Mr. Randall Garrison (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, NDP):
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thanks to the committee.
I'm very pleased to be here today to launch the discussion on Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression).
I'm very happy that two of the witnesses we'll have today—Sara Davis Buechner and Hershel Russell—are transgendered Canadians, and you will be able to hear testimony from them based on their lived experience and not on what others such as I have to say about it. I'm disappointed that the vagaries of committee workload and scheduling did not allow time for all those who wanted to do so to appear before the committee.
I am very happy today, because it's an important day symbolically for these committee sessions to begin. Today is the Trans Day of Remembrance, and as you may have recognized, in the House I made a statement today calling attention to the fact that around the world over the last year, 265 trans people were murdered. In some countries, such as Brazil and Mexico, the murder of trans people has reached epidemic proportions. In the last year, 126 trans people were killed in Brazil and 48 in Mexico.
Extreme violence against trans people unfortunately also occurs in countries with otherwise progressive reputations, including Argentina and Canada. The list of those murdered last year includes Perla Maron, a 52-year-old transgendered police officer in San Juan, Argentina; and January Marie Lapuz, a young South Asian transgendered woman, very active in the LGBT community in British Columbia, including through conducting anti-homophobia workshops in the schools. So Canada is not immune to the violence that is often directed at transgendered people.
As you know, Bill C-279 would do two things. It would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity—and, as it was originally drafted, gender expression—as prohibited grounds for discrimination. It would also amend the Criminal Code to include these two factors as distinguishing characteristics protected under section 318 as aggravating circumstances to be taken into consideration at the time of sentencing. It's a fairly simple bill in the changes that it proposes to make.
Several people have asked me about whether this is revolutionary or evolutionary change. The way I have always viewed this question is that we have a gap in our human rights legislation whereby transgendered Canadians do not enjoy the same protection of their rights as other Canadians. By explicitly adding these to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the hate crimes section of the Criminal Code, we fill that gap, so that when people need to use the legal system to protect their rights, they don't have to argue that their situation is similar to someone else's in order to receive that protection.
It also does another important thing. I think it makes a statement, if we pass this, from the House of Commons saying that, as is the case with other forms of discrimination, Canada does not tolerate discrimination against transgendered Canadians.
I want to take this opportunity to reiterate that the rights and protections that transgendered, transsexual, and gender-variant people are asking for are not special rights. They are simply the same human rights as those enshrined in the Canadian Human Rights Act for all other Canadians. These rights and protections are needed to ensure that trans Canadians can live out their lives as anyone else would do and with the full sense of safety that other Canadians have.
These same types of protections are being implemented in other places in Canada and around the world. Probably the first that I know of in Canada was in 2002 in the Northwest Territories, where these protections were entrenched in the human rights act and so have been in place for more than 10 years. The City of Vancouver has a harassment-free workplace policy that includes gender identity and gender expression. The City of Ottawa and the City of Toronto have similar polices, which protect people from discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. More recently, both Ontario and Manitoba have amended their human rights codes to add this protection explicitly, and just this morning legislation to amend the Nova Scotia human rights code was introduced in the legislature of Nova Scotia to add gender identity and gender expression to the Nova Scotia human rights code.
These are rights and protections that the Canadian Human Rights Act review panel recommended in its review of the Canadian Human Rights Act. So for those who say, “Why is this necessary, aren't things already covered?”, when the experts reviewed the human rights act, they felt it was necessary to fill this gap by adding these protections specifically to the Canadian Human Rights Act.
A final point I'll make in terms of legal obligations and documents is that Canada is a signatory to the UN Statement on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. That declaration recognizes the need for explicit protections for transgendered people all around the world.
The UN High Commission report recommends that a whole number of actions be taken by member states. I won't run through all of those, but two things are important out of that list. One is that there be comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that includes discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. The other is that governments who are signatories facilitate legal recognition of the preferred gender of transgendered persons and establish simple arrangements to permit relevant identity documents to be reissued reflecting that gender and name, in order not to infringe the rights of transgendered individuals.
Let me turn to what I have heard from MPs who have concerns about my bill. I had a number of discussions before second reading with people in all parties. The concerns fell roughly into three categories.
