1st Session, 42nd Parliament,
Volume 150, Issue 80
Thursday, December 1, 2016
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker
Canadian Human Rights Act
Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate Continued
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Mitchell, seconded by the Honourable Senator Fraser, for the second reading of Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, and to express my unwavering support, as I have done every time this issue has come before the Senate.
The bill amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.
The enactment also amends the Criminal Code to extend the protection against hate propaganda set out in that Act to any section of the public that is distinguished by gender identity or expression and to clearly set out that evidence that an offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on gender identity or expression constitutes an aggravating circumstance that a court must take into consideration when it imposes a sentence.
Transgender people currently suffer from discrimination in many areas of their lives. For example, they suffer from much higher rates of unemployment, they are often refused housing on the basis of their gender identity, and they have disproportionate difficulty accessing necessary health and social services. Combined, these factors lead to higher levels of poverty among transgender people.
Rupert Raj, a psychiatrist at the Sherbourne Health Centre, further describes the discrimination transgender people face. He states that 85 to 90 per cent of trans people are homeless, unemployed or underemployed. Despite this, some shelters will not even accept them until they have sex assignment surgery. Bill C-16’s purpose is to provide transgender Canadians with the dignity they deserve.
When transgender people cannot enjoy the right of employment, shelter and the right to freedom of expression, they are being denied their human dignity. As senators, we have been appointed to the Senate of Canada to protect the rights of Canadians, including minorities.
I was pleased that the Leader of the Opposition reminded us of the responsibility of the Senate when he spoke this afternoon about how we protect the rights of minorities.
Through our work we have protected racial minorities, ethnic minorities and religious minorities.
Today, we have a great opportunity to protect Canada’s transgender community, too. This is an opportunity to end their long wait for the protection of their human dignity.
Honourable senators, the provinces are well ahead of the federal government in addressing this discrimination faced by transgender people.
For example, my province of British Columbia passed the Gender Identity and Expression Human Rights Recognition Act, which states:
This Bill supports the ongoing evolution of the term sex in Human Rights legislation by formally recognizing that the term is intended to include protection for Gender Identity and Gender Expression.
This Bill affirms the rights of persons who are transsexual, transgender, intersex, genderqueer, non-binary and other groups who routinely suffer discrimination based on the expression of their gender or the gender identity they experience.
The Ontario Human Rights Code also addresses discrimination based on gender identity and expression. Under the code, all persons are protected from discrimination and harassment based on their gender identity and expression in employment, housing, services, contracts, and membership in unions, trade, or professional associations.
It is time for this recognition of transgender rights to be represented at the federal level. When transgender people are able to express their identity, they are able to live far more fulfilling lives than ever before.
Honourable senators, I remember receiving a letter from Nina, an Air Force reservist, who told me about her experience coming out to her family and colleagues. She told me this:
Senator Jaffer, I’m writing to tell you my story as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, with 35 years’ service. As far back as I can remember, I dreamed about what it would be like if I was a girl. As a small, skinny kid, I was frequently bullied. I frequently wore, secretly, my sister and mother’s clothes. Occasionally, my parents caught me. I am so lucky my parents never punished me as they thought I would grow out of it. While still in high school, I joined the Canadian Forces in the Air Reserves. During my military career, I have been an aircraft technician for more than 30 years. On the night that Saddam Hussein fired the scud missile that landed a few miles north of the Doha airport, I was changing a fuel quantity probe of a CF-18 in the dark with a flashlight, while the fuel ran out over the wing. During my 35 years of service to Canada, I had many experiences, both good and bad. I have served my country, Canada, faithfully. I never turned my back when the Canadian Forces needed me and was always the first to volunteer. I continued to wear female clothing every chance I could. Living in barracks was very hard, keeping my stash of clothes hidden. In 2009, at age 47, feeling safe, I came out to my family and the Canadian Forces as transgender. I have lived full time since August 2009. The Canadian Forces was supportive and worked to help me transition in the workplace. Having no more need to be secretive, I can finally be who I always was. I have a much happier life.
Honourable senators, patriots like Nina and other members of the transgender community should be free to express themselves without fearing discrimination.
I am particularly concerned with the discrimination faced by transgender children, who may be exploring their gender and wondering if they will ever be able to freely express their identity. These children need protection as they discover their true gender, and will continue to face alarming rates of discrimination if this bill does not pass.
