OTTAWA — Conservative MP Michelle Rempel says a lot has changed in the three years since she voted against a proposed bill that would have made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity of expression.
For one, there's her friendship with NDP MP Randall Garrison, whose private member's bill to defend the rights of transgender Canadians was gutted last year in the Senate, but inspired the new bill introduced Tuesday by the Liberal government.
"He's done a lot of really thoughtful work on this issue that I would consider to be non-partisan, and we've had some very good chats about this," Rempel said Tuesday from Copenhagen, where she is attending the Women Deliver conference.
She said she's strongly inclined to support the legislation, known as Bill C-16, although she wants to read it thoroughly before officially making up her mind.
Garrison said he expects many Conservatives who voted against his bill to support this one, and confirmed that friendship might have something to do with it.
"There is a lot of Conservatives that I am personally friends with, and I think for some of them — not for (Rempel), but for some of them — it's the first time they ever got to know anybody from the gay community on a personal basis," Garrison said.
"That's helped change some minds."
Rempel, who had voted against Garrison's bill at third reading despite supporting it at second reading, acknowledged at the time that the transgender community faces discrimination, including violence.
But she was concerned the legislation lacked concrete measures to protect people from violence and other forms of discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression, making it little more than a symbolic gesture.
Since then, she said, the transgender community has done a lot of work on the issues of housing, workplace discrimination, violence and identification cards and she now believes federal legislation would also send a message to provincial and municipal governments.
"This isn't a panacea," Rempel said. "This isn't going to change all of those things overnight.
"But I think it has been very clear over the last three years that the community feels this is a very important step in the right direction."
Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose has also changed her mind, saying Tuesday that she would be supporting Bill C-16 and that her caucus colleagues would be free to vote as they wish.
"While I know that in the past the courts have ruled that all of those protections do exist in the law, I do think the specific recognition and codification in law is important," Ambrose said.
"I know that it means a lot."
So does Conservative MP David Tilson.
"I believe there is discrimination against these individuals and that discrimination should stop," Tilson said when asked why he would be supporting this version of the bill.
Other Conservative MPs said they looked forward to reading the bill and debating it with their caucus colleagues.
One person who is unlikely to change his mind is Conservative Sen. Don Plett, who was behind amendments to the previous bill that included exempting public washrooms from the legislation.
"My views on the issues have not changed" and probably won't, said Plett.
But since it's a government bill, the rules surrounding it are different than they were for Garrison's legislation, Plett added, saying he would take the coming weeks and months to think it over.