SIKSAY, Bill, B.A.

Personal Data

New Democratic Party
Burnaby--Douglas (British Columbia)
Birth Date
March 11, 1955
political assistant

Parliamentary Career

June 28, 2004 - November 29, 2005
  Burnaby--Douglas (British Columbia)
January 23, 2006 - September 7, 2008
  Burnaby--Douglas (British Columbia)
October 14, 2008 - March 26, 2011
  Burnaby--Douglas (British Columbia)

Most Recent Speeches (Page 3 of 182)

February 7, 2011

Mr. Bill Siksay (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP)

moved that Bill C-389, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression), be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to start and later finish the third reading debate on Bill C-389, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression). I am pleased that the bill continues to make progress here in the House.

The bill would add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act, providing explicit protection for transsexual and transgender Canadians. It would also add gender identity and gender expression to the Criminal Code sections dealing with hate speech and sentencing for crimes where hate was a motivating factor.

The bill arose from in-person consultations with members of the transgender and transsexual communities in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, and with many transfolks online in communities all across Canada. It is routed in their hope of full and equal citizenship and their experience, often daily, of discrimination, prejudice, misunderstanding and violence.

It is my hope that with this bill this House and Canadian society will take a stand against transphobia and for the full equality of transCanadians.

Back on November 20, Canadians and people around the world marked Transgender Day of Remembrance. We remembered victims of transphobic murder and violence. Here in Ottawa, there was a march that started at the Ottawa police headquarters with a flag-raising ceremony supported by the Ottawa Police Service and proceeded to Parliament Hill for an historic rally for transrights and in support of Bill C-389.

I want to point out that this is not a bid for special rights but for equal rights for a very marginalized community in Canada. At earlier stages of the debate and in committee, the key concerns raised were about the need to define gender identity and gender expression and the question of redundancy.

On the matter of the definition, the Canadian Human Rights Act does not define each of the prohibited grounds of discrimination that it contains. This is intentional. It encourages living definitions, grounds that are defined by common usage, experience, jurisprudence, tribunal decisions and science. In keeping with that feature of the act, there is no definition of gender identity and gender expression in this bill. I hasten to point out that gender identity and gender expression are not new terms or new ideas. They have been in use for many years.

Also, while there have been successful human rights complaints launched by transpeople using the current law's provisions on “sex” and sometimes “disability”, we should never forget the fact that successful challenges to discrimination have been made by transfolks using current law, including an explicit reference to gender identity and gender expression, which is still important. It is important for absolute clarity. Transpeople should not have to think their way into protection using other categories originally intended to cover other groups in our society.

It is also important that a group that is marginalized in our society and that suffers significant discrimination and prejudice actually see themselves in the law, and that those who would discriminate against them know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that their actions are not acceptable.

It is also important that the Canadian Human Rights Commission has an explicit educational mandate on issues related to the experience of transsexual and transgender Canadians.

There is a helpful document on both the issue of the definition and the need for explicit reference in law: the Yogyakarta Principles: The Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

The Yogyakarta Principles were developed by the International Commission of Jurists and the International Service for Human Rights on behalf of a coalition of human rights organizations. They were adopted by a distinguished group of 29 human rights experts from 25 countries in November 2006. Included in that group of experts were: a former United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Mary Robinson; eight UN rapporteurs on human rights in specific countries or specific human rights related issues; two members of the UN human rights committee; the former chair of the UN committee on the elimination of discrimination against women; and one member of the UN committee on the rights of the child.

How did this expert panel define gender identity and gender expression? It said:

...each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body (which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical or other means) and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms.

For the record, that is a very formal definition. A more informal one is that gender identity is an individual's self-conception as male or female or both or neither, as distinguished from one's birth-assigned sex. Gender expression refers to how a person's gender identity is communicated to others through emphasizing, de-emphasizing or changing behaviour, dress, speech and/or mannerism.

The Yogyakarta Principles have been used in many different settings. They have been cited favourably by courts in India and Nepal; the UN committee on economic, social and cultural rights; by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in a guidance note; and by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, on a number of occasions.

During the 63rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in December 2008, Ms. Pillay said:

No human being should be denied their human rights simply because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. No human being should be subject to discrimination, violence, criminal sanctions or abuse simply because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity....

