The passage of Bill C-16, which adds protection of gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Code and the Criminal Code, is a huge step forward towards a right for gender self-determination. This is a historic moment.
The new law, passed in the Senate on Thursday, prohibits discrimination against trans and gender non-binary individuals, and includes them within the protections provided by the hate-speech and hate-crime provisions of the criminal law. With the enactment of Bill C-16, the federal government finally joins the provinces and territories that have amended their human rights codes to recognize and protect gender diversity. It is a long overdue statement of the formal equality of trans and gender non-binary Canadians.
It has been a rocky road. Previous private member’s bills had been defeated in the Senate. Bill C-16 became the focus of controversy, with opponents lining up behind claims that the law would violate freedom of expression. Legally and factually dubious claims about the law became the platform to oppose equality for trans and gender non-binary Canadians, cloaking the underlying transphobia that animated the opposition. These messages even got their day on the Senate floor, where they found some sympathetic ears. If not for the tremendous efforts of other senators, experts, advocates, trans people and their incredible parents, these hateful ideas could have blocked bill C-16 from becoming legal reality.
In the end, equality prevailed, and trans and gender non-binary Canadians are now recognized as formally equal citizens.
But the work of real equality has only just begun. Turning formal rights into substantive protections for trans and gender non-binary individuals will be a hard process, and Bill C-16 provides only the simplest of tools.