Justin Trudeau promises 'full protection' with transgender rights bill

"I am proud to announce that tomorrow, on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, we will be tabling a bill in the House of Commons to ensure the full protection of transgender people," Trudeau said on Monday in Montreal.

Government bill being tabled Tuesday will follow two unsuccessful attempts to amend Human Rights Act

Justin Trudeau promises transgender rights

8 years ago
Duration 2:26
Prime minister will introduce legislation to fully protect transgender people in Canada

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has confirmed his government will move forward with new legislation to protect the rights of transgender Canadians.

"I am proud to announce that tomorrow, on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, we will be tabling a bill in the House of Commons to ensure the full protection of transgender people," Trudeau said on Monday in Montreal, where he was accepting the Laurent McCutcheon Award for his commitment to fighting homophobia and transphobia.

He also said he would be back in Montreal this summer for the city's Pride celebrations, the first prime minister to do so. "Because we must continue to demand true equality," he said. "We must carry on the legacy of those who fought for justice by being bold and ambitious in our actions. And we must work diligently to close the gap between our principles and our reality."

Details of the government bill were not immediately forthcoming, but, in her mandate letter, Trudeau asked Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould "to add gender identity as a prohibited ground for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and to the list of distinguishing characteristics of 'identifiable group' protected by the hate speech provisions of the Criminal Code."

Wilson-Raybould is scheduled to make an announcement on Parliament Hill on Tuesday morning.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government will introduce legislation to enshrine transgender rights on Tuesday. Trudeau also announced he'll be the first prime minister to attend Montreal's Pride parade this summer. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The inclusion of gender identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act has been at least 12 years in the making. In fact, proposals to do so have already twice passed the House of Commons, mostly recently in 2013.

The first bill to add gender identity was tabled by former NDP MP Bill Siksay in 2004. Siksay introduced it in 2006, 2007 and 2009 before making some progress with C-389 in 2010. That bill passed the House of Commons in 2011 by a vote of 143-135, but Parliament was dissolved for an election shortly thereafter.

NDP MP Randall Garrison picked up the proposal upon Siksay's retirement and his bill, C-279passed the House in 2013 by a vote of 149-137, with 18 Conservative MPs joining New Democrats and Liberals to support the bill. But C-279 then stalled in the Senate.

Both C-389 and C-279 were targeted by opponents as "bathroom bills," with some suggesting that extending human rights protections to transgender people would make it easier for predators to prey on children in public washrooms. 

During the Senate study of C-279, Conservative Senator Don Plett tabled amendments to exempt public washrooms (and several other venues) from rights protection and those amendments were adopted by a Senate committee in 2015. The bill was then still with the Senate last year when Parliament was again dissolved for an election.

The Canadian debate mirrors debate in the United States, where, most recently, the state of North Carolina passed a law requiring transgender individuals to use the restroom that corresponded to the gender on their birth certificates. That law has prompted boycotts and is being challenged by the federal justice department.

In December, Randall Garrison tabled his own bill again in the House.

The current Liberal majority no doubt improves the chances of getting a third bill through the House of Commons. And perhaps the minds of some opponents have also had time to change.

'I've changed my mind'

Tilson has changed his mind on Transgender Bill

8 years ago
Duration 1:15
Ontario Conservative MP David Tilson tells Julie Van Dusen how he has changed his mind on transgender rights

"I voted against it last time, but I've changed my mind. I'm going to vote for it," Conservative MP David Tilson told a CBC reporter earlier on Monday, before Trudeau had spoken, when asked about the notion of enshrining transgender rights. "It's obviously an issue that takes awhile for some of us to get used to. So these people have rights and we should give them to them."

Tilson recalled a situation in his own riding.

"It's so new in the last 10, 20 years that I think people, many people, looked down on them. And it's clearly, there's a percentage of the population that are transgender and we should recognize that," he said.

"We had a situation in my riding at the time I voted against it, quite frankly, where there was a male minister who gave a sermon and in his sermon he said, next week, I'm coming back as a woman. [People] were shocked. This is a rural community and they were shocked. But I think things are changing, I think people are changing. Certainly I am."

Power Panel: Transgender rights legislation

8 years ago
Duration 9:14
The Power Panel discusses the government's plan to bring forward legislation protecting transgender people


Aaron Wherry

Senior writer

Aaron Wherry has covered Parliament Hill since 2007 and has written for Maclean's, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. He is the author of Promise & Peril, a book about Justin Trudeau's years in power.

with files from Susana Mas and Julie Van Dusen