According to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, 90 per cent of transgender youth currently hear transphobic comments in their schools; 25 per cent are physically harassed; and 78 per cent report feeling unsafe at school and have missed school days as a result.
Honourable senators, I want to share with you a story that was told to me by Ryan Dyck about a six-year-old transgender child who knew from a very early age that he was not a girl, but rather a boy. This child presents himself as a boy at school and dresses as a boy. However, his school will not provide him with a safe place to use the washroom. His mother is therefore forced to leave work to go and get her child at recess and at lunch hour to take him to the washroom at a gas station across from the school.
Honourable senators, we cannot allow these children to feel unsafe and be denied of their most basic needs.
As we discuss this bill, there has been much discussion of the washroom argument. This has been hurtful to trans people, as it paints them as dangerous, when the truth is that they actually deal with fear of violence when using public washrooms.
A poet from Vancouver, Ivan E. Coyote wrote a poem entitled The Facilities after talking with a young trans girl about her challenges using public washrooms. I believe it illustrates their challenges well. He writes:
I can hold my pee for hours. Nearly all day. It’s a skill I developed out of necessity, after years of navigating public washrooms. I hold it for as long as I can, until I can get myself to the theatre or the green room or my hotel room, or home. Using a public washroom is a very last resort for me. I try to use the wheelchair-accessible, gender-neutral facilities whenever possible, always after a thorough search of the area to make sure no one in an actual wheelchair or with mobility issues is en route. I always hold my breath a little on the way out though, hoping there isn’t an angry person leaning on crutches waiting there when I exit. Sometimes I rehearse a little speech as I pee quickly and wash my hands, just to be prepared. I would say something like, I apologize for inconveniencing you by using the washroom that is accessible to disabled people, but we live in a world that is not able to make room enough for trans people to pee in safety, and after many years of tribulation in women’s washrooms, I have taken to using the only place provided for people of all genders.
Honourable senators, when Bill C-279 was before this chamber, I received a letter from the mother of a transgender girl that further emphasizes this reality. She told me:
The bathroom amendment to Bill C-279 [has] the trans community, including the network of parents with trans children, absolutely terrified that our children will become the victims, having to go to the bathroom in the room reserved for the gender to which they do not belong.
Honourable Senators, the truth is that trans people simply wish to use the facilities that match their gender. In fact, denying this right to trans people only places them at risk of violence and further discrimination.
Honourable senators, Bill C-16 recognizes the distinct challenges and realities that transgender people face in Canada every day. By accounting for the experiences of trans people in the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act, Bill C-16 is an expression of cherished Canadian values: equality of opportunity and equal protection under the law.
Honourable Senators, I would like to conclude by sharing the experience of Professor Buechner, an Associate Professor of Music from the University of British Columbia. Professor Buechner graduated from the Juilliard School of Music in 1984 as a piano soloist. Senator Mitchell referred to her the other day. In 1986, she won the top American prize of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, and her accomplishments were recognized by Ronald Reagan. Throughout her career, Professor Buechner has played for the likes of former President Bill Clinton and former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and many of the world’s leading orchestras.
At the age of 37, after a lifetime of questioning, Professor Buechner was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Professor Buechner subsequently transitioned to her “core” gender, which is female.
Although her musical talent had not changed, Professor Buechner’s world suddenly came crashing down around her. Prior to her gender transition, Professor Buechner used to perform for audiences worldwide at least 50 times a year. After her physical transition, she was only invited two or three times a year. Professor Buechner was also fired from her job and subject to frequent verbal and physical harassment. She told our committee, and I quote:
For transgendered folks, identity issues are matters of life and death and of living openly, honestly and freely without fear of prejudice, malice, or worse, violence. We do not ask for or deserve extra rights. We need the same rights as our Canadian brothers and sisters of all races, creeds, denominations and identity.
Honourable senators, I rise today to ask you to support Bill C- 16 and have this bill passed before Christmas. I ask you this because the last time this bill was rejected by this house or not dealt with as fast as it should, I cannot tell you how disappointed I saw the transgender community. It broke my heart.
Senators, it would be a wonderful gift to give to that community, to say we senators care, and we want to bring you in line with all other communities.
Honourable senators I have given a lot of thought to the next thing I’m going to say. I really do not want to say it, but I feel compelled to share something with you, the toilet question. I do this today in honour of Charlie.
Charlie came to Parliament Hill, and she referred to the flag on the Hill. She is a little girl, 12 years old, who came to our committee and said, “Make me equal to all children.”