The first was that these protections are not needed. I want to deal with that in the general sense of the way transgendered Canadians experience their lives on a daily basis. It is clear that there is a great deal of discrimination against trans individuals. They are more likely to be victims of hate crimes. Those hate crimes are twice as likely to be violent hate crimes as those directed against other groups.
The second argument I heard from others was that these rights are already protected. I addressed that briefly in reference to the Canadian Human Rights Act review panel, which said they were not. Other minority groups have protections that are listed specifically in the Canadian Human Rights Act; therefore, they have visibility as identifiable groups to the public. When you go through that list of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted, it makes a declaration to Canadians about the protections that are afforded to these groups. Transgendered people are clearly missing from this list.
I should take a moment to clarify that sexual orientation is not a blanket term that offers protection to transgendered people. In fact many, some would argue most, transgendered people do not identify on the basis of sexual orientation. When specifically asked, somewhere between 30% to 40% of trans individuals identify themselves as straight, when given the choice; they do not see themselves as gay, but simply as people who were born in a body that does not match their gender identity.
The third objection or concern that was raised was that the bill as drafted was too broad and lacked definition and that it was thus difficult for people to know what was included in the bill. We will be discussing amendments in detail on Thursday to deal with these concerns. I have asked that they be forwarded to the committee. I believe you will be receiving them today through Madame Boivin's office, as I am not a member of the committee. On the basis of promising to have a discussion of those amendments, I received sufficient support for the bill at second reading to get the bill here today.
The simplest amendment will be to remove the term “gender expression”. That answers the concerns of many, in particular on the Conservative side, who said that while gender identity is easier to define, gender expression is a more difficult term to define and for many in the public to understand.
A second amendment will deal with adding a definition of gender identity. We will deal with that very specific proposal on Thursday.
The third has to do with French-language use of terms. As the bill was drafted by the House of Commons drafters, we use the term identité sexuelle. We have heard very strongly from the transgendered community, and also from the legal community in Montreal, that internationally and in Quebec the use has shifted to identité de genre, and that there is a different scope of those two terms in French. Now the preferred term is identité de genre.
It's important to note that gender identity is something that everyone has, not just gay or transgendered people, so it's a broad protection that we're adding here. The difference for transgendered people is that they have a gender identity that is not congruent with their physiological anatomy at birth and that a great deal of discrimination and violence results from that mismatch, because of other people's attitudes. So what we're trying to do here, as well as provide the legal protection, is to change attitudes, to accept that transgendered Canadians are fully part of the community and have every right to be.
In the interests of time I'm going to skip through some of the things I was going to say and maybe just go to some concluding remarks, because I would rather have the committee hear from the transgendered individuals.
I would in conclusion reiterate that, in my view, the rights we're talking about here are basic human rights, not special human rights, and that all we're asking here is to fill a gap. We're not trying to cause a revolution in Canadian human rights law, but simply to fix something that is missing.
I would say that while working on this bill I've learned a great deal myself about the life experience of transgendered people. You will find them everywhere in our society, as you would expect. They are our brothers, our sisters, our children, our parents, our friends, our colleagues, and our neighbours, and they deserve the same rights and protections as all other Canadians.
I look forward to answering any questions you may have. I'll conclude there. Thank you very much.
Dr. Sara Davis Buechner (Professor of Music, University of British Columbia, As an Individual):
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I am quite honoured and humbled to speak to you today. I thank you all for your time and your kind consideration.
My name is Sara Davis Buechner. I am a classical concert pianist. Since 2003 I have been a professor of music at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I travel a lot, especially around North America and Asia, performing concerts when I am not in Vancouver teaching a class of about 15 aspiring pianists of world-class calibre.
After graduating from the Juilliard School in 1984, I gave a very successful debut in New York. In 1986 I was the top American prize winner of the international Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow. I received a lovely letter from President Ronald Reagan at that time. Some years later, I also played at the White House for President and Mrs. Clinton. I have a very nice photo of the two of them congratulating me on that.
