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Bill C-16: Canada’s New Federal Human Rights Legislation

The rainbow flag and the trans pride flag (blue, pink, and white stripes) fly in the wind at Victoria City Hall.

For years, transgender activists and advocates, human rights organizations, Members of Parliament, and many others have worked tirelessly to legislate human rights protections for gender variant people at the federal level. This process lasted over a decade and saw several bills proposed in parliament and then die. That is, until recently.

On Thursday, June 15th, 2017, after over a year, Bill C-16 passed its final reading. This legislation – sponsored by Liberal Party MP Jody Wilson-Raybould who currently serves as Canada’s Minister of Justice – is now in effect. It added gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act along with related protections in the Criminal Code of Canada. Put simply, it is now illegal in areas of federal jurisdiction to discriminate against someone because of their gender identity or expression.

Not only has legislation protecting gender identity and gender expression now passed at the federal level, most provinces and territories in Canada now also include protections in their own human rights legislation. The Northwest Territories’ government was the first in the Canada to include gender identity protections in its Human Rights Code though gender expression still remains unprotected there. British Columbia’s Human Rights Code was amended in July 2016 to include gender identity or expression as protected grounds.

Some people may not have a clear understanding of gender identity and gender expression. They may also wonder why and how do they need to be protected? As the data shows – like research from groups TransPulse in Ontario – people whose gender identities do not align with their assigned sex, are more vulnerable for harassment and assault, unemployment or underemployment, to attempt suicide, be homeless, and more. The legislation is an attempt to protect gender diverse people in areas of federal jurisdiction such as federal services, immigration, criminal law and more.

Learn more about Bill C-16 here:

Though federal and provincial legislation is a very important step, alone it cannot fully protect this often vulnerable part of the population. Government, organizations, businesses, schools and more need to be proactive in making themselves supportive and affirming of varying gender identities and gender expressions.

While it can sometimes feel overwhelming to change “the system,” the passing of Bill C-16 is evidence that change is possible. The most important thing people can do now is to continue to act within their sphere of influence. This may mean bringing conversations to family, pushing for policy changes in the workplace, or connecting with local LGBTQ2SIA+ groups that may need support. Whatever the case, it’s now up to all levels of government along with individuals to give Bill C-16 its true meaning.

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Ambit Gender Diversity Consulting