This past September, Ms. Pillay said:

Also of relevance, we have the Yogyakarta Principles.... These principles, which were developed by experts, offer additional guidance on the obligations of States under existing international legal instruments and also contain useful recommendations for implementation at the national level.

The definition provided by the Yogyakarta Principles, as well as Yogyakarta Principle 2, have also been part of the United Nations universal periodic review human rights process.

The universal periodic review, or UPR, is a unique process that h involves the review of the human rights' records of all 192 UN member states once every four years. The UPR is a state-driven process under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each state to declare what actions it has taken to improve the human rights situations in its country and to fulfill its human rights obligations.

As part of the UPR process last year, Canada accepted a recommendation from the Netherlands to apply the Yogyakarta Principles as a guide to assist in future policy developments. Principle 2 explicitly calls on states to include gender identity within non-discrimination legislation. Bill C-389, which we are debating today, would provide Canada and our government the opportunity to fulfill the commitment made to this process.

There are also critics of the bill and I want to deal with some of the issues they have raised. Some critics base their concerns on a larger issue that questions the current framework of human rights law in Canada. I recognize that this is an issue in some quarters and some people believe we should review how we deal with human rights law in Canada. I personally do not share this concern but I do recognize that this is a serious argument to be debated.

I would say to proponents of this argument that, with great respect, this is not the time or place to make that stand. We are discussing including a group of citizens into our current human rights law framework. This is a group of citizens who, without doubt, today face serious discrimination and prejudice.

The approach of this bill is clearly in line with the current structure of human rights law. I would encourage those who take this position to make their arguments about the larger system, bring on the debate on that system, but, the meantime, we must not make transpeople wait. We must not make the equality of transCanadians the line in the sand in that other debate.

Another group of critics focus on one issue, the issue of public bathrooms. I will state clearly and emphatically that nothing in this bill would allow inappropriate conduct in public washrooms. It would not change criminal and other sanctions that exist for assault, sexual assault, pedophilia, indecency, harassment, exhibitionism or voyeurism. For example, peeping Toms or men disguised as women who enter a women's washroom to harass or assault women or girls would still be subject to criminal charges. This bill does nothing to change the sanctions against such inappropriate behaviour.

Raising this issue in the way it has been raised is purely and simply alarmist. It implies, too, that transpeople are somehow criminal by nature, an idea that is patently false.

However, this matter is hinted at, in perhaps a more subtle criticism of the bill, that it would somehow lead to “unintended consequences”.

The reality is that today we all share public washrooms with transsexual and transgender people and that we always have. As is appropriate, most of us never consider the gender of a person using a washroom when we do. We never know if we are sharing such a facility with a transperson. There is no reason for this to be or become a concern. Washrooms are intended for a specific purpose and when used for that purpose there is no problem. Jurisdictions that have implemented this change to their human rights law have seen no increase in crimes committed in public washrooms or gendered spaces as a result.

In reality, it is transpeople who face serious problems in public washrooms. They are the ones who have been assaulted, insulted and denied access. This is the actual problem and it is a serious problem that should demand our attention. Transgender and transsexual people should be able to go about the activities of daily living without fear or discrimination.

There is great support for this bill here in Canada. There is support in all parties represented here in the House, and that support is greatly appreciated. Many other support the bill as well, including: the Green Party of Canada, the City Council of Vancouver, the United Church of Canada, the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health, human rights commissions, the Canadian Federation of Students, Egale Canada, ARC International, Amnesty International, the Rainbow Health Network, le Association des transexuels et transexuelles du Québec, Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, project Jer's Vision and the Trans Alliance Society. There is also very strong support in the trade union movement, including, among others, CUPEs Pink Triangle Committee, PSAC Equal Opportunities Committee and the Canadian Labour Congress itself.

I want to thank many people for their work on this project. I want to recognize four people in particular, which I realize is often problematic, but I want to thank Denise Jessica Freedman, who is a social work intern from Carleton University and works in my office. She has taught me a lot about the situation of transgender and transsexual people in Canada and, in particular, the experience of the transsexual community.

I also want to thank Matt McLauchlin and Susan Gapka, who are co-chairs of the NDPs' LGBT commission. I also want to thank my legislative assistant, Sonja van Dien, for her work.