At the age of 37, after a lifetime of questioning and fear, I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and I transitioned to my correct gender, which is female. My pianistic skills did not change one bit, but suddenly my concert schedule went from about 50 appearances per year to two or three, and the conservatory in New York where I was a popular teacher decided my skills were no longer needed.
With limited means of supporting myself, I took a job teaching small children at an upstate private school for about $600 a month. I counted myself lucky, as most of the transgender friends I knew were completely unemployed. Some of them were homeless.
I learned to endure frequent verbal and occasional physical harassment as part of the price of that integrity, even in a city of such a cosmopolitan nature. One evening I was the victim of an attempted date rape at the hands of a man who assumed, since I was transgendered, I must be a sex worker. I didn't bother to report that to the police, because I didn't want to be harassed by them either. I believe they would have assumed I was a trannie sex worker and deserved everything I got.
In an effort to find meaningful employment, I applied to about 30 American colleges and universities with music openings. I received no answer from most of them, and rejections from the others. One professor from Rutgers university asked a colleague of mine if it was safe to leave me alone in a room with undergraduates.
But when I was called for an interview for the open piano position at UBC in Vancouver, I was pleasingly astonished to find that their music department was interested about two things only: one, my musical ability; and two, my teaching ability.
When I did get the job in a competitive audition, I was overcome by emotion on two levels. One, I would be able to pay my bills for the first time in many years. And two, I realized that Canada was far ahead in terms of its understanding and support of basic human rights.
I've lived in Vancouver since 2003 with my Japanese spouse, Kyoko, whom I could not legally marry in the United States. We are reminded of our second-tier status there every time we travel, because when we cross the border, the American agents force us to stand in separate lines for processing. They say we are not married.
Bill C-279 assures protection for people like me, with gender identity or gender expression needs. These needs are not wilful, they are not chosen, they are not ignorable. For trans folks and cisgendered folks, these are matters of life and death—of living openly, honestly, and freely without fear of extra prejudice, malice, or worse, violence. We do not need extra rights and we do not ask for them. We need the same rights as our Canadian brothers and sisters of all races, creeds, denominations, and identity.
In the past, I have lived in a country where those rights are not protected, where I was turned down for housing with no explanation whatsoever and no legal means of recourse; where I was fired from a job with no possibility of compensation; where I was called names on the street and scared to ride buses and subways; where I was laughed at by American government officials when I applied for a name change.
As a child of eight years old, my favourite composer was Mozart. When I was that age, my grandmother, an accomplished seamstress, made for me my very own purple Mozart coat with a frilly blouse. I was very proud of that coat and blouse, and it felt natural to me when I wore it, which I did to elementary school one day, where I was beaten savagely by my male classmates. The coat was ripped, there was blood on the blouse, and my glasses were broken right in the middle as well.
The teachers did nothing to protect me or my fledgling gender expression. My parents, however, were sent a note from the school principal advising them that their son was never to wear girls clothing to school ever again.
I know that some of you harbour legitimate concerns, or I think you feel righteous concerns, about transgender people in public bathrooms, fearful of cross-dressed attackers in the stalls. To my own knowledge, this has actually never happened anywhere in North America. However, you can see on YouTube many examples of stomach-churning violence against transgender people, being beaten in those bathrooms by bigots who don't like the way they look.
During the five years I lived as a woman, before being able to afford surgery—because of American health insurance not covering it—I was one of those people who risked a beating every time I went to relieve my bladder. If I had walked into a men's room, I would at best have been redirected, or at worst seriously injured. Trans folk go to the washroom to relieve their bladders behind closed doors in privacy, just like anyone else.
In terms of gender appearance and expression, I can talk for a long time about friends of mine who are intergendered, bigendered, people of one gender, who nevertheless look and sound like they are another. There's a wide, wide spectrum.
My dear friend Hsia-Jung, who had her breasts removed from cancer, cries every time she gets called “sir”. I have a female friend, Sheila, whose voice is two octaves lower than mine. I get called “sir” on the telephone. It's not a big deal. I'm happy to explain my own story to help people understand who trans people are. We are just, as they say in music, the variations on the theme—the human theme.
I will let other more statistically and politically informed witnesses here speak to the numbers of trans people who experience harassment, discrimination, violence, or death, either as murder or at their own hands. Suicide is a very, very common experience for trans people. There's a desperation when you don't know, don't have the facts, and don't understand. I know it all firsthand.
