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Supporting amendments to the Human Rights Code

Transcript and video of Vicki's speech on amendments to the Human Rights Code to add explicit protections for gender identity and gender expression.

I have listened to the words and discussion of the member for Chilliwack-Hope with great attention and know that what he says is a difficult thing for him to say, difficult for some of us to listen to, perhaps, and a fascinating discussion of opinion in a modern world, a world that is changing substantially.

I'd like to comment on a couple of the words that he chose to use. The phrase that he said suggested that how we are born is who we are meant to be and that the meaning and value of purpose is to live as we were meant to be and be happy and rejoice in that.

I guess my answer to the member, with great respect, is that this entire discussion is about the very fact that how we were born is not who we were meant to be and that the meaning and value and purpose in life for some is found in the opposite of how they were born and what they were meant to be. Really, what they are telling us, my dear colleague, is that how they were born is not who they were meant to be. I think it's that discussion that drives the opinion of so many of his other colleagues in this House.

 

That being said, I agree wholeheartedly that one should have the choice of institution and would stand and defend that in this House too.

I would like to start my formal remarks by thanking my colleague from Vancouver–West End for his work to amend B.C.'s human rights code to include explicit protections for gender expression and gender identity. I'd also like to thank the Minister of Justice for finally listening to individuals who, for so very long, have been telling her government that they need the comfort of a specific designation in the code.

Most importantly, I would like to thank trans rights advocates, including the Trans Alliance Society of B.C. and trans British Columbians, families and allies across this province for their tireless work on the issue. It is you who have been calling for these changes, and it is because of you that we are here to pass these amendments.

When a discrete group of British Columbians asks their government to change a law in order to help end discrimination, harassment and violence, it is incumbent upon legislators to act. It has taken far too long for government to respond. However, this long-overdue change of heart — that is what it is, a change of heart — is welcome and needed and wonderful. For this ethical change of heart, we have not only the advocates for transgender rights but also the member for Vancouver–West End to thank.

It is a happy day for so many, but a proud day, a day of enormous accomplishment for the member. It was only a few short weeks ago that the Attorney General of the province said: "It is absolutely crystal-clear that transgender people's rights are covered under the human rights code." But we knew that a legal interpretation of the human rights code is an implicit protection only. As the Trans Equality Society of Alberta wrote, "Protections for gender identity and gender expression in B.C. were not explicit," and they were so right.

It has been such an effort by so many souls to get to this point — and why, I will never understand. Each of us has a right and a place on this planet. Each of us has a right to respect from our public institutions, and each of us has the right to have our dignity and person protected by law. But the standard refrain from government was that inaction was the best way forward. The amendments before us today, we were told, would have no effect, because protections were already there.

But it is a society that protects its most vulnerable, in all their forms and dimensions, that is a truly compassionate and democratic society. Protecting the minority among us is part and parcel of living in Canada. Learning to respect the minority among us is the mark of a great culture. Maturity is realizing that an individual's dignity must sometimes be protected by law so that social change can take place as peacefully and respectfully as possible.

What is happening in this place today is an evolution of society and law. It is the parliamentary system at its finest. Like common law, it is a system that responds to public pressure and moulds our laws and society as it moves forward. Too seldom does it lead, and it often takes far too long to move, but eventually it does respond, albeit often kicking and screaming and under protest. How quickly things can change when government recognizes that it has fallen behind the public instinct, especially during the pre-election period, but we will take what we can get when we get it.

I am pleased today and thrilled for all those who demanded that gender identity and gender expression were deserving of explicit protections under the law of British Columbia. We have finally caught up with the rest of our country. That begs the question: why are we always trying to catch up in British Columbia? Why haven't we been leaders on this issue? Why has it taken so much time to entrench these rights, to end the disproportionate violence and systemic discrimination that trans British Columbians face every day?

The Trans Alliance Society of B.C. has compiled numerous statistics that show just how far as a society we have yet to go. A 2015 UBC study of trans youth found that two-thirds of participants had been discriminated against because of their gender identity, because of who they felt they were; 70 percent reported sexual harassment; and more than a third had been physically threatened or injured during the past year.

Over half of the participants in a study on medical care for trans individuals reported that they had had a negative emergency room experience because they were trans. According to the Public Service Alliance of Canada, 97 percent of trans people have been harassed at work, and 10 percent have attempted suicide. These numbers are heartbreaking.

As important as this legislation is, as necessary as it is, we won't stamp out systemic discrimination and violence with amendments to the human rights code. But what we are doing is sending a firm signal that society has changed and that we will not put up with discrimination and violence meted on individuals who do nothing more than express their differences. 

We have responded in fashion to the United Nations call on all states to act urgently to end violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex adults, adolescents and children. I'm hopeful that this bill is a good start in that much longer fight ahead to end discrimination against trans individuals.

We must also listen to trans British Columbians in an effort to provide the tangible services they say that they need. For some individuals, that might be access to sex assignment clinics in British Columbia, rather than being forced to go to Montreal. For other individuals, a step forward would be the day they can walk into a Service B.C. centre, a city hall, a hospital or a police station without fear of discrimination. We're not there yet, but one day that sense of freedom will arrive.

Other protections are also necessary to secure that sense of freedom. According to the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, queer and trans youth are twice as likely to live in unstable housing. Trans Rights B.C. notes that aboriginal trans women and trans women of colour are at an even greater risk of homelessness, and a third of trans individuals report being turned away when trying to access shelters.

If the government is truly committed to protecting trans individuals, then we must also need income assistance rates that are above the poverty line, and we need to make improvements to the accessibility of decent affordable housing. The B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition is absolutely correct when they say: "Poverty is also a queer and trans issue."

Bill 27 presents an amazing accomplishment by trans rights groups, the opposition and the government. It is an invaluable piece of legislation, because human rights and anti-discrimination laws for marginalized and stigmatized groups are important fundamental protections. Today B.C. finally provides gender identity and gender expression with the explicit protections afforded to sexual orientation and religious faith. It is a day to celebrate and a day to look to a better and more inclusive future for all of our citizens.

For this moment, I look especially to the member for Vancouver–West End and thank him for his commitment to making things right.

As long as people are being harassed because they are different, as long as people are contemplating it as a result of that discrimination they face because they are different and as long as people are being murdered because they are different, we as legislators must never again fail to respond to a cry for help. Our complacency is silent assent, and it is not worthy of this place.

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