By Remi Watts
The plethora of possibilities that comprise gender identity and gender expression — and the recognition and acceptance of sensitivities of such a spectrum — is critical in shaping Canada as a progressive, positive and nurturing nation. In accord with such notions, it is intuitive that Canadians with alternative or non-traditional gender expressions or identities — those different from “normal” views, such as transgenders or transsexuals — should certainly be recognized and protected all the same. Bill C-389 is an attempt to do just that. Introduced to the Canadian House of Commons by Burnaby NDP MP Bill Siksay, Bill C-389 is an attempt to extend an arm of support and compassion to transgender and transsexual peoples by legally recognizing their expression of gender and gender identity. Although the bill is not expected to pass the Senate, a narrow vote of 143 to 135 got this private member’s bill through the House, scoring a surprising and significant moral victory for advocates of transgender and transsexual rights.
Opposed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Bill C-389 would effectively amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to protect the rights of transgender/transsexual citizens, prohibiting discrimination based on “gender identity” or “gender expression.” This would be a much-needed progressive step forward for our country. As one would expect, the opposition to the bill has been fierce. Detractors, which include large portions of the Conservative Party (notable exceptions being House Leader John Baird, Foreign Minister Lawrence Canon and Heritage Minister James Moore), the Conservative Senate, several Liberal Party members and the Institute for Canadian Values headed by the windbag Charles McVety, fail to see the bill’s necessity. There is no denying the difficulty associated with being a member of the transgender/transsexual community and detractors to the bill often do admit the point. The problem is that their partisan games and unyielding dogmatism have blinded them from seeing the needed priority towards human rights that the bill addresses.
As Albertatrans.org remarked regarding the necessity for the bill, “Without anti-discrimination protections, transgender and transsexual Canadians face economic marginalization, lack of access to services, and even violence simply for being trans.”
The fears held by critics of Bill C-389 coalesce in the notion that the bill somehow enables or legally protects child-predators, voyeurism, or any other form of dangerous perversion. Charles McVety of the Institute for Canadian Values, the loudest and most inane of voices speaking out against the bill, stated that “Bill C-389 is a danger to our children . . . any male at any time will be permitted in girls bathrooms . . . if I then try to stop such a man from showering with my little girl at the local pool I could be in breach of the Criminal Code of Canada and could face imprisonment.” Following a similar line, other critics have dubbed Bill C-389 the “bathroom bill.” These criticisms manage only to echo the panicked rhetoric once used against gays and lesbians and show the misguided spirit of the critics. In reality, starting in the ’50s and ’60s, transsexuals began using washrooms according to their gender identity without trouble. Also, the bill does not legalize or make acceptable any unethical behavior in washrooms. Predatory action remains predatory action. Furthermore, the assumption that the transgender and transsexual community is more predisposed to perverse predatory behavior reflects the insensitive and uninformed sorts of biases, as held by its critics, which necessitates the bill.
Perhaps the deepest problem is not the political game being played around an issue of human rights, which is troublesome enough, but rather that the bill’s critics have failed to recognize the spectrum that is gender, seeing only the antiquated and diluted male-female gender polarization.
As the bill approaches the Upper House for voting, despite forecasts of doom regarding its passing and the relentless spewing of homophobic fear-mongering-based rhetoric, we can be content that at minimum Bill C-389 passed the House of Commons. That transgenders and transsexuals have won one moral battle signifies that Canada as a whole is perhaps almost prepared to take the superior step forward in gender rights.