In my own uneducated fear as a young adult, how many times did I overdose and try to die because I did not understand why I felt as I did or know what to do about it? Thankfully, I found people who assisted me. Now I thank God every day of my life that I have lived 15 years, since becoming female, in internal peace, happy to be real to myself and real to the world.
I am fortunate to be married to a wonderful spouse; fortunate to see my brother's two young daughters grow up—they love their Aunt Sara and I love them; fortunate to be alive and to help my aging parents; fortunate to be teaching wonderful Canadian students; fortunate to be playing the piano again, talking to audiences frequently and playing the piano for them in Vancouver, Victoria, Winnipeg, Kelowna, Red Deer, Edmonton, Montreal, Timmins, Toronto, Guelph, etc.; and fortunate to be living in the most progressive, humane, and beautiful country that I know, Canada.
I am beyond grateful to be able to make my home here with dignity and integrity. I'm confident, too, that my fellow Canadians will see the importance and necessity of passing Bill C-279 to help all of us live in safety and equality.
Mr. Raymond Côté:
Not a problem.
Ms. Davis Buechner, you spoke about cruelty and various incidents. Unfortunately, I've heard these stories all too often from friends and people I know, whether they be homosexual, transgender or transsexual.
You know, I've been an advocate within the NDP for eight years out of thirst for justice. It was first and foremost a thirst for economic justice. However, the traditional heterosexual, white man who was more entitled to some opportunities than others, and that's not necessarily a positive thing, was quickly confronted with these injustices that certain people were unfortunately experiencing.
In the context of my advocacy activities, I was able to meet a very active group of bright activists who had experienced poverty and violence. So I'm not surprised by what you told us. I think it's very important and very courageous on your part.
I've come to a conclusion. This is not about a choice, but rather about a way of being. Guided by this idea, it is up to our society and our legal system to reflect this reality.
Of course, my colleague Randall's bill will not immediately resolve all of these unfortunate cases. However, we are finally bridging a gap. Could you tell the committee how you feel about the amendments to these sections of the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act? Do they give you hope?
Dr. Sara Davis Buechner:
Well, without question, it was when I was transitioning that I would be accosted on the street by people, or things said to me constantly on the New York subways—over and above the way that people talk to you on the New York subway anyway—with various opinions about how I looked or what I really was.
Even, I have to say, to this day, when I get into a taxi, especially when I'm tired, and say “Take me down to UBC”, I'll hear, “Sure, sir”, as if they've really figured me out. I get “figured out” from time to time, but you know, I don't need figuring out. I'm just who I am.
Two things that come to mind in response to your statement, though, are from doctors—very prominent doctors whom I was fortunate to be able to see. I went to a quite famous endocrinologist in New York when I was transitioning. To that man, there was no question that there were lots of medical issues involving transgendered people that were not really even fully understood and still needed plenty of research.
Another moment of hilarity came from my therapist, who had a heavy Austrian accent, telling me at one of my first sessions, “Well, you know, this gender—we think there are about 17 of them. However, we've only got two boxes. You want the M or the F?”
Voices: Oh, oh!
Dr. Sara Davis Buechner: It's a humorous story, but it certainly tells of one of the perils that we face as transgendered people. We're made up of so many things. We're born in the way that we're born, and yet society is the part that gives us the sheet of paper and says, okay, here's your box. Well, what if that box doesn't feel right?
I have one tale of experience; we have another witness who has a different tale of experience. But so many trans people I've met—male to female, female to male, inter-gendered, as I said.... I've known people who could pass for whatever gender they wanted, depending on what they were going to wear that day.
The human condition is a wide one, and what you say about the expression is really, to me, at the heart of it. I don't want people harassing me for how I look or who they think I am, or “figuring me out”, or figuring anybody out, and then feeling that this is okay because you don't fit into those two boxes.
Mr. Dan Albas (Okanagan—Coquihalla, CPC):
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would like to thank both witnesses for appearing here today.
