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NDP MP still hopes Senate passes transgender rights bill – three years on

NDP MP for Esquimalt Juan de Fuca  Randall Garrison rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Monday May 7, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Adrian Wyld.
NDP MP for Esquimalt Juan de Fuca Randall Garrison rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Monday May 7, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Adrian Wyld.

OTTAWA – An NDP MP who has waited more than three years to see what happens to his bill that seeks to enshrine transgender rights in Canada says he hopes the Senate moves quickly to pass it into law.

But Randall Garrison admits he doesn’t know what’s taking so long.

“I am unable to fathom how the Senate works and my bill has been there for a year and a half. So what I’ll be doing is encouraging them to pass the bill as quickly as possible,” the MP for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca in British Columbia said in an interview.

Garrison is set to appear at the Senate legal affairs committee on Thursday – even though the upper chamber already held hearings to examine his bill in summer 2013.

“Normally in the (House of Commons) we would expedite something and move it forward quickly if we’ve already done the work on it,” he said.

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“Instead they treat it as if it’s never been there before and are starting over on hearings.”

It appears Garrison will be in for a fight.

Conservative Sen. Don Plett has signalled he will not support the bill in its current form, and says he knows of other senators who feel the same.

“I will be speaking against it and will be working hard to either defeat it or either try to get changes people will bring forward that I will be amenable to,” Plett said in an interview.

He said he has “safety” concerns about the bill, but wouldn’t elaborate before Thursday’s committee meeting. He recently told the Globe and Mail he believes it is open to abuse, such as allowing predators to claim transgender status, access a facility, and then commit an assault.

“I did not oppose the bill going to committee because I feel any legislation needs to be studied,” he said.

Plett added that the bill was studied by a different Senate committee the last time around, and will get a more “thorough” review this time. “I don’t think it got fair hearings in the other place,” he said.

Bill C-279 looks to add “gender identity” to protect transgender people from discrimination in both the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, under the hate crimes provision.

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Although not supported by the government, the bill passed by 12 votes in the House of Commons in March 2013, and was sent to the Senate for study.

Following the hearings in June 2013, the bill was sent back to the Senate for a vote, but then Parliament adjourned for the summer – and Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued.

So the bill was set back to first reading at the Senate, where it languished for several months before restarting the process.

Garrison recently tried to split the bill and incorporate part of it into the government’s cyberbullying bill C-13, because both pieces of legislation would open up the hate-crime section of the Criminal Code.

However, a Parliamentary committee that already approved the bill rejected that idea, and Garrison’s appeal was turned down by Speaker Andrew Scheer on a technicality.

Garrison said he’s still hopeful the bill – which is sponsored by a Liberal senator since the NDP have no representation in the upper chamber – will pass.

“Not giving up,” he said.

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He said he believes the government is trying to stall the bill, noting five provinces have enshrined gender identity in their human rights codes in the time that his bill has been before Parliament.

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“To me it’s the biggest gap left by our human rights protections in Canada,” Garrison said.

“Transgendered people as I’ve always said are the most discriminated against, the most subject to hate crimes, and among hate crimes the most likely to be violent hate crimes.”

He said he’ll be encouraging senators to get on with it.

“You’ve had it for a year and a half, you’ve already conducted full hearings, you’re not going to learn anything new that hasn’t been discussed in the House or in your own hearings,” he said.