FEDERAL POLITICS / Federal trans rights bill passes through Senate committee
Bradley Turcotte / National / Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Witness testimony at a June 10 Senate committee meeting on human
rights was overwhelmingly supportive of federal trans rights bill
C-279, with Diane Watts of lobby group REAL Women of Canada being the
only witness to speak directly against the proposed legislation.
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.
Watts presented many of the same arguments she brought forward at the
parliamentary standing committee on justice and human rights in
November <http://www.xtra. ca/public/ National/ Bill_C279_ testimony_ met_with_ jeers-12869. aspx>
Watts’ main arguments are that trans Canadians are already covered,
that the definitions in C-279 are vague and that the bill would harm
trans Canadians rather than help them.
Trans individuals should be given “compassionate counselling rather
than be encouraged in their dissatisfaction with a gender engrained in
their DNA,” she concluded, urging the Senate not to give trans
Canadians “special rights.”
“This bill is about equality for everybody,” said Noa Mendelsohn Aviv,
director of the equality program with the Canadian Civil Liberties
“The washroom issue is a very minor fear that has been raised by
some,” Mendelsohn added. “There has been and continues to be
possibilities and options for reasonable accommodation. I think we can
comfortably put those fears to rest.”
If the bill is not passed because of the bathroom fear, “we are in
fact holding a whole community of people hostage because of what
somebody else might do that is wrong,” said the bill’s Senate sponsor,
Grant Mitchell. “We simply don’t do that in our legal system and we
don’t do that in our society.”
Liberal Senator Jane Cordy addressed the notion that the bill would
enable predators to commit crimes against women. She pointed out that
16 US states and 143 US cities or counties have similar legislation in
place prohibiting discrimination against trans citizens.
[Photo: Gender Mosaic member Amanda Ryan looks on as Robert Peterson,
co-chair of the Canadian Bar Association&# 39;s sexual orientation and
gender identity committee, testifies in favour of C-279 at a Senate
committee on human rights meeting June 10. (Source:
senparlvu.parl. gc.ca) ]
“In none of these jurisdictions has there been an increase in unlawful
or inappropriate activity after this legislation has been passed. The
perception is that there’s a line-up of people, transgender people,
waiting until the bill passes and then suddenly they’re going to be
breaking the law. I think that’s unrealistic to have that expectation.
There are no more criminally minded people within that community then
there would be in any other community, would that not be correct?”
Watts responded by citing incidents where prisoners who transitioned
are now at risk from fellow inmates.
“I’m not sure I understand the connection between your answer and the
question that was asked,” Mendelsohn responded to Watts.
Gender Mosaic member Amanda Ryan attended the meeting and says as
Watts testified, “you could just see quizzical looks in the eyes of
Ryan says she was “pleased to see so many positive responses and
It is the CCLA’s view that C-279 is long overdue, Mendelsohn told the committee.
“The first place we have to start with is invisibility. Invisibility,
in our view, goes together with the earliest and worst part of
discrimination against any marginalized people,” Mendelsohn said.
Before sexual orientation was added to the Canadian Human Rights Act,
many Canadians did not even think about gay citizens, Mendelsohn said.
C-279 will act as a deterrent to hate crimes and discrimination and
make trans Canadians visible, she predicted.
World-class pianist Sara Davis Buechner told her personal story of
discrimination while transitioning in the United States. Buechner is
now an associate professor of music at the University of British
Columbia but when she transitioned, she said, she went from booking 50
performances a year to two or three. Fired from her job at a New York
City conservatory, Buechner also candidly shared that she was the
victim of an attempted date rape by a man who assumed she was a sex
worker because she was trans.
“Bill C-279 assures protection for people like myself with gender
identity needs,” Buechner said. “Our needs are not willful, they are
not of passing choice and they are not things that we can simply
ignore. For transgendered folks identity issues are matters of life
and death. Of living openly, honestly and freely without fear of extra
prejudice, malice or worse, violence. We do not ask or deserve extra
rights. We need the same rights as our Canadian brothers and sisters
of all races, creeds, denominations and identities.”
N Nicole Nussbaum, of the Canadian Professional Association for
Transgender Health, said pervasive discrimination can cause “physical
and emotional responses that accrue over time.”
Ryan says there is an absolute connection between discrimination and
health. She believes C-279 will improve the mental health of some
“Discrimination protection is one thing but just recognizing the trans
community as an entity under the law gives validity to us and that
will have impact within the community to people who maybe don’t
believe in themselves or have very poor self-esteem. If you can point
to a law that has our name right in it, then there’s some credibility
and that helps an awful lot,” Ryan says.
Ryan is optimistic the bill will pass third reading in the Senate but
it also apprehensive about celebrating too soon.
“I am kind of sitting on a bubble right now and that bubble seems like
it’s very fragile,” she says. “The numbers seem to be there but until
the vote and we actually stand up and cheer, I am going to sit on that
bubble and hope it doesn’t burst.”
Mitchell commended the bill’s originator, NDP MP Randall Garrison, in
his closing remarks and clarified the mandate of the Senate.
“The Senate was designed with a number of things in mind, two things
in particular: to protect regional rights and to protect minority
rights and if ever there was a case of minority rights needing
protection this would be one of them,” he said.
“We will do this,” he added. “This kind of protection will be
accomplished by Canadians at some point and I’m simply saying why
don’t we fast-forward it and do it now.”
Mitchell’s office confirms that the senator plans on speaking to C-279
on Thurs, June 13 on the floor of the Senate but cannot say when the
bill will enter third reading.
©2013 Pink Triangle Press