Canada's transgender people will have to wait at least another year for stronger legal protections after a Conservative-dominated Senate committee effectively killed a bill adding "gender identity" to both the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act, according to its sponsor.
The legal and constitutional affairs committee voted in favour of several amendments to Bill C-279 Wednesday that would need further approval from the House of Commons. The House is unlikely to debate the bill again before it breaks for summer and then dissolves for a federal election scheduled this fall, according to its author, Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca NDP MP Randall Garrison.
"It does look like the death of the bill," Mr. Garrison said from Ottawa Wednesday. "I can't understand why the Conservative leadership of the Senate would allow this small group of senators to derail the bill since the Senate twice voted, in principle, in favour of the bill."
Mr. Garrison said, on one level, the public debate generated by his bill has had a positive impact, noting six provinces – Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan – have adopted similar human-rights codes since he first introduced it in the House of Commons
The bill was passed by MPs on March 20, 2013, with the support of 18 Conservative MPs. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the majority of Conservatives voted against it, while the NDP, Liberal, Bloc Québécois and Green Party MPs who cast votes unanimously supported it. The bill moved to the Senate a day later, but has since languished thanks largely to summer recess and Mr. Harper's prorogation of Parliament.
Conservatives have been divided on whether to add gender as a basis for hate crime protection. 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.
Mr. Garrison said he would likely vote against the amended bill if it miraculously gets back into the House before the summer break, particularly because of an amendment introduced by Conservative Senator Don Plett that would bar transgender people from entering single-sex washrooms.
In committee, Mr. Plett said the amendment would protect the "most vulnerable women" by barring "biological males" from entering female facilities like bathrooms, change rooms, prisons and crisis centres – where seeing a man could be traumatic.
Senator Grant Mitchell objected to Mr. Plett's argument, saying that it would stigmatize law-abiding transgender people and hold them accountable for the "very, very long shot" that someone posing as another gender would gain entry to a single-sex facility to prey on someone else.
Mr. Garrison said Plett's amendment "is contradictory to the whole purpose of the bill and it illustrates the transphobia that the bill is designed to fight."
Mr. Plett's office said he was not available for comment after the committee adjourned.
Laura Track, staff counsel with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said the further delay to C-279 "sends a message to trans communities in Canada that their equality, their dignity and their right to protection from discrimination matter less than the rights of non-transgender Canadians."
The protections afforded by the bill are urgently needed, given the high rate of stigma, harassment, discrimination and violence many transgender Canadians still face, she added.
The Senate could still vote down the committee's amendments and pass it into law, but that is unlikely and there is no timetable for its third reading, according to Mr. Garrison.
"I'll have to get re-elected to reintroduce it again," Mr. Garrison said. "This will pass, this will be law in Canada."