Advancing LGBT, women's equality key to Canada's economic growth, Monsef says

Breaking down employment barriers for women and LGBT Canadians is going to be critical to driving Canada's future economic prosperity, says Women and Gender Equality Minister Maryam Monsef.

Minister of gender equality says building an inclusive economy is vital to Canada's future

Women and Gender Equality Minister Maryam Monsef has been given expanded marching orders as her agency gets full-fledged department status. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Breaking down employment barriers for women and LGBT Canadians is going to be critical to driving Canada's future economic prosperity, says Women and Gender Equality Minister Maryam Monsef.

The former Status of Women agency has evolved into a full-fledged department, with more funding and a broader mandate to advance LGBT rights. Monsef said that reflects an "economic imperative" to boost the participation of women and Canadians with different gender identities and sexual orientations in the workforce.

"That's the way forward," she said in an interview. 

"We can't afford to leave anyone out. The economy is changing. The solutions to our most complex challenges will be developed and implemented by people of various backgrounds and experiences. Voices that haven't always been at the table can hold those solutions we have not yet thought about. Canada will be stronger when we include everybody."

Monsef said she will work with Randy Boissonnault, the prime minister's special adviser on LGBT issues, to help end discrimination.

"Not only are we formalizing the focus of this new department to ensure that women and persons of different gender identities and sexual orientations have a voice within the federal government, we're also going to further strengthen our relationship with organizations on the ground doing this work to ensure that we are as relevant and responsive as possible, and that we meet the needs and also seize the opportunities that exist in greater inclusion," Monsef said.

Economic barriers for trans people

A transgender person living in an urban centre has different circumstances than a transgender person living in a rural community, she said, and when that gender identity intersects with a disability, there are usually even greater barriers.

LGBT advocates welcomed the move to expand the department's focus and said breaking down barriers to employment, especially for transgender people, is long overdue.

Helen Kennedy, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group Egale Canada, said transgender Canadians face hurdles in getting jobs and keeping them. They endure lower pay and higher rates of sexual harassment and violence in the workplace, she said.

"These are really important conversations for this minister to initiate and to have, and to change the whole perspective around gender across government and across policies to be more inclusive," she said. "It would help eliminate forms of discrimination and harassment."

In November 2017, the Liberal government issued a formal apology and awarded $100 million in compensation for LGBT civil servants, military members and criminalized Canadians who endured discrimination and injustice based on their sexual orientation.

The Liberal government issued a historic apology to LGBT Canadians for systemic discrimination. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Calling it "our collective shame," Trudeau recounted how the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit Canadians were blighted by discriminatory laws that "bolstered and emboldened those who wanted to attack non-conforming sexual desire."

Historic apology for LGBT discrimination

"Our laws made private and consensual sex between same-sex partners a criminal offence, leading to the unjust arrest, conviction and imprisonment of Canadians," he said in a formal apology delivered in the House of Commons. "This criminalization would have lasting impacts for things like employment, volunteering, and travel."

Gary Kinsman, a sociology professor at Laurentian University and a leading scholar on LGBT issues, said discrimination, homelessness and unemployment persist for trans people.

"It's going to be significant it it seriously takes up these issues, but it requires a transformation and an extension of the mandate, not just simply adding on in subsidiary manner," he said of Monsef's enhanced objectives.

"If it's just a tack-on, it's not seriously addressing our concerns. Our concerns are entirely bound up with the feminist movement and the movements of gender equality, but there are some very specific needs and concerns that we have that need to be addressed."