I know from my previous private member's bill that certainly it is a lengthy process, so I commend Mr. Garrison for his work. It's never easy to put together a bill and then to go through the whole process. I know that for a fact.
Because some of the questions regarding human rights commissions and tribunals have already been asked, I'm going to take the same approach as Mr. Cotler and not approach it from a symbolic basis but more on the consequential aspects of it.
Subparagraph 718.2(a)(i) of the Criminal Code currently contains a list of numerous aggravating factors to be considered when a crime is motivated by hate, bias, or prejudice based on “race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor”.
Do you think this section, which currently contains a non-exhaustive list of factors, can be interpreted to include crimes motivated by hate, bias, or prejudice based on gender identity?
It is my understanding that the gender expression aspect will be amended down the road; is that not correct?
So if we could focus, then, on gender identity, I'd appreciate it.
In other words, is this amendment to subparagraph 718.2(a)(i) necessary?
Ms. Françoise Boivin (Gatineau, NDP):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you to both witnesses for coming today.
Mr. Garrison, I'd like to thank you for the work you have done in this area. Like any issue of this nature, education, I believe, has a large part to play. The same concerns, reflecting different values perhaps or different degrees, were raised when we were considering same-sex marriage. This is never an easy thing to do because it can run up against the beliefs of certain individuals, but I think that this ultimately is an issue of respect.
I would like to reassure the committee members. We will be tabling four amendments on Thursday. They may dissipate certain concerns. I am not an expert in this area but here is what I understand.
I was listening to Mr. Rathgeber's questions, that are logical up to a point. The argument that one often hears with respect to issues or amendments of this nature, is that what is being sought already exists, just not explicitly. Jurisprudence makes up for this by guaranteeing a certain openness because rights are acknowledged. However, those rights are not always written down. In writing them, in my opinion, two very important issues are resolved. First, there is clarification and therefore no more ambiguity. One would no longer need to prove that these are protected rights simply based on a liberal interpretation. I am not referring to my colleague, Mr. Cotler's, party; I am using the word in its better sense. It's a joke.
Second, in my opinion, when you write something down and you're not afraid to state it clearly, that constitutes a form of education. It also fosters respect for a real situation. I don't think that anyone around this table wants to see people hit, beaten, verbally, physically or otherwise abused, simply because of what they look like or what they represent. I don't think anyone supports that. The message we are sending out with Bill C-279 is that this is written down, and it will certainly help improve the situation.
Have I understood?
Mr. Brian Jean (Fort McMurray—Athabasca, CPC):
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for coming before us today.
I admire your courage. I would suggest it's very commendable. It's no easy thing to come to a place like this and testify. I speak to you in particular.
I'm asking you to convince me, first of all, that your rights are not protected. I was one of those who also voted against it. I was a criminal lawyer for many years, and I have to tell you that I have seen a lot of violence against a lot of groups of individuals. I grew up in northern Alberta, and there was actually violence against redheads there.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Brian Jean: It may seem funny at this stage, but when I was a young boy it did not seem funny, running from high school every day.
I do understand that yours is a bit more severe, but I can't change the colour of my hair very easily either.
I am interested in a couple of things. The first is your position relating to not being protected. Reading, for instance, section 15 of the Constitution, it states particular things that are protected. As Mr. Rathgeber says, and I want to reiterate, the case law, especially regarding Ontario and B.C. and the human rights commissions there, identified that in terms of gender identity, transgenderists, intersexed, and cross-dressers all deserve that protection and do receive that protection.
First, how do you convince me that it's not already covered? Because I don't, quite frankly, buy your argument now. I think Mr. Rathgeber is right, that it seems to be more of a situation where it's identifying yourself as a group apart from other groups, even though, to my mind, you're already protected.
Like you, Mr. Garrison, I believe the Criminal Code is too long. Many of our acts, including the Income Tax Act, are the same way.
So that's the first question. The second question is the issue of disability. I myself am not transgendered, or of that community, but I don't look at this as a disability issue. I think it's a choice, from my reading and what I've seen. Most people make the choice based upon what they believe their personal position is, and I understand that.
So that would be the second thing. It appears to me that some people want to have it identified as a disability so that they can receive, to my understanding, medical care under certain conditions.
