Protect rights of transgender people

Speaking notes for

Ian Fine

Acting Secretary General

Canadian Human Rights Commission

Presentation to the
House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on Bill C-279,
a bill to include Gender Identity and Gender Expression grounds of discrimination
in the Canadian Human Rights Act.


Thursday, November 22, 2012
Ottawa, Ontario

Check against delivery

Mr. 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 and gender expression as grounds of discrimination.

I would like to introduce my colleagues. On my right is Philippe Dufresne, Acting Director General of Dispute Resolution and Senior General Counsel of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. On my left is Tracey Donaldson, Acting Director of Policy and International Relations. 

I have three main 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 grounds of “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the Canadian Human Rights Act would make this human rights protection explicit.

It is difficult to know how many transgender people there are in Canada. What we do know is that many transgender individuals are reluctant to identify themselves or seek assistance.

Often, they fear being shunned by society.

Or they fear being harassed or treated unfairly.

Or they may fear 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 a country where 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.

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.

As I mentioned, if someone experiences discrimination based on “gender identity” or “gender expression” they are currently protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

In the past five years, the Commission has received 19 discrimination complaints that raise transgender issues. Eight of these cases are still open.

We at the Commission believe that the complaints that come forward do not provide a full picture of discrimination involving “gender identity” or “gender expression.”

For many, filing a complaint is a last resort.

It takes courage.

The fear of stigma can be overwhelming for some. It’s often easier to remain silent.

This brings me to my last point.

In the past, Parliament has amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to ensure that the most vulnerable members of our society are protected from harassment and discrimination. Adding the ground of sexual orientation is one example.

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

This would promote acceptance and send a message that everyone in Canada 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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