Back on March 20th, despite the Tories’ attempts at kicking the can down the road, NDP, Liberals and a whopping 15 Conservatives passed the controversial transgender rights bill in the House of Commons, making assault on a transgender person a hate crime, and protecting trans* folk against discrimination.
I hate having to say “the controversial” in this case, but as usual, it’s controversial because Conservatives don’t want to pass anything making it any less acceptable to attack anyone who isn’t a straight white cis-gendered males in this world. Making it illegal to discriminate against a trans* person, in the same way as it’s illegal to discriminate against any other non-ciswhitestraightmales, well, would simply be a bridge too far to most of them. So they’ve been fighting it with the rhetoric that it would allow sexual predators to assault women in bathrooms by pretending to be transgender. They’ve honestly smeared it throughout the media and throughout the political discourse as “The Bathroom Bill”.
Yeah, it makes about as little sense as it sounds.
Anyway, the bill is not entirely perfect after some last-second wheedling:
There were complaints that the language in the bill was confusing and vague, including the term “gender expression” and “gender identity.”
Mr. Garrison tried to strike a compromise by removing the term “gender expression.”
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel teared up in the Commons earlier this month as she spoke about the discrimination that transgender Canadians face, even as she questioned the bill’s effectiveness.
“Both sides of this debate should agree that equality and protection against harm are two fundamental values that all Canadians of any gender, any age, any background are entitled to,” Ms. Rempel said.
“However, as legislators we are also tasked with deciding if the proposed legislation is sound. Given the lack of clarity that I found in the bill, I do have concern about its viability.”
This “vagueness” charge is the same as previously covered here, when David Anderson spent an entire session — one he was apparently not even invited to — wasting the House’s time on obfuscatory smokescreens about how poorly defined “gender expression” and “gender identity” are, even though they’re concisely and clearly defined in international human rights law. It seems pretty clear that the charges that the terms are ill defined are intended as legal chaff, as a FUD tactic to throw uncertainty onto a valuable and clearly needed human rights bill.
There’s another aspect to this that I’m confused by. Many, many big-name Conservatives — Harper included — voted against it, and spoke out against it prior to the bill’s vote. Political parties don’t really vote in blocs in Canada generally, but Harper’s had extraordinarily tight control over his party’s voting. (The idea of a “party whip” is a foreign import from the States’ already-polarized political system.)
This is important, and telling, but I’m not sure what exactly it means. This bill was tabled by the opposition party, the NDP — and it passed, despite a Conservative majority. Either Harper told everyone to vote their consciences, or he has lost control of his party over this issue. Or more cynically, he wanted it to pass but wanted to be seen as voting against it and told some of his back-benchers to do the right thing.