Trans bill sails through committee

Race on to make progress as election looms

The NDP private member’s bill to explicitly extend human rights protections to trans Canadians sailed through the Commons justice committee in minutes on Tuesday evening. The longest delays involved procedural wrangling around misnumbered clauses.

The bill passed committee with two Conservatives dissenting, though the government has been prepared to pass it on division.

“I’m really happy,” says NDP MP Bill Siksay, the bill’s author. “I’m happy that finally we seem on the cusp of getting this through the House of Commons, and maybe even getting it through the Senate before the next election, and that would be a great accomplishment, and a great thing for the members of the transsexual and transgendered community.”

Timing of an election was one of the factors that led the government to approach NDP committee member Joe Comartin with the suggestion to put forward a motion that would deem all clauses carried.

“We’re quite conscious of the fact that we’ve got an election coming and wanting to see if we can get it out of the House and into the Senate and through the Senate before the election, otherwise it all dies,” Comartin says. “Speed was really of essence.”

It was also because of the straightforward nature of the bill.

“Maybe a couple of people obviously voted against it, but a general consensus that the bill was so straightforward, the amendments so small both in number and in consequence, that we didn’t have to call witnesses, we didn’t want to go through a detailed analysis of what it was going to do because it was so straightforward,” Comartin says.

The fact that there were no hearings does disappoint Siksay.

“I think it would have been great if we’d been able to have transgender and transsexual people speaking for themselves before the committee,” he says. “That was their opportunity to talk about why this was an important change.”

Nevertheless, he is happy that it has passed the committee stage and is moving back to the House of Commons for report stage, which should happen in December.

Liberal justice critic Marlene Jennings says she is delighted by the outcome and commends Siksay for authoring the bill.

“I think that it was high time that we do that as a society,” Jennings says.

It was also Jennings who insisted that the bill be put to a recorded vote, rather than passed on division.

“I insisted on a recorded vote and I generally do that when we’re dealing with something that I believe to be a fundamental human right,” Jennings says. “I don’t think it’s honest to hide behind a vote on division. I think that each person should stand, or sit, or speak when their name is called, and put firmly on the record where they stand on an issue. I wanted everyone on the committee to put it on the record whether or not they supported having gender identity and gender expression as one of the identifiable characteristics that are protected under the Human Rights Act.”


Two of the four Conservative MPs voted against the bill: Brent Rathgeber and Stephen Woodworth. Jennings says she is not surprised that the other two didn’t vote against it.

“I fully expected Mr Petit, who comes from Quebec, who is a criminal lawyer, to be supportive of that,” she says. “We Quebeckers tend to be a little more open. I was not surprised that Mr Dechert did, given that he’s the parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, and it was the government’s suggestion that a motion be put by Mr Comartin to deem the bill that all clauses been carried, and I assumed then that he was favourable.”

Dale Smith is a freelance journalist in the Parliamentary Press Gallery and author of The Unbroken Machine: Canada's Democracy in Action.

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