A move in Parliament's justice committee to give transgender people extra protection under the Criminal Code failed after a Tory MP, who had supported transgender rights in the past, abruptly substituted himself off the committee, apparently to watch the funeral for the three Mounties slain in Moncton.
The NDP amendment would have added "gender identity" to the list of identifiable groups protected by Canada's hate-speech law within the Criminal Code. The cyberbullying bill, C-13, is already adding five groups to this section, including anyone distinguished by national origin, age, sex, mental disability or physical disability.
A similar bill, C-279, has already proposed protecting gender identity in the same way and passed the House of Commons, though it has been stalled in the Senate for more than a year. Both C-279 and Tuesday's amendment to C-13 were tabled by NDP MP Randall Garrison.
However, shortly before the amendment was to be debated by the Conservative-dominated committee, David Wilks – one of only 18 Tory MPs who had supported C-279 in its final House of Commons vote 15 months ago – substituted himself off the committee.
Fellow Tory MP Bev Shipley, who voted against C-279, replaced Mr. Wilks and voted against Mr. Garrison's similar C-13 amendment. It was defeated 5-4, with all five Conservatives voting against. Had Mr. Wilks stayed and voted in the same way he had on C-279, the amendment would have passed.
Mr. Wilks's office didn't reply to a request for comment, and the lead Tory MP on the committee, Bob Dechert, refused any comment to reporters as he left the committee room. But the Prime Minister's Office said Mr. Wilks, an ex-Mountie, left the committee around 12:45 p.m. local time to watch the broadcast of the funeral for slain Moncton RCMP officers.
"Our office was not involved in his decision. I understand that as a former police officer he instead chose to watch the service for the three slain Mounties in Moncton," PMO spokesman Jason MacDonald said.
A spokeswoman for Conservative Whip John Duncan said MPs routinely swap on committees. "I don't think there is anything more to it than that," spokeswoman Laura Smith said.
Mr. Shipley said he did not know why Mr. Wilks left. "I subbed just to help vote," Mr. Shipley said. "I guess from time to time we all have something that comes up. I don't know, I never asked him."
The other MPs who voted with the amendment were Patrick Brown, Kyle Seeback, Gerald Keddy and Mr. Dechert, who is parliamentary secretary to the Justice Minister. Of those, Mr. Keddy also supported Bill C-279 but voted against the C-13 amendment. His office also declined comment.
Mr. Dechert told the committee that voting for the amendment would interfere with consideration of C-279 in the Senate, but Mr. Garrison said Mr. Wilks's substitution and C-279's slow Senate progress both indicate the government is blocking his efforts.
"I'm very concerned with that I saw today, where I've always been told the PMO and the Conservative Party is neutral on this [and allowing MPs to vote freely]. And they were not today. And if they're not neutral today, they won't be neutral in the Senate," Mr. Garrison said.
Currently, Mr. Garrison said transgender discrimination cases are forced to argue discrimination on other grounds. "It's not a given that it would always succeed," he said.
Bill C-13 likely won't become law before MPs break for the summer. The bill's cyberbullying provisions are widely supported, but it also hands police several new surveillance powers that privacy critics and watchdogs – such as Canada's Privacy Commissioner – say should be abandoned or given more detailed consideration.