Over the past number of weeks, I’ve spent a great deal of time examining Bill C-16, an Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.
Alongside my own efforts studying this bill, as a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I believed that there would also be ample opportunity to hear from witnesses; individuals with personal or expert testimony who would illuminate the pros and cons of the changes outlined in this bill.
Indeed on October 18, a majority in the House of Commons referred the legislation to our Committee expecting that we would study it and propose responsible amendments to ensure that by the time it was returned to the House for 3rd reading, we would fully understand it.
Instead the Committee decided that there was no need for study and the only opinions presented were that of the Minister of Justice and her Justice department staff.
All legislation, particularly government legislation, deserves a thorough study at Committee. Canadians deserve to know that those who bring forward any piece of legislation have enough confidence in what they’re proposing to welcome a full study. On this bill, our committee collectively failed to do that.
We all agree that Canadians deserve equal rights under the law. We all agree that hate speech and violence of any kind is wrong.
In my questioning of the Minister, I noted that by specifying protection for certain groups which are already covered by broad existing laws, legislators risk narrowing the law overall and thus potentially negatively affecting all groups in need of protection.
Moreover, there are concerns about what this change may mean for Canadians as new interpretations and understandings become adopted as a result of this legislation.
Professor Jordan Peterson, a tenured research and clinical PhD psychologist from the University of Toronto, has called this “dangerous legislation”. He is concerned about the chilling effect it will have on free speech. Ironically, he has already been told not to speak up on this subject by his university.
There are also very real concerns that have been raised with how this legislation will impact women’s spaces.
What we know is that existing laws already cover the very concerns that Bill C-16 claims to alleviate. Our existing laws are inclusive, benefiting all Canadians. The Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code provide broad descriptions that ensure equal protection for all Canadians.
I agree with the Minister of Justice that human rights are human rights and we need to ensure, whether it’s a small group of people or a large group of people, that we provide the appropriate protection for those individuals. Where we disagree is whether Bill C-16 helps or hurts that objective.