Canada should be LGBT world leader

Adding gender identity, expression to list of protected groups is a positive step

A Dutch student successfully campaigned to have his diploma replaced by a university after he had sex re-assignment surgery. Initially reluctant, the university at first offered the man — who was a woman when he graduated from the institution — a simple certificate confirming his graduation. The country’s Equal Opportunities Commission ruled in his favour this week, saying he is entitled to a new diploma that properly identifies him.

Back in Canada, a private member’s bill is causing a bit of a different stir. Bill C-389 would add gender identity and gender expression to the list of identifiable groups protected by the Human Rights Act and even the hate provisions of the criminal code.

In a May debate in the House of Commons, Conservative MP Sylvie Boucher argued that making it illegal to express hatred towards transgender, intersex and transsexual people is a violation of free speech.

“We need enough evidence to conclude that there are enough cases of hate propaganda against transgender people,” she said. “Without that evidence, it is difficult to justify amending the Criminal Code and placing additional restrictions on free speech.”

Boucher pointed to recent Human Rights Tribunal decisions, which found that cases of harassment or discrimination brought forward by transsexuals was fully justified because “discriminating against transsexuals is prohibited based on the current ground of sex.”

In other words, Canada already has these protections in place. But this bill wants to make them more explicit — and that’s also justified.

Given the string of suicides among LGBT youth this fall, and given the fervency with which the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is being debated in the U.S., there is still a need to protect people from those who would do them harm.

If that means making sure the appropriate name is on a diploma, then fine. And if it means making sure that the harassment and abuse of transgender, transsexual and intersex people in Canada will not be tolerated, then fine.

Canada has a chance to be a world leader on this. Boucher told the House that no other country has established these kinds of protections. It can get better, and Canada can help lead the way.

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