08/12/2013 12:00 EDT | Updated 10/12/2013 05:12 EDT

We Still Forget the "T" in "LGBT"

For three terms, I served as a Member of Parliament, many of them as my party's Justice Critic. Having taken on that capacity at a young age (almost 27), I was humbled to find myself in the midst of some of the most contentious public policy issues of the time: decriminalization of marijuana, liberalization of prostitution laws, right-to-die and same-sex marriage.

I believe that societies are judged by their respect of human rights and how they treat minorities. No matter one's political leanings, one must recognize that Canada's record has been quite good.

I am proud to have played even a small part in moving the debate forward and voting for the recognition of same-sex marriage in Canada. It remains one of the accomplishments in my life of which I'm most proud.

Although no longer a Parliamentarian, I continue to play at least a peripheral role in the public policy process through my advocacy work at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. CIJA is the advocacy arm of the Jewish Federations of Canada and, although our focus is, to a large extent, on issues such as anti-Semitism, religious freedoms, and the Canada-Israel relationship, which directly affect Jewish Canadians, it often extends to policy areas that reach far beyond Jewish Canadians. This is only natural: as frequent victims of discrimination throughout history, Jews have long been at the forefront of defending the rights of other vulnerable communities.

This is why CIJA has publicly endorsed and is actively supporting Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (Gender Identity). Currently slated for Second Reading in the Senate, C-279 extends protections for the transgender community.

At a time when LGBT communities face frightening and growing prejudice from governments overseas, Canada's C-279 serves as a stark moral contrast with the likes of Uganda, Russia, and numerous undemocratic regimes across the Middle East.

On July 3, CIJA Chair David Koschitzky wrote to the Leaders of the Government and the Opposition in the Senate. In that letter, Koschitzky made a forceful case -- from the experience and perspective of the Jewish community -- for why the transgender community deserves our support today. It is worth citing at some length, as it captures very well the legal issues at play:

Beyond discrimination faced in employment and other areas, hate crimes against members of the transgender community tend to be physically aggressive. Once enacted, Bill C-279 will provide members of the transgender community with enhanced protection under the law equal to that which other vulnerable groups, including the Jewish community, receive.

Moreover, past experience suggests that explicit reference in the criminal code will increase the likelihood that an investigating police officer or a crown attorney will identify a criminal act as being hate- or bias-motivated.

As a community that unfortunately understands this dynamic only too well, we therefore encourage the Senate to vote in favour of Bill C-279 and formally extend to members of the transgendered community the full protection of the law by including gender identity as an 'aggravating circumstance' under the criminal code and a 'prohibited ground of discrimination' under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

It is often overlooked that the "T" in LGBT refers to the transgender community, members of which continue to face serious discrimination in some quarters. Indeed, the word "community" itself can sometimes muddy the issue. What we are referring to is not an abstract entity but to people -- our family, friends, and colleagues -- every one of whom without exception and regardless of religion, beliefs, or background, is, according to the Jewish tradition, created equally in the divine image.

That they happen to be transgender means that they have almost certainly experienced the emotional struggles, the social misunderstandings, and the ugly bigotry that, unfortunately, tend to come with being transgender. The Jewish community hears the call for support and is committed to ensuring that Canada's laws provide a shield for this and every other vulnerable community against violence and discrimination.

The Jewish community has a long history of fighting discrimination in all its forms. In supporting C-279 and calling on Parliament to enshrine greater protection for transgender Canadians, I am proud that we continue the legacy today.

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