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Politics Ottawa hopes gender-identity bill will ‘lead by example’

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould met last week with members of Canada’s transgender community to start preparing for the new legal landscape.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal government is already working with the transgender community to get ready for the vast social changes that will come with the protection of gender identity and expression in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.

Sources said Ottawa will use a broad approach in the bill, and will not include definitions of the terms, which would narrow the scope of the legislative change.

"There will be no restrictions. It will be up to the courts to put some meat on the bone," a federal official said on background of the bill, which is to be tabled on Tuesday.

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In the short bill, the government will add "gender identity" and "gender expression" alongside characteristics such as race, religion, age and sexual orientation for protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.

That will go further than the Liberals promised in last year's election campaign, when they said they would address the issue of "gender identity," the federal official said.

The use of "gender expression" in the legislation will likely be seen as a victory for transgender Canadians.

"It isn't the gender identity that we have invisibly between our ears that is going to cause us any issues. It is how we express that gender identity that will get reactions from people," said Amanda Ryan, who is the outreach committee chair at Gender Mosaic in Ottawa.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould met last week with members of Canada's transgender community to start preparing for the new legal landscape.

The legislation is expected to affect matters such as identification documents, including passports in which Canadians are asked to identify their gender.

In addition, the legislation will have an impact on employment practices in the federal bureaucracy and industries that are federally regulated.

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The legislation will apply to areas of federal jurisdiction only, but the Liberals are hoping provincial governments will follow suit.

"We hope to lead by example," the government official said.

NDP MP Randall Garrison tried in recent years to make similar legislative changes through a private member's bill, but the Conservative majority in the Senate thwarted his efforts.

Ms. Ryan, who was part of last week's meeting with Ms. Wilson-Raybould, said the legal changes stand to affect areas such as employment, health and education.

"The attitude at the meeting [with Ms. Wilson-Raybould] was, 'How do we implement this bill and make it work,' which was really encouraging. Up to now, the best that we could have hoped for was to pass the bill," she said. "Beyond that, we hadn't really given any thought to implementation."

On Monday afternoon, Mr. Trudeau received the Laurent McCutcheon Award to honour his work against homophobia and transphobia.

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Presented by Fondation Émergence, the prize is intended "to highlight the unparalleled commitment made by Mr. Trudeau to demystify the realities of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals for the general public across Quebec and Canada," the group said in a news release.

In his speech, Mr. Trudeau reiterated positions that have won him a following in the LGBT community, including support for allowing sexually active gay men to give blood, and vowing to participate in future gay pride parades. Mr. Trudeau also confirmed the coming legislation will "ensure the full protection of transgender people."

"We must carry on the legacy of those who fought for justice by being bold and ambitious in our actions, and we must work diligently to close the gap between our principles and our reality," Mr. Trudeau said.

Mr. Trudeau referred to an assault on two men recently in Montreal.

"Being in love is not a crime, not in the eyes of a great majority of Canadians, of our government or, especially, of the law," he said.

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