Transgender people need protection, Edmonton advocate tells Senate committee

An Edmonton woman and transgender advocate made the case Thursday in front of the Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee to extend legal protections for gender identity and expression.

Gender identity and gender expression should be added to Canadian Human Rights Act, Marni Panas urges

Marni Panas of Edmonton testified before a Senate committee in Ottawa Thursday. (Submitted by Marni Panas)

An Edmonton woman and transgender advocate made the case Thursday in front of the Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee to extend legal protections for gender identity and expression.

Marni Panas was in Ottawa to speak about the federal government's Bill C16.

The changes would add gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act and make hate propaganda against transgender people illegal.

"What this law will mean to me is that we will be people too — recognized in this country and have access to protections," Panas testified. "If we are fired because of who we are, we have recourse for that. We don't have those things as it stands."

'We're not labels'

Outside the meeting, Panas told CBC she was happy with the way the meeting went.

"I think this really represented an opportunity for us to really talk about the issues and create a conversation about as as human beings, that we're not labels, we're not numbers, that we're not these people that people should be afraid of," she said.

"We have many gifts to offer society and this was a really great opportunity to do that and I think we were able to connect with many of the senators on that committee on a real human level."

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould introduced the changes to the legislation last year in the House of Commons.

Panas was there when it happened nearly a year ago.

The bill passed first reading in October 2016 and was referred to the Senate committee for hearings.

Panas said she's not frustrated with the length of time the bill is taking.

"It's actually taken 12 years to get to this point when you consider all of the other bills that have gotten to this point," she said.

"I think we are further ahead. I think the feeling I got from most of the senators in the room is that they get this. They're starting to understand what the real issues are."

Hate propaganda changes needed

Panas said the changes to the Criminal Code are needed to include transgender people in laws against hate propaganda.

"We know that violent crimes and hate crimes against transgender people are most violent and more violent than against anybody else," she said. "We have no way of recognizing this, nor prosecuting it as a hate crime. This allows us to count this and count us."

Panas said the changes to the Human Rights Act will help even out the patchwork of rights for transgender people that exist now depending on what province they live in and where they work.

"If I was to go into a bank in Alberta, I would be protected, but the clerk who was serving me would not be because they're governed federally," she said.

Changing the laws won't change attitudes quickly though, she said.

"If it passed today, tomorrow we're not going to see a drop in suicide rates or discrimination, but it's the start to normalize our conversation around transgender people," she said.

"That we are humans too. That we just want the same things that anybody else does in this country. I think that's probably going to be the biggest impact."



Nola Keeler is an award-winning journalist who has worked with CBC in Whitehorse, Yukon and Edmonton since 2000. She has worked as a host, reporter, news reader and producer for CBC. Send story ideas to nola.keeler@cbc.ca.