Bathroom talk overshadows transgendered rights bill

While some people celebrated the passing of the transgendered rights bill in the House of Commons on March 20, others were busy worrying about bathrooms.

A male bathroom sign


A male bathroom sign

A male bathroom sign.

While some people celebrated the passing of the transgendered rights bill in the House of Commons on March 20, others were busy worrying about bathrooms.

Bill C-279, dubbed the “bathroom bill,” has received ongoing criticism from opponents that it will encourage sexual predators to enter women’s public washrooms on the assertion that they are transgendered.

If it becomes law, the bill will amend the Criminal Code and Canadian Human Rights Act to make discrimination against transgendered individuals illegal. The bill was passed by the House of Commons by a vote of 149-137 last week, and now waits for Senate approval.

Conservative MP Rob Anders, the leading force behind the bathroom argument, said vulnerable women have told him the bill does not protect them from rape.

“The goal of not encouraging men to enter women’s bathrooms is to prevent crimes before they happen,” he said via email.

But NDP MP Randall Garrison, who introduced the private member’s bill, said that protecting transgendered individuals’ rights has “nothing to do with sexual predators in bathrooms.”

“It’s unfortunate that [Anders] and some of the media, including the National Post, continue to repeat that when there is no basis of fact in order,” he said.

“We had evidence from four jurisdictions of the United States who have transgender rights protections in the Human Code, and had rights there for ten years,” Garrison said. “There have been no such incidents [of assault] in any of those jurisdictions.”

Sarah Cooper, a student representative for Carleton University’s Board of Governors and an active GLBTQ advocate, said such arguments are highly transphobic and reinforce existing stereotypes and ignorance about transgendered individuals.

Transgendered persons continue to be one of the most highly discriminated groups of individuals, Cooper said. She says they regularly face employment discrimination, harassment, and safety issues.

“To make sure they are explicitly protected I think is very, very important.”

Last year, NDP MPs pushed the government to change Transport Canada’s identity screening regulations. The rules, implemented in 2011, would ban a passenger from flying if they “do not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification [card they] present,” unless they have signed document by a doctor.

NDP MP Olivia Chow told Xtra in 2012 that Conservative MPs were “snickering” and mocking the questions that were being asked about the new rules.

The Canadian Police Association endorsed Garrison’s bill last week, he explained, not sharing Anders’ concerns. Still, Anders said that for the greater good we should protect the rights of women, who make up more than 50 per cent of the population, rather than transgendered individuals who account for less than one per cent.

“Protecting vulnerable women from bathroom harassment takes precedence over those who were born biological men,” he said.

Cooper said it is unfair that transgendered individuals should face discrimination because of the way they look and who they are. On Carleton’s campus, public bathrooms are a place where transgendered individuals fear such discrimination, Cooper said. She has been encouraging the university to implement more gender-neutral washrooms as part of a solution.

Garrison says he is optimistic that his bill will receive support from the Senate.

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