yet learned that acceptance is a basic Canadian
value — not toleration, but acceptance and partnership . . . I pledge
to work with all of you to continue the work until we make these
rights that are only going to be in theory when they pass, make them
a reality for every Canadian,” he said.
Gender Mosaic member Kay Lockhart says she is hopeful the bill will
pass by the end of June.
“I think it is the time. People have to realize that we have to move
forward,” Lockhart says.
It is Lockhart’s dream that in 25 years, trans Canadians won’t need
groups like Gender Mosaic.
“I hope that at that time there will be such acceptance of trans
people that we won’t need a support group. That people can just come
out and be who they are and people will just say ‘okay,’” she says.
“Heterosexual people have no need to have support groups, do they?”
©2013 Pink Triangle Press