I would like you to address both of those issues, if you could, and why you didn't bring forward a bill to identify it not as a disability, in particular.
Mr. Hershel Russell (Psychotherapist, Trans Activist and Educator, As an Individual): Bonjour
. I'm very honoured to be here today. It has so much meaning to be here on the Trans Day of Remembrance, which is a worldwide occasion, as you know.
My name is Hershel Russell. I'm a psychotherapist in private practice in Toronto. I also do specializing in work with transgender people and their families. I also do a lot of education work around trans issues across the province and in other parts of Canada. I'm a clinical member of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, and I'm the co-chair of the education committee for the Canadian branch of that organization.
One of the things I wanted to mention is that we have had two really excellent pieces of research recently, one from the United States, a very large piece of research, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, and another from Ontario, the Trans PULSE Survey, which has given us a tremendous amount of information about trans lives.
Some of the information I would really like you to grasp in terms of this bill is that both studies show very clearly that we are an exceptionally highly educated community. We have more education than almost any other community, and we are a community that suffers from extraordinary poverty. I would like to argue that this combination of things can only be explained by discrimination. There really isn't another way to explain it. Both of these documents also really show the terrifying, heartbreaking levels of suicidality in our community, and certainly, as a mental health professional, I have to work with these painful, painful issues over and over and over.
Speaking a little about myself, because I know that personal stories are important, I look fairly convincingly like a man these days, especially when I don't speak. Once upon a time, I looked pretty convincingly like a woman. However, there was a period in between—of about three years—when I looked very gender ambiguous and, on a daily basis, we punish people who look gender ambiguous in this current society.
I remember walking down the street and people gazing like this...quite frequently. I remember walking down the street in Toronto in the late 1990s, and as I walked by, people were spitting on the sidewalk in front of me. I remember going to the drugstore to buy a tube of toothpaste. I'm getting my change, and the clerk says: “Thank you, sir. Oh—madam. Oh—sir. Oh—madam”. Suddenly I'm this spectacle and everyone is looking at me.
This kind of gaze also, as my colleague Sara was saying, really impacts on our experiences of public bathrooms. In that ambiguous period, I remember situations where in the first year I at first would go to the women's bathroom. Towards the end of that year, sometimes I would have a woman open the door, go “oh!”, and leave. A little further on I had a woman point at me and say: “You get out of here. You don't belong.” Then I began to go to the men's washroom, at least some of the time, where I faced a small but very real threat of physical and/or sexual assault.
I wonder if you would be willing to imagine the impact on anxiety and the impact on self-esteem for someone who, every time they need to use a bathroom in a public space, has to choose between the high likelihood of harassment and the low but real likelihood of sexual assault. You can understand that kind of level of stress, perhaps.
I was very fortunate and I feel enormously blessed to have not been physically assaulted, but I will never forget the time when I was coming home after a concert. I was standing on the corner of Queen and University opposite the concert hall in downtown Toronto. Not very far in front of me, a white van pulled up, and the door opened. Inside the van were half a dozen young men. They shouted, “You epithet, epithet, get in here.” I was terrified that they would seize me, because they were very close, and also terrified that, because I looked very gender ambiguous, the people standing around me would make no attempt to protect me. Thank goodness the light changed. But I still, many years later, when I walk past that corner, feel my heartbeat speed up.
Much more recently, I was struggling with issues around identity documents. I'm very glad the issue is being raised. I have a medical condition that means it would be quite dangerous for me to undergo transgender-related surgeries. So far I have succeeded in holding off from having them anyway, but because I have not had any of those surgeries, I am not permitted to change my passport.
Looking like this, I walk through the security system at an airport with a passport that says I am female. For this reason, there are a number of countries I simply don't go to because I'm afraid to.
Recently, however, I went down to a very important conference in Atlanta, in the United States, put on by WPATH, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. I came home a little early because I had work the next day. I was in the airport in the afternoon, when it was slow. There were not many people around, and the security guards were perhaps a little bored.
