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We Are All People: It's Time To Give Trans People Equal Rights

05/31/2017 04:22 EDT | Updated 05/31/2017 04:22 EDT

Canadians take great pride in being champions of diversity, inclusion and acceptance. But when it comes to trans and gender diverse people, some are letting fear of what they don't understand override these values.

This week, Senators are completing their deliberations regarding the addition of "gender identity or expression" to the Canadian Human Rights Act. In these last days, I want to clearly state, without reservation, that the Canadian Human Rights Commission supports Bill C-16.

We strongly urge all Senators to pass Bill C-16 without amendment. Because human rights must apply to everyone -- acceptance and inclusion is not reserved only for those who are like us.

While this bill may simply be words on paper for some, or be the subject of vigorous philosophical and academic debate for others, I am lending the Commission's support to the thousands of people, trans and gender diverse, for whom this bill represents much, much more.

As Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, I have met trans advocates and trans people from across Canada -- some seniors, some as young as 10 years old. It takes incredible courage and self-awareness for anyone, no matter what age, to know that they need to live true to their gender identity. They deserve to be seen and to be heard. And above all, they deserve to be protected.

Trans and gender diverse people face discrimination, harassment and violence in many aspects of their lives. Even places that should provide help or shelter -- hospitals and schools -- can be hostile and unwelcoming.

If this were happening to any other group in Canada there would be public outcry.

An essential feature of human right law is that Canadians should see themselves, and each other, in it. They should be able to identify with it. It should tell people that they belong. Adding this ground to the Act would make it clear to everyone in Canada that trans and gender diverse people have the same rights as everyone else.

The proposed legal changes in Bill C-16 are about giving people hope and support to live the life they want to live, with dignity and safety. It's also about giving them better access to justice with clearer paths to complaints and judicial processes that recognize their existence and their unique circumstances.

Yet, some continue to resist -- stoking fear and arguing that treating trans people with dignity and respect will threaten their right to free speech.

Meanwhile, all other provinces and territories have either made this legal change, or are finalizing it. Many young people would be surprised to learn that the federal government is trailing behind on this issue.

Any manner of consultation or survey has demonstrated that Canada's youth are more likely to support trans rights as human rights.

Today's youth are more inclusive, empathetic, and accepting than any generation before them. Just as the baby-boomers saw to it that sexual orientation was embedded as a right, the laws that we write today will protect, guide, and inspire our children's children.

As human rights have evolved, vigorous resistance to inclusion has often proven to be on the wrong side of history. Some people howled against civil rights, voting rights, and gay rights.

They all ignored one fundamental truth: we are all people.

That's why the Senate needs to pass Bill C-16.

Marie-Claude Landry is the Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The Commission's 2016 Annual Report to Parliament featured the stories of two trans children, who, through their courage have helped put a face to the issues that you are considering today, and the people who are affected.

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