Canada announces ban on transgender discrimination

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a press conference in New York in this file photo taken on Apr 22, 2016.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a press conference in New York in this file photo taken on Apr 22, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

MONTREAL (AFP) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced legislation Monday (May 16) to protect transgender people from hate speech and discrimination, as debate rages in the United States over laws restricting their rights.

"Even today, despite all the obstacles we have overcome, the battles we have won, and the victories we have celebrated, we are still witnesses, and in some cases, victims of injustices," Trudeau said in a speech at a Montreal event hosted by gay rights group Fondation Emergence.

"We must continue to demand true equality," he said. "We must carry on the legacy of those who fought for justice by being bold and ambitious in our actions."

The Bill is to be officially unveiled by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould on Tuesday (May 17), the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

It will add "gender identity" alongside race, religion, age, sex and sexual orientation as prohibited grounds for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and add transgender persons to a list of groups protected from hate-mongering under the Criminal Code, according to Wilson-Raybould's mandate letter from the prime minister.

The Canadian parliament's previous attempts to pass similar legislation failed. But this time, due to a Liberal majority in the House, the measures are expected to pass easily.

Trudeau's father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was Canada's justice minister when Ottawa introduced a Criminal Code amendment to decriminalize homosexuality. He famously commented at the time (two years before it became law): "There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation."

In July, Justin Trudeau will be the first sitting prime minister to participate in a gay pride parade, in Montreal.

Following his speech, Fondation Emergence honoured him with an award for his promotion of gay rights, including allowing sexually active gay men to donate blood, and pardoning gay men who were convicted of gross indecency before homosexuality was decriminalised in 1969.

South of the border, meanwhile, a debate on equal rights in the United States has been raging over a flurry of initiatives targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities since a historic Supreme Court decision last year legalised same-sex marriage nationwide.

Last week, the US federal government and North Carolina's governor launched duelling lawsuits over a state law restricting transgender Americans' use of public restrooms.

The North Carolina law, passed on March 23, requires transgender people to use public restrooms corresponding to the gender listed on their birth certificate.

It provoked a public outcry and led several high-profile entertainers and big companies to join activists in denouncing the measure, pulling the plug on events and investments in the state.