Features In Focus

A disappointing day for human rights and trans people in Canada

Simply existing as a trans-identified person challenges those who are holding onto traditional worldviews in which gender is perceived as something that is non-fluid and strictly binary.

In Canada, trans individuals seem to be exempt from the privileges that other citizens are granted by the Charter and federal Human Rights Act.
In light of this, NDP MP Randall Garrison introduced a federal trans rights bill, also known as the Gender Identity Bill to the Canadian Senate.
Much to the country’s human rights activists’ chagrin, however, Bill C-279 has yet to pass.
Statistics Canada does not have any information gathered that is specific to Canada’s trans population, but according to Trans Pride Canada, “The suicide rate in trans populations is staggering.”
A recent survey reports that 43 per cent of trans people surveyed have attempted suicide at one point in their lives, and “19 per cent of young trans people have attempted suicide… in the past 12 months.”
According to Trans Equality Canada “74 per cent of transgender youth (across Canada) reported experiencing verbal harassment in school, and 37 per cent reported experiencing physical violence. Transgender individuals in Ontario face unemployment over three times the national rate and many more are underemployed.”

Words from Bill C-279. The larger the word, the higher the frequency. (Image: Grace Kennedy/The Watch)

Simply existing as a trans-identified person challenges those who are holding onto traditional worldviews in which gender is perceived as something that is non-fluid and strictly binary.
In other words, simply by virtue of their presence, they challenge the indoctrinated notion that one’s gender expression must coincide with the sexual anatomy one is born with. This challenge can have devastating consequences for trans individuals; if perceived as a danger to society, they become hyper-vulnerable targets for hate crimes and violence.
“Trans lives are important, are in danger, and need protection from violence and discrimination,” said Pat McCutcheon, a trans King’s student involved with the King’s College PRIDE (People Recognizing Individual Diversity and Equality) society.
On Feb. 11, McCutcheon and the presidents of King’s PRIDE launched a letter-writing campaign in support of Bill C-279 that gathered more than 60 participants.
“While trans people in Nova Scotia do have certain protections under the law, as per the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, the same cannot be said about many of the other provinces and territories,” said Caitlin Meiklejohn, one of the presidents of King’s PRIDE.
If it were to pass, Bill C-279 would “add gender identity as protected grounds under the Canadian Human Rights Act and as a basis for hate crimes protection under the Criminal Code.”
Two weeks after the campaign, on Feb. 26, the bill was amended by Conservative Senator Don Plett, for reasons that have been cited by critics in and out of Parliament as “trans-phobic” and “discriminatory.”
Plett’s amendments targeted one of the most fundamental and contentious social issues trans people must deal with on a daily basis: access to gendered public facilities such as bathrooms and changing rooms.
“The amendment exempts sex-segregated federally owned public property such as prisons, transition houses, public washrooms, armed forces property, etc. So the bill would not apply to those spaces,” said Madison Foster, a trans woman on the board of directors at Dalhousie’s South House Sexual and Gender Resource Centre.
“It literally includes active discrimination in an anti-discrimination bill.”
Since the bill was first introduced in 2013, Plett has been against its terms. He has been outspoken with his rationale: it would be putting women and girls at risk if trans women were allowed access to facilities meant only for women whose gender identity matches their sex organs.
“King’s PRIDE, as an organization, condemns the amendment,” said Jessica Durling, who is a dedicated trans activist and the other president of King’s PRIDE. “We are saddened to see a bill that was supposed to save lives and help transgender people, become something to discriminate and segregate them in relation to crisis facilities, washrooms, changing rooms, correctional facilities and other gendered federal facilities.”
“Personally, I’m disgusted by Senator Donald Plett’s decision to compare us to pedophiles, just for how we’re born,”  Durling said. Based on his amendments, Plett is “prepared to let us be assaulted, raped and killed. I’m appalled by his edits to the bill, which promote the segregation of and violence against trans people.”
“There’s a lot of gross propaganda saying that trans women are predators and will abuse young girls in washrooms,” McCutcheon said. “(It’s as if) they believe trans women are actually men pretending to women in order to prey on female children in washrooms.”
If Bill C-279 passed, a trans person who was discriminated against on the basis of their gender identity would be able to file a federal human rights complaint.
In addition, having gender identity categories in the Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code would make it illegal to “publicly incite hatred based on gender identity,” and make it so those who are guilty of discriminating against trans people receive “additional time added to their sentence due to their discriminating on the grounds of gender identity,” according to McCutcheon.
Foster said that when it comes to trans rights in Nova Scotia, the province is “really far behind” and if Bill C-279 were to pass, it would at least be a good first step to get the ball rolling for province’s like Nova Scotia who are in need of more trans-friendly legislation.
Currently, in order for trans people to change their gender marker on their birth certificate in Nova Scotia, they must have had sexual reassignment surgery and present signatures from not one, but two doctors.
Foster calls these requirements “archaic,” and says the Senate is supposed to address the notion of waiving them entirely in the spring.

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

Leave a Reply