Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has introduced new legislation which aims to extend human rights protection to transgender Canadians. The announcement was made on May 17, 2016 – the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia – and marks a major step forward in the fight to protect the human rights of transgender people across the country.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tabled Bill C-16 which would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the hate crime provisions in the Criminal Code include “gender identity” and “gender expression” as prohibited grounds of discrimination. The legislation would amend the Code such that if a crime is motivated by hate based on gender identity, a judge must consider that as an aggravating factor in sentencing.
At a press conference, Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould said, “No one should be refused a job, disadvantaged in the workplace, be unable to access services or be the target of harassment and violence because of their gender identity or gender expression.”
But the Bill must still pass through the House of Commons and the Senate before it becomes law. A similar transgender rights bill brought by the NDP was previously passed by the House of Commons during the last session of parliament, but it never made it past the Senate. This is the seventh time such a bill has been introduced in the House of Commons, but the first time it has been introduced by the current government.
Although previous cases of transgender rights discrimination were heard by federal Human Rights tribunals and courts, they did so on the basis of provisions prohibiting discrimination based on sex.
Of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories, eight, including Ontario, already have provisions protecting transgender people under their human rights laws, but only five cover both gender identity and gender expression.
Although it is less controversial in Canada, transgender rights have recently become the subject of heated debate in the United States after North Carolina passed a law that prohibits people from using public washrooms that do not correspond to the gender on their birth certificates.
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