Conservative Party Senators Mess With C-279 In Committee

Ever since C-279 passed with support of all the major Canadian political partiesin the House of Commons in March 2013, trans people in the Great White North were cautiously optimistic that they would finally reach their political Holy Grail of having federal human rights protection.

C-279 simply amends the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canadian Criminal Code to add gender identity as a protected class, and our Canadian trans cousins had good reason to be optimistic.

Since 2012, six provinces have followed the Northwest Territories 2004 lead and passed human rights protection for their trans citizens.   Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia all did so that year, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador followed in 2013, and Saskatchewan in 2014

But one of the notable House of Common NO votes back in 2013 was Prime Minister Stephen Harper, with now Liberal leader Justin Trudeau not voting on it at all.

That’s probably one of the reasons why the Conservative Party when it got to the Senate that they dominated, started acting like their south of the border Republican cousins and fracking with C-279 by bringing up the discredited bathroom predator lie. 

It also didn’t help that the TERF’s Canadian Division, AKA the REAL Women of Canada also started sticking their transphobic noses in the Conservative effort to halt passage of C-279.  

C-279 still continued to advance, passing first and second reading stage votes and getting successfully voted out of the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights on June 10, 2013 chaired by Liberal Sen. Mobina Jaffer.

But on the cusp of a major human rights victory, the Conservatives went into full trans oppressor mode during the third reading stage that occurred just before the Canadian Senate went into its summer 2013 recess.   What was more disgusting that it was lesbian Tory Senator Nancy Ruth leading the charge. 

After the Conservative senate leadership ran out the clock and refused to call for that Third Reading vote, that was followed by Prime Minister Harper proroguing parliament in September, which forced C-279 to start from scratch in the Senate legislative process because it was a private member’s bill.

Other more ominous signs were Sen Jafferexpressing her concerns during that summer 2013 recess the bill wouldn’t pass, and Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell stating what was blatantly obvious to the TransGriot, our trans cousins and the world by calling out the Conservatives for stalling C-279.

When the Senate returned for business after Thanksgiving in October, instead of C-279 going through Sen Jaffer’s committee, it was sent after passing another Second Reading vote to the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs chaired by Conservative senator Bob Rumciman. 

It also has transphobic Tory senator and longtime C-279 hater Neil Plett as a member.

Fortunately Sen. Jaffer is a member of that committee along with Senator Mitchell, but they were outnumbered   On Thursday the Conservative dominated committee passed Plett introduced amendments by a 6-4 margin to exempt C-279 from applying to public spaces including bathrooms and locker rooms.

The negative reaction to that from Canadian trans people and our allies was swift.

The federal NDP released a statement criticizing what they characterize as the Senate’s attempt to block the bill from passing. “The Senate’s attempt to obstruct this bill that would finally give transgender Canadians the protection and equal status they deserve is reprehensible,” said Randall Garrison, the NDP’s LGBT critic and sponsor of C-279, in the statement.

“Human rights are not conditional,” said Helen Kennedy of Egale Canada Human Rights Trust. “The human rights of transgender people must be protected in all spaces including public bathrooms and locker rooms. The amendment to Bill C-279 fuels discrimination against transgender individuals by making it seem like people have something to fear by sharing a bathroom with a transgender person, which of course they don’t.”

“As a transgender person I have been waiting a long time for federal human rights protections,” said Amanda Ryan of Gender Mosaic. “Bathrooms are dangerous for me. I fear what people will do to me if they realize I am transgender. Bill C-279 was meant to protect me from hate crimes, but in amending it, the Senate is putting me at risk. It will force me to use the men’s bathroom, and a transgender woman in the men’s room is a recipe for violence.”

“We appealed to all Senators to support Bill C-279 without any amendments,” said Alex Neve, Secretary-General of Amnesty International Canada. “The original Bill is what was needed. If Senators passed the bill in Committee with no amendments, we would be well on our way to having life-saving human rights protections in place in a matter of weeks.”

“We believe that vulnerable minorities are entitled to basic human rights and should have the full protection of the law; this Bill as amended falls short of providing that protection,” said Richard Marceau of The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

C-279 is headed toward a third reading vote, and if it passes third reading with the amendments voted down, it would go to Canadian Governor general David Johnston for Royal Assent to become Canadian law.

But if it passes with the amendments, it has to go back to the House of Commons, and with a Canadian federal election looming on October 19, it’s highly unlikely it would pass the Conservative dominate chamber before parliament is dissolved.

And it’s sad that it has come to this for a sorely needed human rights bill.  

But the C-279 fight just reinforces what I have been saying for months in our below the 49th Parallel trans human rights struggle.   Thee most dangerous bigot is the one with the power to pass legislation.

You also can’t get progressive laws passed out of a conservative legislative body.

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