“It’ll never pass,” I often heard. “Not with a Harper government. They’d never support human rights inclusion for transsexual and transgender people.”

And then it passed.

Oh, Bill C-389 — championed by the now-retired NDP MP Bill Siksay — had its challenges. It narrowly passed second reading in June of 2010, and again at third reading in February, 2011. Had an election call not killed the bill while awaiting discussion in the Senate, it could have reached Royal Assent… instead of having to start over.

Randall Garrison and Hedy Fry have re-introduced legislation to include gender identity and gender expression among the protected classes in the Canada Human Rights Act, as well as those in the hate crimes clause of the Criminal Code of Canada.

“It’ll never pass,” I often hear. “Not with a Harper majority. They’d never support human rights inclusion for transsexual and transgender people.” No doubt, the challenges are bigger. It would be tougher to pass this bill. It will take more effort, and the additional vocal support of trans-positive allies is absolutely crucial. But it’s not impossible.

Here is a quick summary of the process the bill faces. It has been read into Parliament for first reading, which is a formality. The order in which private members have their bills discussed by Parliament is determined by a kind of lottery, and Garrison’s bill, C-279, could come up for second reading in as soon as five months from now. At that point, it will face its first hour of discussion and a vote; if it passes, it will be sent to committee — probably to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, where it was referred last time. Then the committee would need to discuss the bill and decide whether to hear statements from interested parties, make modifications or pass it forward. At that point, a vote on “report stage” would take place in the house, allowing it to proceed to third reading, probably 6 to 12 months later. Third reading is comprised of a second hour of debate and a final vote, and if it passes that, then proceeds to the same three readings in the Senate.

It sounds like a long, complicated and daunting process, impossible with a hard-right or hard-right -influenced government. But it passed under a Conservative minority, can could pass again. Here’s how:

If you’re transsexual or transgender

Trans people need to contact their members of Parliament. I believe it will be all the more crucial to make an appointment to visit them personally. If you’re a constituent, they shouldn’t refuse — but if they do or give you extensive runaround, find out when they’re in their constituency office and drop by.

Transphobia persists because we are usually technically invisible, allowing people to make wild assumptions and form distorted pictures of us. Our legislators need to see who we really are, and hear about how we have been obstructed in our jobs or met with harm for being trans. They need to see why inclusion is necessary. This means if your MP is Conservative, and/or voted “no” previously, then it is especially important that you meet with them.

Be civil, be professional, and if they disagree, do so courteously. Conflict will not help. And finally, keep heart. We can — and do — have Conservative supporters (several supported the bill last time, including some Cabinet ministers), and those who don’t can sometimes change when they meet us and see past the myths.

If you’re a parent, significant other, sibling, child or friend of someone who is trans

Parents and loved ones of trans people also need to contact their members of Parliament. Again, I recommend an appointment and civil discussion. Human rights inclusion affects far more than ourselves, and it helps to see real Canadians who are touched by our lives and want or need us to be enfranchised in society.

If you’re an ally

Allies also need to contact their members of Parliament. If allies don’t have experience on trans issues and feel at a loss to help in that way, then at least write to your MP and voice your support. Don’t be discouraged.

I will include a few links below for some resources so you can educate yourself on the issues and the bill in question.

Follow up

The process is long. See your MP now, then contact them before the second reading vote and the vote at the report stage. If there’s a third reading vote, then contact them again to remind them of your visit and your support. A letter is just a letter: diligent persistence (but not to a level of harassment) shows importance. If you have spoken to your MP and have a commitment of support or see an “iffy” possibility of support, also send a short note to Mr. Garrison’s constituency office to let them know. He may also be able to follow up, and has a better picture of where things stand, this way.

Media: Be visible if you can

Media will make a lot of difference. Last time around, there was a lot of media interest in hearing from Charles McVety and other anti-trans people, but sometimes few if any interviews from actual trans people. Many of us were willing to talk. Do so again. But don’t stop there. Find media avenues to talk about the challenges you face as a trans person. Blog. Write to smaller magazines, community publications and weeklies. If larger media outlets are uninterested, and if second reading, report stage or third reading are approaching, hold a rally. Or better yet, hold a rally anyway.

Procedural questions

A free vote is needed. And if Prime Minister Stephen Harper chooses to enforce a “no” vote among Conservatives on a piece of human rights legislation, then it would need to be called out, and loudly. I doubt, though, that there would be that kind of visible obstruction of the bill. I expect that a free vote or at least partial free vote will happen, and private member’s bills are traditionally all free votes.

If our representatives pledge their support, then it’s crucial that they be present for all three votes: second reading, report stage and third reading.

If the bill proceeds to committee stage, we need to send trans and trans-inclusive groups to the Standing Committee to speak on the bill. Some of those groups are underfunded, so may need allies to assist getting them there.

If support is not an option, at least don’t stand in the way

And finally, if your member of Parliament is positive toward you, and perhaps wants to support trans human rights but feels pressured to vote against, there is a third option: abstain.

It is practically impossible to determine if a failure to vote is because of deliberate abstention, or of not being present for the vote (many MPs do not stay to vote on private members matters anyway).

Support is far preferable. But if there are fears about how a voting group or party members may react, then abstention will allow a member of Parliament to not obstruct the chances for transsexual and transgender people to obtain human rights. If your member of Parliament seems strained, uncomfortable or perhaps under pressure, then encourage them to consider doing so.

On October 20, several Conservative members of Parliament responded to the suicide of gay teen Jamie Hubley by making an “It Gets Better” video. They were roundly criticized for doing so while supporting a government which has often opposed legislation what would protect or benefit lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans (LGBT) people. I won’t, because when it comes right down to it, I’m willing to bet that on an individual level, they probably are genuinely concerned for LGBT kids. And as long as that is true, then there is some will to make it better… or at least willingness to not support making it worse. Sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression are different things, but that will can translate.

In late September, Mr. Garrison estimated that he needed 15 more votes from across the aisle to pass the bill. Canada, we can do this.

Make it better: Don’t stand in the way of human rights for trans people


Find your member of Parliament using your postal code, to send them a letter or contact their office for an appointment.

During the last session, the arguments against extending human rights protections focused mostly on fears about washrooms and claims that explicit inclusion was unnecessary. Ironically, the washroom fears and myths proved the necessity.

I will eventually update and repost it, but I’d compiled a Quick Facts article regarding C-389. There was also a PDF trifold brochure version.

It addresses the washroom argument, but if you want to dig deeper and learn about the history of the washroom argument as a tactic to oppose human rights for LGBT people, Flushing the Fear picks it apart further.

The text has not changed, but the bill number has. It’s now Bill C-279. Here’s the full text of the bill.

Most people know what transsexualism is (“gender identity”), but what does “gender expression” refer to? Here’s an answer.

Permission is granted to distribute this article and the Quick Facts article (non-commercially) to educate people on the issue and encourage them to become involved. (Crossposted to DentedBlueMercedes and The Bilerico Project)

Mercedes Allen

Mercedes Allen

Mercedes Allen is a writer, graphic designer and former activist living in Southern Alberta.