What a Lack of National Trans Protections Means for our City
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What a Lack of National Trans Protections Means for our City

There's still no timeline for the introduction of transgender protections in our government, despite Justin Trudeau's promises.

Justin Trudeau at Toronto Pride in 2015  Photo by Alex Guibord from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Justin Trudeau at Toronto Pride in 2015. Photo by Alex Guibord from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

It was humid but pouring, the sidewalks lined with passersby in rainbow attire. And yet, the rain did not stop him from bulldozing the streets, pink shirt on his back and a wide smile as he headed down Yonge Street.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—then campaigning for his job—made a splash at Toronto Pride last year, taking photos and meeting future voters. Out there, the Liberal Party was a hit.

That’s because Trudeau campaigned for prime minister on the promise to improve LGBTQ rights. The future PM even put an emphasis on transgender rights—so often overlooked by elected officials. In the Liberal platform, Trudeau said “that trans rights [will be] recognized as human rights and fully protected.”

But for all of the showboating, CBC reports that there still isn’t a timeline for implementing the bill that would protect transgender Canadians under Canada’s human rights code.

According to CBC, Trudeau’s mandate letter to Justice Minister Jodi Wilson-Raybould identified trans rights, among a laundry list of other issues, as one of her “top priorities.” Her job is to “introduce government legislation to add gender identity as a prohibited ground for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and to the list of distinguishing characteristics of ‘identifiable group’ protected by the hate speech provisions of the Criminal Code.”

In doing this, Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould would be filling the much-needed gap in legislative protections for trans Canadians.

It’s not a new idea: there have been three recent attempts to pass a bill protecting trans rights. Two of those attempted bills, Bills C-279 and C-389, were defeated in the Senate—and Trudeau has been criticized by LGBTQ activists for being absent during a vote in the House of Commons for C-279. Another, Bill C-204, was introduced by the NDP in December 2015, and was left hanging as Parliament dissolved.

Yet, so far, little action has been made. There’s no word on whether the Liberals intend to resurrect Bill C-204 or introduce their own legislation. A spokesperson for Wilson-Raybould told CBC information about the legislation would “be provided in due course.”

But that offers little comfort to trans Canadians.

Sure, it is pleasant to see elected officials—especially a prime minister—attend Pride, to show solidarity with communities so often on the fringes. (In Toronto specifically, we have seen what happens when an elected official skips out on LGBTQ events.) But Trudeau and his government cannot be applauded until he addresses trans rights legislation nationwide.

In Ontario, trans people are protected under the province’s human rights code. But symbolically, the country has lagged behind other nations. Moreover, despite these provincial protections, trans people continue to face discrimination even in a city as progressive as Toronto.

At the bureaucratic level, trans Torontonians have been shut out of many LGBTQ gathering places (even the Trans March has a fraught history with Pride Toronto).

Trans people also face institutional barriers: access to health care can be a nightmare. There always seems to be a battle over public bathrooms, where many trans people can be targeted. Many face discrimination in the workplace, and some face unemployment because of their gender identities.

In addition, trans Canadians are subject to the highest rates of violence in the country, particularly for physical and sexual assault. And in one Ontario survey, 77 per cent of trans respondents said they seriously considered suicide; 45 per cent had attempted suicide before.

It certainly isn’t a solution, but protecting trans Canadians in our country’s Human Rights Act and in the Criminal Code is a start—one that signifies changing attitudes toward what has historically been a vulnerable community.

This year, Trudeau will head back to Yonge Street to celebrate Pride, alongside Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Mayor John Tory—for the first time ever in our city’s history. But beyond the fun and excitement of Pride, our leaders have the responsibility to make things better for those in attendance.