Friday, April 24, 2015

The Senate and transgenders

To my knowledge, I have never met a transgendered person in my life. That does not mean I don't have respect or compassion for those who live the sex opposite of the one they are by birth, or for those who decide to take it to its logical conclusion and have sex reassignment surgery.

Our society has generally become accepting of gays, lesbians and bisexuals, which is a mark in this country's favour. But for some reason the same isn't always true of the transgendered. Maybe it's just fear of the unknown, a lack of understanding what is going on - or in some cases, it's outright prejudice. And sadly this has led to this section of the population being the victims of criminal acts.

It goes without saying, this is just plain wrong.

How surprising it was, then, when two years ago the House of Commons, over the objections of PMS, voted to add "gender identity" as a suspect class (or aggravating circumstance) in determining whether a convicted criminal should receive an enhanced sentence, especially for hate crimes. It's been slowly working its way through the Senate. It went through first and second readings without much fuss, although some Senators argued the law might be unconstitutional since it impeded on provincial human rights codes. A debatable point, but it certainly was one worth discussing.

Two months ago, however, the Senate Justice Committee proposed a series of amendments. Two make sense - ensuring transgendereds are not subject to cyberbullying, and broadening the definition of who is a transgendered person. Fair enough, But then the committee suggested that prisons, crisis centres, and restrooms and change rooms to be exempt from the legislation. (As I write this, I have checked Parliament's website and the amendments have not been acted upon.)

Say what?

I cannot for the life of me understand why this is being brought up. People in this group have a hard enough time dealing with the prejudice of having this orientation. Certainly they have a hard time getting access to "facilities" already. Why are the Conservative Senators making life more difficult than it already is?

This scandal only affirms my belief that Senators should be directly elected, preferably by proportional representation, to get rid of the deadwood and the idiots who want to move this country forwards and not back.

The fact is that even if the Senate accepts the amendments the bill will be tossed back to the House of Commons. There is no doubt that the House would reject them, and a conference committee (extremely rare in Canadian politics although still available as an option) would probably never agree on the wording, let alone the pith and substance. And, let's face it, there just isn't enough time until the October election.

There are only two ways out. The Senate can smarten up, reject the most odious part of the committee report, pass the bill with the palatable amendments, and send it back to the Commons where it would easily get final passage. Or the winning party this fall can reintroduce the bill as part of a series of criminal law amendments.

Has it truly come to this - that we say transgenders are part of our society, but certain restrictions apply? Ethnic groups, religions, races - they didn't accept half-measures in demanding equal treatment. Why should it any different for men who want to live as or become women, and vice versa?

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