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Protesters march at a rally in Toronto last February to bring attention to Bill C-279 which would protect transgender Canadians against discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act. (JENNIFER ROBERTS For The Globe and Mail)
Protesters march at a rally in Toronto last February to bring attention to Bill C-279 which would protect transgender Canadians against discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act. (JENNIFER ROBERTS For The Globe and Mail)

Transgender bill languishes in Senate after 20 months Add to ...

A transgender rights bill opposed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper has met yet another delay in the Conservative-dominated Senate, despite being passed by the House of Commons more than 20 months ago.

Bill C-279, which would strengthen legal protections for the trans community, has been bumped aside by government bills at the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee. Conservative senator and committee chair Bob Runciman said in an e-mail this week the committee will now likely resume its review of C-279 in February.

Randall Garrison, the NDP MP who tabled the bill, says he is “fed up” with the Senate for delaying a bill that MPs passed. The bill will fail if it is not passed by next year’s election. “I believe their intention is to kill the bill by delay,” Mr. Garrison told The Globe and Mail.

C-279 would add gender identity as a prohibited ground for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and would also add it to the list of distinguishing characteristics of “identifiable groups” protected by hate speech provisions in the Criminal Code.

The bill was passed by MPs on March 20, 2013, with the support of 18 Conservative MPs. Mr. Harper and the majority of Conservatives voted against it, while the NDP, Liberal, Bloc Québécois and Green Party MPs who cast votes unanimously supported the bill.

It moved to the Senate a day later, passing the human rights committee before returning for third reading and a final vote – within grasp of becoming law – but was delayed again when the Senate adjourned for summer in June, 2013.

Mr. Harper then prorogued Parliament, forcing C-279 to restart its Senate path from square one last October. The bill sat idle for eight months before going to second reading, and was referred to its current committee, the second one it has gone to, in June.

That committee has since held two meetings on C-279, but gives priority to government bills. The Senate is due to sit for another three weeks before the holiday break. Mr. Runciman said time is running out this year, and it now “looks like” it will be February before the committee returns to C-279 to give it “appropriate consideration.”

It’s not just Mr. Garrison questioning the bill’s stalled progress.

“It’s not a long bill, it’s not a complicated bill, it’s been before them before, it’s time that it gets passed and it’s disappointing,” said Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s equality program.

The trans community is often targeted with violence and discrimination, said Ryan Dyck, director of research, policy and development at Egale Canada, an organization that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) rights. Currently, trans people make human-rights claims under different categories, such as sex or disability, which leaves their protections unclear, he said. “There’s an uncertainty for trans people across this country whether they are or are not covered by human-rights legislation,” he said.

Meanwhile, the same Senate committee this week passed Bill C-13, which it gave precedence over C-279. Bill C-13 adds hate speech protection to the Criminal Code under five new categories – national origin, age, sex, mental disability or physical disability – but not gender, which the Conservatives blocked from being added to C-13.

If C-13 becomes law before C-279, the latter will need to be changed because both seek to amend the same part of the Criminal Code. Those technical amendments would kick C-179 back to the House of Commons, Mr. Garrison said.

In other words, by passing C-13 first, the Senate committee set the stage for more delays on C-279. Conservative Senator Don Plett has also said he is considering proposing amendments, which would further delay it.

“Either way, it’s going to have to come back to the House, it looks like,” Mr. Garrison said of his bill, 20 months after it was sent to the Senate. “…That’s a very long time, when the will of the House was very clear, for the unelected Senate to hold it up.”

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