Canada's C-389 Faces the Senate: An Interview

I had the good fortune - while working on things around the post I made recently - to meet the Internet-presence of Mercedes Allen, blogger at Dented Blue Mercedes and other places. She agreed to do an e-mail interview with me for Shakesville about Bill C-3891. Links were added by me, and if any are problematic or need TW, the fault will be mine - please do let me know.

Note, too, that while I use the "trans*" usage, Ms. Allen doesn't use the asterisk. No judgement is implied in either direction.
And if you see the washroom predator meme, turn it around: the fact that this belief widely persists and creates an environment of fear and a will to exclude is actually the greatest argument FOR clear and explicit inclusion in human rights.
CaitieCat for Shakesville: Why not start off by introducing yourself?

DBM: I'm a writer on sex and gender minority issues and a community advocate, as well as a full-time graphic designer. I'm Metis, although still reclaiming my heritage, and strongly interested in social justice. I started the website at many years ago, and about four years ago started blogging at and places like The Bilerico Project. I have a monthly column in GayCalgary and Edmonton Magazine and have had a few articles published in compilations, the most recent being Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation.

I'm also one of a group of trans advocates who formed the Trans Equality Society of Alberta (TESA), in the wake of the health care funding cut in 2009 that specifically targeted Gender Reassignment Surgery. TESA is growing into what I believe will be a very positive voice for change in Western Canada.

I'm bisexual, sex-positive and pro-poly, pro-queer, pro-sex work, pro-kink and more, although I'm not necessarily all of those things myself. My partner of three years and I became engaged earlier this winter, and are looking toward the future.

CcS: What sort of protections does Bill C-389 offer? Jobs? Housing? Public Accommodation? Detention policy?

DBM: Generally speaking, the Canada Human Rights Act extends protections in employment, housing and access to services. It is a federal bill, so these protections are limited to areas under federal jurisdiction, such as government agencies, RCMP and federally-regulated employers such as airlines and banks. The significance goes beyond that, however, because provinces are expected to bring their legislation in line as well. The provinces don't always do so immediately -- such as Alberta, which didn't include sexual orientation until eleven years after being court ordered to do so -- but the courts most often "read in"2 the protections in the meantime.

These protections might not filter down overnight. With regard to Corrections Canada, for example, I'd suspect that there would be some resistance to addressing the current housing situation -- especially under a Harper government3, considering that they recently put forward a policy to specifically refuse GRS coverage for people in the correctional system, even though a previous court ruling mandated it.

CcS: How does the bill define the group to be afforded protection?

DBM: Bill C-389 refers specifically to both gender identity and gender expression. It doesn't apply definitions to those terms, and in fact included classes are rarely ever defined in human rights legislation. Writing definitions that narrow the class in any way actually causes the legislation to demarcate where it becomes acceptable to discriminate, and who qualifies as a second-class citizen, which is contrary to the spirit of human rights legislation (and which has happened with the "Equality Act" in the UK). You can't, for example, define "disability" in a way that excludes certain types of mental illness: the point is that individuals need to be treated according to their individual actions and merits, rather than a smorgasbord of assumptions that go with being part of a particular group.

CcS: What are the obstacles remaining before the bill can become law in Canada?

DBM: The bill has passed all three readings in Parliament. It is now waiting to be tabled for second reading in the Senate, which in Canada is an unelected body that is meant to sign into law the passed legislation, or tweak it if needed. The Senate can and -- on rare occasions does -- refuse to pass pieces of legislation, and the Harper government recently influenced the Senate to do this with a piece of climate change legislation. On top of that, any legislation that hasn't gone through three readings in the Senate when an election call is made dies on the order paper and needs to start the process all over again. So passage is still far from guaranteed, and there have been persistent rumours of a Spring election call coming.

The Senate process is usually much faster than the Parliamentary process, so it is also certainly not lost. However, at second reading, it needs to go through a committee, and it appears that it might be slated for the legal and constitutional affairs committee, which is buried in law-and-order bills. Private members' bills aren't tabled4 until government bills are dealt with.

CcS: What can individual Canadians do to help? What can foreign Shakers do to help? Should they write to local ambassadors/consular officers, or to the Prime Minister's office, or...?

Canadians need to write to Senators to let them know why inclusion of trans people in human rights legislation is necessary. The Harper government, which has opposed the bill, is saying that it is "unnecessary" and that the terms are too "vague and undefined." Both of these points should be rebutted. More than that, though, it's of incredible value to relate our own experiences of discrimination, and convey what inclusion means to us as disenfranchised people. has a link to Senators' contact information, and a sample letter you can use or adapt.

