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Federal Trans Human Rights Bill Hangs by a Thread, Vote Scheduled Wednesday

NOTE: This article was published by XTRA on June 6th as MPs to vote on federal trans rights bill.

On Friday June 1st, the House of Commons resumed debate for second reading of C-279, “An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression).”

Currently, murders and assaults motivated by transphobia are still not considered hate crime in Canada. Nor do trans and gender variant people have the same explicit human rights protections against discrimination that other disadvantaged groups enjoy.

MPs Randall Garrison and Craig Scott with Trans activists outside Parliament Friday, following debate of C-279

C-279 would extend the existing legislation to give trans and gender variant people the same protection which already covers other Canadians, based on grounds such as race, religion, and sexual orientation. The bill has been put forward several times before, most recently in 2011 (then called C-389), when it actually passedin the House of Commons, only to die on the Senate order paper when an election was called.

On Friday, one Liberal Member and three NDP Members rose to speak in support of C-279, before its sponsor Randall Garrison (MP, Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca) closed debate with a short statement. In the verbal vote which followed, the Speaker declared the “Yeas” outweighed the “Nays.”

This could have sent C-279 sailing into committee, the next step before returning to the House for third reading before going to the Senate. However, in an unrecorded vote such as Friday’s, parliamentary protocol allows dissenting Members to rise in objection to passing the bill. Five Conservatives MPs rose (the minimum required), so the question has been deferred to a recorded vote which is scheduled to take place Wednesday.

Recent Toronto-Danforth by-election winner Craig Scott (NDP) likened C-279 to Ontario’s Toby’s Act, calling it the “analogue bill” to C-279. Unlike at the federal level, Toby’s Act has support from Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives (being co-signed by Christine Elliott, deputy party leader of Ontario’s PCs).

In an effort to draw attention to the “all-party” support for Toby’s Act, Scott read out statements originally made by Progressive Conservatives Christine Elliott and Jane McKenna, who both spoke passionately in favour of trans human rights.

By contrast, C-279 has met with harsh resistance from Conservatives on Parliament Hill. Some have called it a “bathroom bill,” and have even gone as far as comparing trans people to sexual predators.

With the present Conservative majority in the House, it’s no secret that bringing Tories on side is the only real hope for passing this contentious piece of legislation. Randall Garrison is hopeful that enough moderate Conservatives will support the bill, but rumour on the Hill is the vote will be extremely close.

Some Conservatives have stated support in principle for the human rights of transgender people, but have expressed concerns over a lack of clear definitions for the terms “Gender Identity” and “Gender Expression.” In the hope of garnering last-minute support from undecided Tories, Randall Garrison shocked activists by floating an unexpected compromise in his debate-closing speech.

“I am committing today to support changes to the bill which I believe will preserve the essence of the bill while still meeting the concerns of (…) the other side of the House,” Garrison explained in Parliament. “We will (…) remove the term “gender expression” from the bill, and we will support an amendment to add a definition for “gender identity” to the bill.”

The pronouncement came as a surprise to trans activists, including Trans Lobby Group  chair Susan Gapka who was present in the gallery. “That is itself a form of differential treatment discrimination,” she points out, “(because) none of the other grounds in the Human Rights Act have to be defined like that.” There is concern the definitions may limit protections available to gender variant persons in certain circumstances, for example persons living in “alternative” or “non-binary” gender identities.

Transsexual Newfoundland blogger Jennifer McCreath took her concerns to YouTube, calling Garrison’s compromise “a bombshell,” asking “what are the legal implications?” She echoes concerns of other activists, pleading “…don’t take (Gender) expression out, it’s very important.”

When asked how the proposed compromise may affect genderqueer and gender variant Canadians, Randall Garrison tells XTRA he’s aware of the needs of that group, and “their needs will be taken into consideration” when preparing the definitions.


  1. Monday, 2012.06.04 at 18:52

    while legal definitions might not exist for other terms in HR code, they do exist in other government documents. we need to come up with definitions that ensure no trans/gender-variant people get left out, and at the same time, address and overcome concerns that this type of explicit protection will allow cis-predators to commit crimes and use gender variance as their legal defense. i think this can all be done, and i think it can all be done without removing ‘gender expression’. hope all MPs will pass the vote and send this to committee for further discussion. and personally, i hope they will engage trans canadians from all parts of canada, and not just those in toronto and ottawa.

  2. Nicole Nussbaum
    Monday, 2012.06.04 at 20:20

    There is no reason to add definitions to, or otherwise compromise the bill… Given the robust protections against discrimination and harassment because of gender identity/expression that already exist under the ground of sex in the CHRA, it would be better that the bill die in this parliament to be passed by a future parliament then to have a hobbled and limited bill passed now.

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Christin Milloy