Chief Commissioner speaks on the inclusion of Gender Identity as a ground of discrimination

Speaking notes for

David Langtry

Acting Chief Commissioner

Canadian Human Rights Commission

Presentation to the

Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights on Bill C-279, 

a bill to include Gender Identity as a ground of discrimination 

in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Ottawa, Ontario

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Madam Chair, Honourable Members, 

Thank you for inviting the Canadian Human Rights Commission to contribute to your study of Bill C-279, a Bill to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity as a ground of discrimination.

In November, my colleague Ian Fine, Secretary General of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on this subject. 

We come here today with the same three points: 

First, the discrimination or harassment experienced by people who are transgender is often hostile and sometimes hateful and violent.

Second, the Commission, the Tribunal, and the courts view “gender identity” and “gender expression” as protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act.

 

And finally, that adding the ground of “gender identity” to the Canadian Human Rights Act would make this human rights protection explicit.

We do not know how many transgender people live in Canada. We believe that many transgender people do not identify themselves because they are afraid. 

Afraid of being shunned by society. 

Afraid of being harassed or treated unfairly.

And in some cases, afraid for their safety. 

Even accessing healthcare or obtaining identification documents can be difficult. Some feel that doing so threatens their privacy, and in turn, their security. 

In Canada, we take pride in being diverse and inclusive. 

Nobody should have to live in fear because of who they are. 

Parliament designed the Canadian Human Rights Act to promote equality and acceptance.

It was created to protect all of us, including vulnerable members of our society, from harassment and discrimination.  â€ƒ

The Canadian Human Rights Commission is responsible for administering the Act. We receive discrimination complaints regarding employment and services provided by organizations under federal jurisdiction. This includes the federal public sector, as well as private sector companies involved in industries such as transportation, telecommunications and banking.

The Commission screens all the discrimination complaints it receives. Many are settled through mediation or resolved through a dispute resolution process. In some instances, we refer complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for adjudication. The Tribunal operates independently of the Commission. 

This brings me to my second point. 

When someone experiences discrimination based on “gender identity” or “gender expression” they are protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act. 

The Commission already accepts complaints that raise transgender issues. 

However, I believe that the complaints that we receive do not provide a full picture of discrimination involving “gender identity.” 

For many, filing a complaint is a last resort. 

It takes courage. 

For some, the fear of stigma can be overwhelming. It’s often easier to remain silent.

This brings me to my last point. 

As I mentioned earlier, the Canadian Human Rights Act was created to protect all of us from harassment and discrimination.

In the past, Parliament has amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to ensure that these protections are available to the most vulnerable members of our society. Adding the ground of sexual orientation is one example.

Adding the ground of “gender identity” to the Act would make protection for members of the transgender community explicit. 

It would promote acceptance.

And it would send a clear message that in Canada, everyone has the right to be treated with equality, dignity and respect. 

Thank you for your attention. We would be happy to take your questions.

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