Changes to B.C. Human Rights Code to include specific protections for transgender people

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      People who identify as transgender are going to be protected under the B.C. Human Rights Code.

      That was announced in Vancouver today (July 20) at a press conference where B.C. minister of justice and attorney general Suzanne Anton stood beside Spencer Chandra Herbert, an opposition MLA who has pushed for such a change for years.

      Anton, the Liberal MLA for Vancouver-Fraserview, said the government’s decision to support additional protections for trans people was in response to calls from the community.

      “Over the past several weeks and months, I have met with transgender individuals and advocates who have passionately expressed the desire to see protection currently afforded within the definition of ‘sex’ made more explicit by recognizing ‘gender identity and gender expression’ expressly in B.C.’s Human Rights Code,” she stated in a media release.

      “I am proud to announce that we will be introducing legislation to amend B.C.’s Human Rights Code to include ‘gender identity or expression’ among the protected grounds covered by the code,” Anton continued.

      Chandra Herbert, the NDP MLA for Vancouver West-End, previously introduced such a bill on four separate occasions, most recently in April.

      Today, he said he was “overjoyed” to see the Liberal government announce it will table similar legislation.

      "In order to be protected by the human rights code you have to know you are,” Chandra Herbert stated in a media release. “This legislation will ensure that it’s crystal clear that discrimination against someone because of their gender identity or gender expression is unacceptable in B.C.”

      "I’m overjoyed that these explicit protections will finally become law.”

      Anton said the Liberal’s bill will be introduced in the legislation before the end of the month.

      The B.C. Liberals have a checkered record of support for transgender people.

      Last November, the provincial government revised sections of the B.C. Ministry of Justice Adult Custody Policy to allow for transgender prisoners to be held in facilities based on gender identity as opposed to physical attributes. The move was applauded by advocates for trans rights such as lawyers with Pivot Legal Society.

      Anton and the Liberal government have previously resisted calls to adopt the sort of legislation that was announced today. Responding in the legislation in July 2015, for example, Anton insisted specific legal protections for trans people were unnecessary.

      “The issue of gender identity and the human rights code of British Columbia is crystal-clear,” she said. “Our human rights code protects all persons, no matter what their gender identity is, which I think is the issue at question. It is crystal-clear. The law is crystal-clear. They are protected. We can be proud of that in British Columbia — that our courts have been so clear about that, that we are so clear about that. The protections are there in the human rights code."

      The same month, Premier Christy Clark and her Liberal government weathered a storm of criticism that followed their refusal to sign a pledge in support of legislation protecting trans people.

      Organizers of Vancouver’s annual Pride parade said that group that did not sign the pledge would not be allowed to march in the parade. Clark and the Liberals refused and were left out of the popular celebration. (Accusations of “political shenanigans” later prompted executive director Ray Lam to resign.)

      This year, the parade is scheduled for July 31. According to the Globe and Mail, Clark has said she will be on vacation at that time.

      Today, the Vancouver Pride Society immediately praised Anton's announcement about changes to the B.C. Human Rights Code.

      "This is exactly what we were hoping for when the VPS launched the Trans Equality Now Campaign last year," the organization stated in a message posted on Facebook. "Once these changes are enacted in law, and similar federal legislation is passed, transgender people in BC and Canada will enjoy the protections they deserve. This is a great day for human rights in British Columbia, and with Vancouver Pride celebrations just around the corner, the news couldn't come at a better time."

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