As I handed over my passport, I saw a nudge. A security officer came up to me. He was large and he was red in the face—and he was red in the neck—and he said to me, “Go into the scanner”. Of course, trans people are particularly anxious about the scanner, because it creates an outline of the genitals. I was a little shaken, but I came out of the scanner and I waited. He said, “Into the scanner again”. And then a third time he made me go into the scanner. By this time, I could hear titters.
He then looked me in the eye and said, “I have to examine you manually, because there seems to be something—here”: he put his hand on my chest and squeezed, looking me in the eye. You can perhaps imagine my humiliation and my anger.
I am still a little disappointed in myself that I didn't make a complaint. I was alone in the airport, I was afraid, I was humiliated. It was Atlanta, and as a Canadian I have some assumptions about what goes on in Atlanta, Georgia.
So one of the things I really do want to urge in terms of next steps is that it becomes possible—as several countries have now made it possible—for it to be much easier to change our identity documents, all of them.
How am I doing on time?
Mr. Hershel Russell:
I'm close to the edge? Okay. I'll just say one more little piece, then.
I hope you ask me questions about health issues, because I'm very up to date on the disputes around the DSM, around the upcoming ICD, the international compendium of diseases, and on those discussions at both a medical level and within the trans community.
So I welcome those questions, but I'm not much use around legal questions, I'm sorry.
Finally, one thing for marginalized groups is that when we are growing up, we don't have models for what it might be like to grow up to be a person like me. I had this very touching experience a couple of years ago, at a book launch. A very young person, maybe 16 or 17, came up to me very shyly—and brashly, the way teenagers do—and he looked vaguely familiar. He said to me, “I hope it's okay to say this, but we live in the same neighbourhood, and I saw you going through your changes. I'd see you in the grocery store, and I'd see you waiting for the streetcar, and I'd think, well, that's okay then; when I grow up, I can just be me.”
I can't speak to the legal importance, but I can speak to the symbolic importance of the Government of Canada saying that transgender people have human rights like everyone else. I can speak to the power that might have for a community that struggles with discrimination.
Ms. Erin Apsit (Member, Egale Canada Trans Committee, Egale Canada):
Hi. My name is Erin Apsit, and I'm here as a representative of Egale Canada's trans committee. I'm very honoured and pleased to be here and have this opportunity to address this committee on what I think is a very vital and urgent bill.
I should also point out that there aren't two transgender witnesses here today, there are three. I am the third one. I'm a transgender woman.
To start, from my perspective this bill is about essential Canadian values of fairness and respect for all human beings. It's an opportunity for Parliament to play a leadership role in protecting human rights rather than leaving it to the courts.
Some remark was made earlier about the Declaration of Human Rights, but I'd like to point out that in 2008 the General Assembly of the United Nations issued a statement that human rights applied equally to every human being, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. I'm pleased to note that Canada signed off on that statement, and again I think that's an issue of fairness and respect for all human beings.
I think this bill also very much concerns the ability of trans and gender-diverse Canadians to be able to fully participate and contribute as members of society. I'd like to point out that unfortunately Canada has fallen behind many jurisdictions around the world in terms of providing legal protections for people, based on gender identity. For example, such legal protections exist in the United Kingdom, Israel, Sweden, Germany, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and many other nations. It might be interesting to note also that, just a week ago, the Pakistani Supreme Court ruled that trans persons are entitled to equal protection under the law.
We've mentioned that in Canada, Ontario, Manitoba, and the Northwest Territories provide legal protections. I'd also like to point out that in the United States, 16 of the states and the District of Columbia also provide legal protections based on gender identity.
I think Canada has always valued being a world leader in human rights, and I think this bill gives us an opportunity to restore Canada's leadership position.
Once again, I'd like to thank everyone for the opportunity to appear here.
Mr. D. Ryan Dyck:
I'd like to round out our opening statements from Egale Canada to directly yet briefly address a number of suggestions that have been made here today, as well as earlier on, those being the suggestions that this bill is unnecessary or that it is in fact redundant. I'd like to suggest to you today that this is largely a theoretical argument and not an argument of practical reality.
I would begin by noting that a most recent study in Ontario of 433 trans people noted that 20% had been physically or sexually assaulted and a further 34% had been verbally harassed or had been the subject of threats, in each case because they are trans. We'd also note on that issue that, to my knowledge, there has never been a case where section 718, the hate motivation sentencing provisions of the Criminal Code, have been applied to a crime against a trans person.
