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Ontario trans rights bill dismissed by attorney general


Ontario trans rights bill dismissed by attorney general

From left: Martine Stonehouse, Susan Gapka, Georgina Bencsik, Davina Hader and Stefonknee Wolscht. IMAGE 1 OF 1
Trans activists resolute
On the eve of the Trans Day of Remembrance, Attorney General Chris Bentley dismissed the latest appeal to amend the Ontario Human Rights Code to include gender identity.

Xtra joined members of the Ontario Trans Human Rights Campaign to listen to the short discussion on the floor of the Ontario legislature during question period on Thursday morning. As soon as NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo reintroduced the private member's bill, Bentley shot it down.

“The attorney general could make the change tomorrow,” DiNovo tells Xtra afterward, sounding exhausted and frustrated. “They have a majority government. They could change this tomorrow. Why won't they?

“We are moving farther under a federal Conservative government on this issue than we are under a provincial Liberal one. It’s a sad day when Conservatives are more progressive than Liberals.”

In question period, Bentley said transgendered and transsexual people are already protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

“It is not helpful in any way, shape or form to say that there is some challenge with the existing protection,” he said. “There are not. The protections are there for those who need them. And for those who even think they can discriminate: do not.

“The law prohibits it. The decisions are clear. The protections exist. We reject all forms of discrimination in this province.”

Trans activist Susan Gapka, who was watching from the visitor gallery, says it’s disappointing to see another missed opportunity.

So the fight continues, says trans activist Stefonknee Wolscht. Bentley’s “implied human rights” leaves too much grey area, she says. Trans people are regularly discriminated against in hospitals, in the courts, in employment and in the media.

“This is all about visibility, and with visibility there’s credibility,” says trans activist Martine Stonehouse. “I compare this to the persons case of 1929 when five women petitioned the government so that women could be recognized as persons in this country.

“This is the same thing. We want recognition and visibility in the Human Rights Code. We don’t want to be buried under sex or disability. It costs nothing to put this in the code. But by not putting it in, it will lead to endless court challenges, human rights cases and cost government and taxpayers money.”

DiNovo first introduced Toby’s Act as a private member's bill in 2007. Named in honour of Toby Dancer, a music producer and transsexual, Bill 186 would amend the Ontario Human Rights Code. This is the fifth time she’s introduced the bill, she says.

When she stood in the legislature, DiNovo reminded MPPs that 50 percent of trans people live below the poverty line and 41 percent attempt suicide.

In employment, 97 percent of trans people face discrimination, proving that Bentley’s policy is not working, she said.

“This is a principled position we are asking them for,” DiNovo says.  “Are they frightened of some backlash? Is this a popularity contest? This is not going to hurt anyone and will help many.

“We are seeing a general shift to the right in this province. We saw this in the municipal election as well.”

A similar piece of legislation is being debated at the federal level. The justice committee of the House of Commons passed Bill C-389, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression. The bill must now go through another reading and debate.

What’s the next step? DiNovo says generating more and more public support will be key to putting pressure on the provincial Liberals.

“Let’s hope the federal bill passes with flying colours. Let’s hope it’s not stymied or any other ugly thing occurs, and we will continue to push it here,” she says. “This is something we are going to win. It’s just a question of when.”

Gapka may be disappointed, but she’s not surrendering.

“We’ll just have to keep coming back to Queen's Park,” she says. “There will be a little path worn into the floor. We’ve only begun to fight.”

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Discrimination undetectable for those who do it
Discrimination undetectable for those who (may know this and) do it, and often many do so because of lack of clarity in their minds of the law. Any appeal to those who hypothetically 'think they can and don't' is irrelevant, because such are at least somewhat aware of the law; the latter are not those we are suffering from.
My horse rather than me
As an owner and breeder of harness horses, Ontario certainly wanted my business! I bred my mares to Ontario sires, stabled them in Ontario and nominated and kept horses eligible to Ontario races.

As a transperson, you have made it clear you don't want me! Wish I knew that before! I get the message!
"Shut Up And Go Away"
As a trans person, I have been told to shut up and go away my entire life, from birth until the present day. I'm only 22, in University, trying to get a degree, and the prospect of getting work terrifies me. Now, the Provincial government has told all trans people in Ontario, "We don't care, shut up, and go away," on the day of the candle-light vigil to mourn the deaths of trans people killed because of violence and discrimination. There will be no challenge to this, no way to oppose this for years to come, and people like me will pay the price. After all, a police officer isn't "discriminating against my sex" if he puts me into a male prison cell, because my ID reads "male." A Transit Canada employee isn't "discriminating against my sex" by having a male officer strip-search me, because my ID reads "male." An employer isn't "discriminating against my sex" for not hiring me, because my ID reads "male," and he can simply say that because I am male, presenting as female is "unorthodox presentation," and that I wouldn't "fit in" to the company. But that, of course, doesn't matter. I'll just keep going on, being told to shut up and go away, by the government that is supposed to represent me and guarantee equality for all, all because some unelected politician (attorney general) thinks that who I am isn't worth protecting.
Thank you, Cheri!
I'd just like to say thank you to Cheri for raising this issue again. . . When they say, "No!", we know they mean, "Not yet!"

And, of course, a thank you to Susan and the others for representing their group at Queen's Park.
Stay tuned
Hi Alex.
Thanks for your comment and questions. There is indeed some more to come on this. Stay tuned.
October 2011 is the watershed
One more point...remember what happened with lesbian/gay curriculum? I think our answer to my question lies there...a spineless government which is not going to do much of anything that won't provide an economic payoff in the coming pre-election months. Not that we can't use some relief, but they're not about to hand Hudak another grenade he can lobby back at them. If this happens at all, it certainly won't be before October 2011.
More info, please
Is Xtra going to go after Bentley? I'd like to understand why he's reluctant to do this - does he have a thought out position or has he simply not been lobbied effectively? This deserves more in-depth reporting, but perhaps that's still to come. Many minority communities have high rates of poverty, suicide and other social problems despite being protected in the Code, so isn't it possible you're putting too much stock in the statutes to solve complex social problems? I'm not saying we shouldn't push for it, but perhaps the arguments need to be tightened up a little and be rational, not emotional. How would specific inclusion lower the suicide rate? (It probably won't - suicide is a very complex phenomenon and rates are high in a number of social democratic societies). Banning discrimination is the workplace seems more relatable and is clearly within the moral mandate of the government to correct.
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