Honourable senators, I share this story with you. My siblings don’t know about this; only my parents and I know. When I was a four-year-old girl, my parents sent me to a neighbourhood school. It was at a time when my country of birth, Uganda, was in a British protectorate. Our neighbours were all White.
I insisted, and begged my parents to send me to a school with my friends, as these friends played at my home every day. They were my friends. I didn’t see them as White. They were my friends.
I remember being sent home after the third day at school. I remember my father came to the school, holding my hand. I never knew why my father was so angry. I had never seen my father like that. When he took me out of that school, I thought I had done something. I was devastated. My father and mother did not have the heart to tell me why I was asked to leave that school.
For a long time, when I went to other schools and my friends were uninvited to my home by my parents, I did not understand why my friends were not allowed to come to my home, and why I could not go to my neighbourhood school.
When I got older, and my dad was a prominent politician in the government, the principal came to our home to ask for a favour. When my dad showed him the door, he said, “You destroyed my daughter’s self-esteem.” The principal said, “Mr. Jaffer, you must understand that the parents didn’t want your daughter to use their children’s toilet for security reasons, as you know that she would be carrying some diseases.”
Honourable senators, when we make the toilet argument, and when we tell our children these things, we are destroying our children. I will never be the same. I will always worry about who I am. It destroyed my psyche.
I share this with you with great reluctance because I don’t want to open old wounds. I am an equal here now and very much loved. I want you to understand that the longer we sit here and the longer we debate the toilet — may I have five minutes?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Jaffer: The longer we debate this issue, the longer our precious Canadian children are getting hurt in schools. I ask you humbly, don’t let them get hurt.
I did not have any diseases. To this day, I don’t have a disease, but for the rest of my life, I carry a disease that I was not as good as my friends. Don’t do that to other children that we love. Let us pass this legislation. The time has arrived.
I opened my soul to you because of little Charlie who came to the Hill. I owe it to her. I tell you, the longer we do not pass this bill, we cause great disservice to our little Canadian children.
I ask you to pass this bill, and then work with us so that once we have passed the bill, we will work with Canadians to change attitudes. Transgender people in Canada are also our people.
Hon. Donald Neil Plett: Will Senator Jaffer take a question?
Senator Jaffer, I listened very seriously to your arguments, and I’m not about to debate any of them here today. The time will come for me to make my speech.
I am a little perplexed that you would want us to pass a bill without debate, which you kind of suggested, but we’ll leave that aside for now.
I think all legislation needs thorough debate. I have always supported legislation going to committee. At some point I will support this legislation going to committee, by all means, whether it be in the next few days or weeks.
My question to you is this: I have received, on this particular bill, dozens of e-mails, phone calls and letters from transgender people who are not supporting this bill; from feminists who are not supporting this bill, feminists who are saying they have worked their whole lives in favour of the feminist situation now biological men are saying they are becoming that.
The transgender community that believes there are only two genders, their issue is they want to be the other gender. Yet, 70- plus genders will be included in this bill.
This bill compels speech. It doesn’t just work against freedom of speech. It actually compels certain speech.
What do you say to the transgender community that says there should only be two genders?
An Hon. Senator: There are.
Senator Plett: No, there are not.
My question is to Senator Jaffer. There should only be two genders. They just simply want to be the other gender.
Senator Jaffer: Thank you for your question. I know how hard you also work on this issue, and I honour that.
Senator, I would be the last person who would say not to debate. I’m not saying do not debate. Let’s debate, but as we do, as on many bills, we work hard on it. Let’s make this a bill we pass before Christmas. That’s all I’m asking.
Senator, you speak about getting a lot of letters. I have received them, and every senator here has as well. Trust me, I have gotten many letters. I truly believe that if you’re a leader or a politician in this place, I genuinely believe you have a responsibility to make every Canadian equal.
I’ll give you my experience. When we were having the civil marriage debate — may I have two minutes?
The Hon. the Speaker: Two minutes, colleagues?
Senator Plett: To answer the question, yes.
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Jaffer: When we were having the civil-marriage debate in this house, I received, as a Muslim woman, 10,000 letters from people telling me that I should not support that bill. I supported it because I felt, as a politician, it was my duty.
To this day, there are some mosques that I’m not welcome to. But I believe that if there is a Canadian that is asking us not to let this discrimination continue, I, as a politician, have to hear that plea.
(On motion of Senator Martin, debate adjourned.)