I have long suspected this to be the case, but in preparation for today's meeting I had three of our legal aides spend last week looking for a case. It's difficult to prove a negative, but we have been entirely unable to find a single case where the hate motivation sentencing provisions have been applied to a trans person. I find that alarming, given the horrifically high rates of violence and crimes against trans people because of their gender identity and expression. I find it unreasonable to think that no case has ever been taken forward or that trans people have simply been unsuccessful in taking those cases forward.
I would also note that in our schools, 74% of trans youth have been verbally harassed about their gender expression and 37% have been physically harassed or assaulted because of their gender identity or expression. Again, that is to note the ridiculously high rates of discrimination and harassment against trans people, particularly our youth. I'd like to very briefly suggest two reasons why this might be the case.
In regard to the first reason, we run a program at Egale Canada where we deliver hate crime prevention and awareness training to police officers across this country. As much as I have the utmost respect for our law enforcement, I believe from my experience—and in the last two years, I delivered training to approximately 2,000 police officers—that police in this country simply don't understand or know if trans people are included under the phrase “or any other similar factor”. In fact, as I stand in front of police officers, I'm not comfortable saying that trans people are, because, as I noted, I cannot find a single precedent where this has been the case.
Secondly, I would note that recently we—Dr. Barbara Perry, an international expert on hate crimes, and I—travelled across the country interviewing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people on their experiences with hate crime discrimination. We did at least hour-long, if not three-hour-long, interviews as well as focus groups with people across the country.
My observation, from speaking with many of the trans people, is that in spite of the fact that they have quite often been the victim of what they perceived to have been a hate crime, many if not most trans people are not prepared to report to police, because they are either afraid of secondary victimization—that they will not be taken seriously—or because they simply do not believe that they are covered. They simply do not believe it. They have never seen a reason to believe that the phrase —“or any other similar factor” or “sex”—in the Canadian Human Rights Act includes them.
Do I have another minute?
Mr. Hershel Russell:
One of my jobs is to go across Ontario. I'm the lead mental health trainer for a program called Trans Health Connection, ministry funded through Rainbow Health Ontario. We go across the province speaking to doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, mental health workers—front-line people.
The shortage of doctors for all Ontarians is bad; the shortage of doctors who have any idea how to work with our community is horrifying. There are very few weeks in which I don't have a client for whom I am desperately seeking medical care.
We're working very hard to expand the numbers of doctors who have the knowledge and the connections, in terms of protocols and so on, to undertake that care—we are not very complicated, we are much easier to care for than folks with diabetes—but that is proceeding slowly. It is very, very hard for us to access the most basic health care.
It is also true, as my colleague Sara was saying, that a trip to the emergency room can be pretty alarming. There is no reason to assume even that you're going to be treated respectfully. We still have far too many stories of people going in for a flu shot and somehow it's necessary to have their genitals examined.
I could go on and on, but that's probably enough for now.
Mr. Brent Rathgeber:
You indicated, I think in your opening statement, that if this bill becomes law, it is going to have more than a moral consequence for the community. I want to challenge that notion. You made some references about disproportionate numbers of members of the trans community being subject to assault and you made reference to law enforcement. I think it was Mr. Russell who talked about a flu shot.
I'm curious...and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the Canada human rights code is very specific in its application. It deals with institutions that are subject to federal regulation, subject to the laws of the Parliament of Canada. That excludes the school system. It excludes most aspects of the health care system. It excludes most aspects of law enforcement, certainly municipal law enforcement.
So I challenge your notion that this bill will provide anything more than moral statements with respect to those situations that you described or those venues you described. It would, admittedly, be a remedy if somebody were discriminated against in the banking system or in the transportation system or in the federal civil service.
I'm curious as to whether you understand the narrow scope of the actual wording of this bill as opposed to what I think is really what's happening here, and that's a grand moral statement—not that there's anything necessarily wrong with a grand moral statement, but that's what I'm suggesting is what we're talking about here.
Mr. Dyck, if you have.... I have 30 seconds left.