On May 26th, Spencer Chandra Herbert, the NDP MLA (Member of the legislative assembly*) for Vancouver-West End, introduced in the legislature a member’s bill intituled Gender Identity and Expression Human Rights Recognition Act, 2011.
The Act would ensure that the B.C. Human Rights Code explicitly protects transgender people from discrimination. Under the legislation, “gender identity” and “gender expression” would be prohibited grounds for discrimination. As a prohibited ground, employers, health professionals, landlords or other business owners could not use gender identity and gender expression as the means to deny service or housing to transgender people. It would also signal to the general public that transgender people have the same rights as cis-people under the law to live and work free from fear and discrimination.
“While the courts have read certain protections for gender identity and expression into [the B.C.] human rights legislation, it is important for the government to recognize transgendered^ people, by explicitly including them in the human rights code,” said Chandra Herbert in an NDP press release. “Transgendered people still face incredible barriers to employment and housing, and face discrimination and the threat of violence almost everywhere they go.”
Currently, the Northwest Territories is the only Canadian province or territory to explicitly recognize human rights protection for trans persons by including gender identity as prohibited ground of discrimination. The territory amended its Human Rights Act in 2002.
At the Federal level, no explicit protection exists for trans persons under the Canadian Human Rights Act or the Criminal Code of Canada. During the previous Parliament, NDP MP Bill Siksay introduced Bill C-389, titled An Act to Amend the Human Rights Act and Criminal Code (Gender Identity and Gender Expression). The private member bill passed the federal House of Commons, but died in the Senate when Parliament was dissolved in March.
It is yet unclear whether a bill similar to C-389 could receive Royal Assent in the newly elected majority Conservative government. As such, it is crucial for provincial governments to step in and amend their Human Rights legislation to protect transgender people.
As the Ontario Human Rights Commission has noted in their Policy on Discrimination and Harassment Because of Gender Identity, “there are, arguably, few groups in society today who are as disadvantaged and disenfranchised as the transgendered community. Transphobia combined with the hostility of society to the very existence of transgendered people are fundamental human rights issues” (2000, 2).
*The MLA is an elected member in each territory and provincial electoral district, representing their constituents in the legislative assembly and other committees affecting provincial legislation. The title for elected legislative members differs in certain provinces: In Quebec, provincial representative are called Members of the National Assembly (MNAs); In Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, Members of the House of Assembly are called MHAs; While in Ontario, members of the Ontario Legislative Assembly are called Members of the Provincial Parliament or MPPs.
^We’ve quoted as written, but our policy is to use “transgender” rather than “transgendered.”