Bill C16 Matters

Update June 19, 2017 – Bill C16 received Royal Assent today meaning it is officially law in Canada now.

I know I, and likely many transgender Canadians as well as advocates and allies, breathed a sigh of relief with the signing into law of C16.  Below is a post I originally wrote back in February when it seemed C16 was going to be delayed to death in second reading in the Senate.

Original Post:

While looking for updated info on Bill C16’s progress through the Senate, I did what most people in my generation do – I searched Google. Ranked highly in the search results were a number of think pieces on the topic with titles along the lines of, “What’s wrong with Bill C16.” Here’s the short answer, there is nothing wrong with Bill C16.


What is Bill C16?

There are two key components to it, the first is the inclusion of Gender Identity and Gender Expression in the Canadian Human Rights Act. The second part would extend Canada’s hate crimes legislation to include Gender Identity and Gender Expression.

Why does it matter?

Right now transgender and Gender Variant Canadians are not protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act nor are we protected by Canada’s hate crime legislation. This is obvious and easy to fill legislative gap.

By identifying sexual orientation or race in those pieces of legislation it has helped to further social and legislative change elsewhere in Canada and protect communities against vocational, institutional and other types of discrimination. On this topic the Federal Government of Canada is woefully behind, most provinces, including Alberta (often called Canada’s Texas..), have already incorporated these protections into their own Human Rights Acts.

What’s the opposition to this?

Fears abound that this will curtail ‘Freedom of expression or speech.’

Why does that sound like bullshit?

Because it is. The Criminal Code of Canada first introduced hate crimes into legal legislation in 1985, while I wasn’t actually born then I’m certain there was a lot of debate about it. I’m certain people were afraid it would curtail their freedoms of speech but it didn’t.

Adding Gender Identity will instead provide transgender people with some badly needed protection, the same protections already afforded to people based on race, religion, sexual orientation etc.

Why has it taken so long?

Good question – the Honourable Senator Grant Mitchell summed up the history of the bill on November 28, 2016 before moving the bill into second reading – where it now lingers.

“Among the many frustrations experienced by transgender people, their families and their supporters are the seemingly endless delays in getting their rights and protections enshrined in legislation. It has not been for lack of trying.

MP Bill Siksay introduced a bill dealing with trans rights in the House of Commons in 2005 and then again in 2009. His Bill C- 389 was passed by the House of Commons in February 2011. It then arrived in the Senate, where it died on the Order Paper without coming to a vote.

In September 2011, over five years ago, MP Randall Garrison, whose determined leadership I would like to acknowledge, developed and presented Bill C-279 in the House of Commons. Bill C-279 is the most recent predecessor to Bill C-16. In 2013, Bill C-279 was passed in the House of Commons with Liberal, New Democrat and some Conservative MP support. Over the subsequent two years, it advanced to third reading twice in the Senate.

Both times it died here, without even being allowed to come to a vote; put another way, it was adjourned to death.

The substance of Bill C-16 has been debated in Parliament for a long, long time. It has been supported twice by majority votes in the House of Commons, and it has been the subject of lengthy committee hearings with dozens of witnesses here and in the other place. So extensive has the committee review and debate been of the substance of Bill C-16 and its predecessor bills that the House of Commons passed it after a decision by all parties, including Conservatives, to expedite the committee review process. It recently passed third reading with Liberal and New Democrat support, and support from a very significant cadre of Conservative MPs, including their leader, Ms. Ambrose.

Over this long period — 11 years — Canadians have increasingly grown to understand and accept the need for protection and rights recognition for transgender people. It is fair to say that it is way past time to approve this bill in the Senate and to make it law.”