B.C. to change human rights code to protect transgender rights

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton says the code will be changed to include “gender identity or expression” among protected grounds

VANCOUVER – British Columbia’s government is reversing its position and aligning itself with the majority of Canada to enhance protection for the rights of transgender people just days before Vancouver’s annual Pride parade.

The government will introduce amendments under the B.C. Human Rights Code next week to include “gender identity and gender expression” among the protected ground its covers, Attorney General Suzanne Anton said Wednesday.

Opposition New Democrat Spencer Chandra Herbert had introduced the changes in private member bills four times since 2011, but the Liberal government has repeatedly refused to support the legislation.

“It’s been a long road but we’re getting there,” Chandra Herbert said at a joint news conference with Anton.

“We will finally see explicit protections … and join with most of Canada in ensuring that transgender people know that their rights are protected in law, in name and right there on the paper.”

If passed, B.C. will join seven provinces and one territory that have already changed their regulations. The federal Liberals also unveiled a plan in May to outlaw transgender hate speech and discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act and in the Criminal Code.

The changes in B.C. will mean a landlord may not refuse tenancy and an employer may not fire someone because a person is transgender, for example.

Morgane Oger, chair of the Trans Alliance Society, said she is encouraged by the proposed changes, but sad they come more than a decade after similar recommendations by the B.C. Human Rights Commission.

The society mounted a two-year effort to persuade politicians, socially conservative churches and businesses to lend support, said Oger.

“I do understand that sometimes government needs to be prodded,” she said. “We needed to show government that society really is actually behind us.”

Oger said the changes will ensure children are educated about transgender rights because the code is taught in schools.

The government had said that all individuals were equal under the law, so no changes were required, but Anton said she has decided to act after many meetings with people from the LGBTQ community.

“Transgender persons are protected now. They have not all known that,” Anton said.

“That is the importance of putting it plain and simple into the human rights code. It is a relatively simple change.”

Premier Christy Clark was excluded from the parade last year after the Vancouver Pride Society required all participants sign a pledge supporting transgender equality legislation.

Anton said she will take part in Vancouver’s parade on July 31, but a government spokesman said the premier will be out of the province. Clark will take part in Kelowna’s Pride celebrations in August.

Alan Jernigan, president of the Vancouver Pride Society, said parade organizers launched the campaign last year excluding people who weren’t supportive “to achieve exactly this outcome.”

“This has been a result of pressure and work done by many, many activists in many organizations,” he added.

Vancouver trans activist Marie Little said the changes will have real impact if passed.

She’s heard many stories of transgender people being thrown out of their homes or having their clothes cut up, and the proposed amendments could take away some of their hardship.

“It’s obviously about time.”

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