The struggle to protect trans people in Canada from discrimination was in the headlines again during May, as the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee conducted hearings into Bill C-16, legislation to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. The Bill also amends the Criminal Code to extend legal protections against hate propaganda to any section of the public that is distinguished by gender identity or expression.
The precursor to this legislation, Private Member’s Bill C-279, eventually failed last year due to the complicated Parliamentary amendment process. Bill C-16 is a critical step in recognizing that trans rights are human rights, and has passed second reading in the Commons. Senators are currently hearing from trans people (including trans and gender creative kids and their families) who support the passing of the Bill.
But other interventions are also being made by Senators and some transphobic witnesses who are whipping up fear of “the other,” and raising arguments that C-16 would threaten safety, gender equality, feminism, and free speech.
In response, on May 17 a number of prominent women’s anti-violence organizations released the following joint statement to the Senate, which must pass the Bill before it can be sent back to the Commons for third and final approval:
We are writing in support of Bill C-16, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, adding gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. We include the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centers, the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, Ryerson University Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education, and Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre.
It is disconcerting that the hearings for C-16 only included one representative from sexual violence prevention and support services. Violence against women, sexual violence and gender based violence organizations are not a monolithic group. The testimony provided by a rape crisis centre/shelter at the C-16 hearing on May 10th does not represent or align with organizational practices of many of sexual violence and violence against women services. This testimony perpetuated harmful myths about trans and gender diverse people, including that trans women are not real women and that trans people are not subjected to gendered violence. Trans women are women, and trans, two-spirit and gender diverse people are, in fact, at heightened risk for sexual violence.
Barriers such as harassment in schools, discrimination in employment and housing, as well as familial and peer rejection, create the economic and institutional conditions for homelessness, gender-based discrimination and risk of violence. In Ontario alone, 20 percent of trans people experience physical or sexual assault due to their identity, and 34 percent are subjected to verbal threats or harassment.
As individuals and organizations committed to ending gender-based violence in Canada, we wish to see a concerted effort to support all survivors — including trans, two-spirit and gender diverse people. Contrary to the suggestion that this bill will threaten “female born” women only spaces, such as rape crisis centers or shelters, we assert that C-16 will enable a necessary shift in service provision, removing some of the barriers trans, two-spirit and gender diverse people face when accessing supports. In Ontario, there are sexual assault centres and shelters beginning this work by developing trans-inclusion policies and providing training for staff to ensure trans and gender diverse survivors have necessary access to their services.
Bill C-16 will bolster efforts to ensure sexual violence support services are available to all survivors of violence across Canada. This bill affirms the importance of equity and safety for trans, two-spirit and gender diverse people, sending a clear message that they will be heard and supported. We call on the Senate to take leadership on this issue by supporting C-16 to demonstrate your commitment to equity for all Canadians.