June 15, 2017

I would thank senators who have spoken on this bill, which has gained such symbolic importance, but I’d like to particularly thank Senator Frum for her comments yesterday. I wish to associate myself with them and take a few moments to reinforce them.

She has eloquently expressed what I have considered from the beginning to be a serious flaw in the bill, which is that the definitions of the protections for gender identity and gender expression are, as she so eloquently stated, vague, loose and imprecise. As she said, the bill creates “statutory protection of an individual’s choice” — and I thought this was very eloquent — coming from a woman in particular — “of fashion, makeup and hairstyle.” That’s what gender expression means, she said, “your look, your air, your manner and countenance.” Now, how precise is that?

She also pointed out to me the striking irony of a bill supposedly about advancing human rights in establishing gender expression and identity as protected grounds as opposed to transgender as protected grounds, redefining what it means to be a woman from something biological to something defined by external experience. I agree with Senator Frum that this bill will, I fear, trigger litigation from women who seek to prove a right to women’s-only safe spaces and sex-segregated activities. Senator Joyal has also predicted there will be litigation from this bill.

It was very impressive to me to hear a woman’s point of view about how a woman may desire a female-born woman roommate, be it in an athletic or spa facility, prison cell, elder care facility or abuse shelter, where a woman may wish to be protected from, as Senator Frum described it, the male gaze.

Now, I do want to be very clear that, like everyone else I think who has spoken on this bill, I do fully support the right of transgender individuals to enjoy the same protections as every other member of society. I’ve met with transgender individuals about this bill who have urged me to support it, and I pledged to give it serious consideration.

But my concern remains that in protecting this right I’m also concerned that we must respect the rights of other members of our society. This vague definition of gender expression gives me cause to worry about protecting the rights of others.

So in thinking about how to vote, I decided I must register my concerns about this vague definition of gender identity and gender expression and the consequences of that vagueness. This bill will be litigated, and those who think their rights have been infringed will have to go to the time and expense of seeking redress from the courts.

Having said all that, this is a government bill. I do believe that there is an important role for an official opposition in our bicameral Parliament, and I was pleased to see Senator Harder reaffirm that yesterday in speaking to a point of order on another bill.

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I also believe that even as independent senators — by the way, I do consider myself as an independent senator who’s grateful to be working with like-minded independent senators in the Conservative caucus — we should respect the will of the elected members of the other place, as I do, unless there are exceptional circumstances of human rights, constitutional rights or laws that violate civil rights and are unfair to regions or minorities. So I do fear that this bill will impact some rights while advancing others, but I am confident the courts will deal with that.

By the way, I’m frankly not persuaded by the free speech arguments.

Your Honour, though it is badly drafted, to me, this bill has become a symbol of tolerance and modernity, so I do hope that it creates better lives for those who have been persecuted, though I frankly doubt that laws enacted even by Parliament can ever do much about altering human behaviour.

With all those reservations and having put them on the record, I’m going to support the bill. Thank you.

Bill C-16