Happy Canada Day from the Canadian Senate! Unless you’re a trans person, or someone who faces discrimination because of your gender identity. In that case, have a disappointing Canada Day. With the Senate taking their summer recess bill C-279 will be left to die on the order paper without being passed into law. The bill passed third reading in the House of Commons on March 20, 2013 and received first reading in the Senate on the next day. Second reading and referral to committee took place on May 29, 2013. Two years and one month later it was still languishing in the committee stage waiting for amendments proposed by the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs to be voted on and their report received.(LEGISinfo 41st Parliament 2nd Session Bill C 279) It is important to note that any bill passed by the Commons and later amended in the Senate then has to go back to the Commons for the amendments to be voted on. We can dissect what happened to the bill the Senate in many ways, instead I will look forward and discuss where we go from here.From an organizing standpoint we have a bit of a breather, but not much. With a fall election expected it will be important to raise the issue of federal legislation to protect trans rights with candidates in ridings across the country. Factor this in when making decisions on who to support in the upcoming election. Remember that Prime Minister Harper voted against C-279.
In addition to talking to the candidates in your riding, also talk to friends and family about this legislation. Many people don’t realize that trans rights are not included in the Canadian Human Rights Act. The more who bring this up with candidates, and then with members of parliament after the election the more momentum we can build to have it passed quickly by the next parliament.
We should also be looking beyond the human rights legislation. Access to trans health care in this country is different in each province. Ability to change one’s name and gender on official documents is also not available in all provinces. Even without the federal legislation we can advocate and push for changes across the country. People in Newfoundland should not be required to travel to Toronto at their own expense in order to have access to transition related surgeries. We need more surgeons in Canada who are able to perform the various genital surgeries that trans people need so that one does not have to travel across the country or go abroad to have surgery.
There is also the issue of employment, or more accurately the lack thereof, especially for trans women. “Trans PULSE findings showed that while 71% of trans people have at least some college or university education, about half make $15,000 per year or less.”(We’ve Got Work to Do: Workplace Discrimination and Employment Challenges for Trans People in Ontario, 2011) Yes there have been changes to human rights law in a few provinces, discrimination still happens. Proving discrimination in hiring processes is difficult at the best of times. For trans people seeking employment there is usually no reason given for not hiring that would allow one to go to a human rights tribunal. If one is lucky enough to get an interview, they are then told, “we found someone who would be a better fit for our organization.” The only way for this to change is to educate employers and to have some successful human rights complaints take place.
Access to shelters and other social services is, to put it mildly, also problematic for trans people. Many shelters do not know what to do when a trans person comes through their door. If there are policies, staff often do not understand them, or do not follow them. I was told in 2011 by someone close to me that I should not disclose my trans status if I ever needed to use a shelter. Policies are only effective if they are implemented and procedures followed. Staff treating trans people as less than human is not acceptable. Being referred to as “it” or other much more derogatory terms by staff, either to a trans person’s face, or when discussing a trans person’s case among staff is not acceptable. Yet it happens. This is changing, slowly, and that is a positive sign. If you are dealing with a shelter, or other social service agency, and have the ability, it never hurts to ask if they have policies for working with trans people who come through the door. In these settings the trans person seeking services is usually not in a position to be able to advocate for themself. Therefore, those of us who can advocate must step up and do so.
All is not doom and gloom, though. Things are changing. Yes, it takes time. Yes it is, unfortunately, too slow for many. But there is change happening.
Happy Canada Day everyone, and may we be celebrating more successes than stagnations or failures this time next year. Let’s work together to make sure we have trans rights in the Canadian Human Rights Act before Canada celebrates its 150th birthday in 2017.