It's also important to respond to the media coverage. This is a story that was largely overlooked until the bill passed third reading, and the discussion is happening now. But the (CcS: This next set of links are NOT nice places - CAVEAT LECTOR!5) "bathroom bill" rhetoric is getting more airtime than it should. If you see positive editorials, please thank the paper and the authors. If you see negative editorials or letters to the editors, respond to them, in a clear, dignified and well-argued way. And if you see the washroom predator meme, turn it around: the fact that this belief widely persists and creates an environment of fear and a will to exclude is actually the greatest argument FOR clear and explicit inclusion in human rights. Letters to the editor should be short and concise, so it is a challenge to say what's key in a minimal amount of space.

It is my belief that legislation like Bill C-389 is important, because it legally enables us to participate in the public square and everyday life, but at the same time, the greater benefit comes from awareness, and the changing of hearts and minds. Regardless of what happens right now with the bill, we have an excellent opportunity to seize upon this discussion, and do exactly that. And this is something everyone can do, in nearly any walk of life.

And although the Parliamentary process has finished, if people have the time and opportunity, it's still a worthwhile investment of time to meet with your MPs. The pressure's off them now, in a way, but you can still educate them about trans people and trans issues. We may come down this road again.

CcS: Are there any good blogs covering the campaign that you'd recommend?

Many Canadian bloggers are commenting on C-389, including Gender Reality6, Equality Kitten, Cracked Crystal Ball II, Gender Focus, Slap Upside The Head, and my blog. Monica Roberts at TransGriot has also been dedicated to following the bill, with probably the most moment-to-moment updates. And while I know some in the community have complaints about trans inclusion in Canada's LGBT magazines, it should still be acknowledged that Dale Smith has been following the bill closely in Xtra, and has done some of the most in-depth reporting since the bill came to third reading in Parliament. He's also live-tweeted second and third readings.

One challenge that many trans bloggers face in Canada is that many of us, myself included, have never been as political as we should be, and this has meant that we've had to play catch-up to learn our own Parliamentary process.

CcS:(last one, only if and to the extent you're willing): How would the bill passing affect you personally?

DBM: I started transition about seven years ago and have already come a long way, so I might not be directly impacted now, myself. But it does improve the options available to others in the community, and at the very least helps address the sense of defeatism and disenfranchisement that were pervasive when I first transitioned. It might also mean more opportunities to educate employers, med students and medical professionals, which is a plus.


I'd like to thank Ms. Allen for her thoughtful and informative answers, as well as for the hard graft she's put in trying to get it passed (alongside many others putting in day after day of wielding their mighty and shiny teaspoons). I'm kind of staggered that we've even come this close, but I'm feeling less cynical the more people like Ms. Allen I meet.

1 Introduced by the Seriously-Fucking-Honourable Bill Siksay, this is his third attempt to get a private Member's Bill through to law to give human rights protections to trans* people in Canada.

2 "Reading in" allowed judges to amend statutes to make them conform to the Charter.

3 As regular readers here will know, the Harpertron 5000 currently sits as Prime Minister of Canada - a position gained, as in other Westminster-style systems, by being the leader of the party which wins the most seats in a general election. The Harpertron is well-known in Canada for bringing to life the very concept of the Uncanny Valley.

4 This is the Canadian usage, which follows the British: to "table" a piece of legislation here means "put forward for discussion", as opposed to the US usage, in which "tabling" a piece of legislation means "setting aside".

5 The links are representative of the line of thought which conflates everything trans-related to "ZOMM THE BATHROOMS WON'T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN WHO COULD BE IN THOSE BATHROOMS WATCHING CLOSED DOORS BEHIND WHICH SOMEONE MIGHT NOT HAVE THE SAME GENITALS AS EVERYONE ELSE IN THE BATHROOM ZOMM I THINK I MUST EXPLODE FROM THE ENORMOUS PERVERSION OF THIS HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE MENTAL IMAGE PLEASE BABY JEEBUS BLEACH MY BRAIN FOR ME". Most are Christianist, but one is the Toronto Star, a nominally Liberal paper - but they mean the Liberal Party, not actual socially liberal ideas.

6 I can't find a link for these blogs, if you know them, please drop them in comments here and I'll add them to the post.

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