A Conservative MP has made an impassioned case for supporting the Liberal government’s transgender rights bill and expressed regret for voting against a similar piece of legislation three years ago.
Calgary’s Michelle Rempel, who was one of 38 Tory MPs to support Bill C-16 in second reading last month, rose in the House of Commons Friday to speak in favour of the legislation.
Rempel’s speech focused on a theme of compassion.
Tory MP Michelle Rempel speaks in the House of Commons on Nov. 18. (Photo: Parlvu)
“What often unifies our weakest moments, the moments when we inflict damage upon others, the moments that linger in our minds as regret long after they happened, the moments we later need to ask forgiveness for or make recompense for, is a failure to seek to grant compassion to others,” Rempel said.
Compassion ought to be the goal of legislators, she suggested, adding it's a common thread in religious faith. It requires humility, empathy, and a departure from dogma.
“In our worst moments, it is compassion that saves us,” she said.
'Our rights are so precious and so fragile'
Rempel opened up about her education on trans rights issues since she came to the House in 2011. She said it is beyond dispute that transgender Canadians face discrimination, harassment, abuse, and high rates of depression and suicide.
She also grew emotional addressing the trailblazers and advocates who made it possible for her to stand in the House as a cis woman.
“Our rights are so precious and so fragile and for us as legislators, if we cannot acknowledge when inequality exists and we cannot rectify that, then we are doing something wrong,” she said.
'I was wrong'
C-16 seeks to make it illegal under the Canadian Human Rights Act to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression. A similar private member’s bill from NDP MP Randall Garrison passed the House in 2013, but was gutted by the Tory-dominated Senate and died when a federal election was called.
Rempel voted against Garrison’s bill, she said, because she thought the changes it proposed would only result in symbolic action.
“I was wrong,” Rempel said. “In the last three years, I have watched this community face bigotry, more discrimination, and becoming a flashpoint for fights we should no longer be having in Canada.”
It’s clear that provinces, employers, and transgender Canadians cannot move forward without the law in place, she said.
40 MPs voted against bill
All 40 MPs who opposed C-16 last month were from the Conservative bench, including two leadership contenders: Andrew Scheer and Brad Trost. Five other MPs running for Tory leader supported the bill: Michael Chong, Maxime Bernier, Lisa Raitt, Stephen Blaney, and Deepak Obhrai.
Trost has argued that passing the bill could somehow endanger children in public restrooms. Rempel addressed the bathroom argument head-on, saying it was wrong to make a “value judgement” that trans Canadians are more likely to prey on people in public washrooms.
Rempel noted research from UCLA’s Jody Herman suggesting trans people are more likely to face incidents of assault, harassment, and abuse in public restrooms.
"I believe in the capacity of my colleagues across party lines to be compassionate, to be strong, to stand up for Canada, and to stand up for what is good, what is just and what is beautiful." — Michelle Rempel
She also said the bill fits squarely with what it means to be a Conservative, noting the party’s guiding principles promised progressive social policy and a commitment to individual rights as well as fiscal accountability.
“I believe in the capacity of my colleagues across party lines to be compassionate, to be strong, to stand up for Canada, and to stand up for what is good, what is just and what is beautiful,” Rempel concluded.