It’s increasingly apparent that Canada’s federal Conservatives have declared war on trans people.
By trying to kill human rights legislation that would protect trans people from hate crimes, and by forcing through another bill that would make them more unsafe, the Conservatives are playing to their social conservative base at the expense of the most marginalized of the marginalized.
The government’s anti-prostitution bill passed in the House of Commons by a 156 to 124 vote, despite strong objections from sex workers and outreach organizations that say C-36 targets the most at-risk populations — trans people, people of colour and Aboriginal women — by reducing them to victims, criminalizing their work and forcing them further into the shadows.
That was Oct. 6. Just days later, on Oct. 9, a Senate committee debated the legitimacy of trans people’s very existence.
It was the latest round of hearings for the federal trans rights bill, C-279, which would add gender identity to the Canadian Human Rights Act and hate crimes provisions of the Criminal Code. The bill has been stalled in the Senate since March after narrowly passing a vote in the House of Commons last year.
Tragically, it’s now looking more and more likely that the bill will die in the Senate or face changes, which will send it back to the House for another vote.
Once again the Conservatives have failed to recognize the human rights and dignity of trans people.
The reality is that C-279 is desperately needed because trans people face harassment and violent attacks daily. Combined with police profiling, it’s understandable that trans people experience anxiety and fear just leaving the house every day.
In 2010’s Trans Pulse survey, an ongoing community-based research project investigating the health of Ontario's trans population, 43 per cent of respondents had attempted suicide, 20 per cent had been targets of physical or sexual assaults and 34 per cent had been verbally harassed or threatened.
Those numbers are shockingly high, and can be directly attributed to feelings of shame and isolation imposed on trans people through systemic inequality and institutional barriers.
Disproportionate discrimination in employment means sex work is the only option for some, but many trans sex workers enjoy their work and say prostitution helps create communities and spaces where their gender identities and bodies are respected and celebrated.
But that’s not what the government wants you to hear.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay, who is willfully ignoring all evidence on the significant harms that Bill C-36 will cause, says the ultimate goal is not to make the sex trade safer, but to instead abolish prostitution completely.
However, the only people that appear to be asking for this are MacKay and several groups with evangelical ties, such as REAL Women — a group that fought gay marriage more than a decade ago.
And if all this sounds familiar, it should. This is nothing more than the latest attempt to use criminal law to legislate morality.
Prior to 1969, Canada’s Criminal Code contained a series of colonial laws that condemned extramarital sexual practices, criminalizing “buggery” and “gross indecency.” At their core, these offences were designed to stigmatize — and ultimately eradicate — homosexuality.
Today, in Canada at least, criminalizing homosexuality is unthinkable. We have since progressed and now view gay rights as fundamental human rights with protections enshrined in law.
Trans people are still fighting for those federal protections.
Conservative Manitoba Senator Don Plett is a vocal opponent of C-279 and a champion of C-36. He spent much of the Senate committee concern-trolling with questions about his granddaughter being assaulted by “a biological male” in bathrooms.
What Plett is refusing to grasp is that this is not about bathrooms. By repeatedly trying to whip up fear, he is contributing to extremely hostile attitudes towards trans people, even disgracefully likening them to pedophiles.
He is also perpetuating a lie with his toilet panic. Statistically, trans people are far more likely to be victims of assault in bathrooms by cis people.
Plett is equally oblivious when discussing C-36, openly admitting the bill would fail a constitutional challenge. He says the government has no interest in keeping women safe, especially uppity women who disagree with him. “We don't want to make life safe for prostitutes,” he told the Senate committee.
Since I’d like to think that most Canadians do respect the right of sex workers and trans people to live with safety and dignity, it’s Plett and his fellow social conservative dinosaurs who should be made to feel very unsafe in the next election.