In conclusion, I want to paraphrase a statement from the Canadian Labour Congress and an earlier work by the Canadian Auto Workers Union in its handbook called “To our allies:”, a handbook on LGBT rights and how people can work in support and solidarity of those rights:

Until we’re considered equal, and not simply ‘tolerated’.

Until our youth aren’t forced to leave home for the streets.

Until our partners are welcome at all family, social and workplace events.

Until the police are there to protect us not harass us.

Until sex trade workers are not seen as criminals.

Until our children see our families reflected in school curriculum and story books.

Until our differences and our cultures are celebrated not denied.

Until it’s safe to come out at work.

Until it’s safe to come out at school.

Until hospitals, banks, travel agents, and insurance companies see us as people not problems or profits.

Until we’re not stereotyped into certain jobs or denied others.

Until parents aren’t freaked out by having lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender children.

Until we don’t have to justify, explain, educate and expose our private lives.

Until harassment at work stops.

Until our streets are safe for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people.

For our Allies 31

Until religions open their doors to our celebrations and expressions of faith.

Until we can express our gender without fear of reprisal or ridicule.

Until gender stereotyping stops and we are all free to be wholly human.

Until the cure for homophobia is discovered.

Until we can love and be loved, with joy and gay abandon.

Here in the House this week we can ensure that at least in part “until” becomes now for transgender and transsexual Canadians.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Canadian Human Rights Act
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February 7, 2011

Mr. Bill Siksay (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank all of the MPs who participated in the debate on Bill C-389 here in the House, in committee and in the community. I want to express my appreciation to those who are supporting the bill. Please note too that members of the transgender and transsexual communities appreciate this support.

I would like to speak personally for a moment. As a gay man, I know that securing my place as a full and equal citizen has been a long journey and an often hard-fought struggle. As a gay man, I know that my liberation came about thanks to the hard work, risk-taking and sacrifice of many queer brothers and sisters, and many strong allies. As a gay man, I know that the battle for my equality in our society was often led, often championed, by members of the transgender and transsexual community. I know that it was the drag queens who helped us fight back, and perhaps taught us to fight back, against the oppression, discrimination, prejudice and violence that we faced.

At Stonewall, but also long before and long after Stonewall, it was members of the trans community who helped lead and motivate our fight, and who stood in solidarity with us time and time again. That is one reason why I am proud to stand in solidarity with the transgender and transsexual community, as we finally seek their full equality and seek to establish their full human rights in law in Canada.

I have been greatly honoured to have been taken into the confidence of the trans community to be an ally and to work in solidarity with the community. It has been an honour to hear their stories and learn of their struggles. I have learned to be a better ally, a better friend, a better citizen as a result.

I have met beautiful, strong, loving and articulate people who face challenges I can hardly imagine and I am sure I do not fully appreciate. I count as friends people who live proud lives and express their full humanity against many odds. My understanding of what it means to be fully human has been challenged and expanded greatly by what I have been taught.

I have seen and sometimes shared the frustration, the anger, the tears and the deep sadness of people who are not yet equal, who too often face violence, sometimes to the point of death, and who mourn the loss of friends and family for whom the pain was more than they could bear. I have been strengthened by their resolve to claim their true identity and their place in our society, to live full lives and to be fully human.

This week the House will make a decision on the explicit inclusion of transgender and transsexual Canadians in our human rights law. That vote on Wednesday night will likely be very close. We may see the bill pass, which will be a cause for celebration and an opportunity to continue our work as it moves to the Senate; but the bill may also be defeated, it is that close. If that happens, let us remember that things have changed since we began this particular project six years ago. Let us remember that this is not the only forum in the struggle for the full equality of trans people. Let us not forget the victories and progress we have made in other places. Let us bask in the support of the new friends and allies we have found here in this place and across the country, and let us get ready to resume our work with new strategies and new plans.

I am confident that the change we seek will come. Justice will be done, and perhaps very soon the open and proud voice of transgender and transsexual Canadians will be heard loudly and clearly in this place. I hope that very soon an open member of the trans community will be elected and be able to directly, and from personal experience, voice the concerns of the community here in the House of Commons. There are celebrations to come.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Canadian Human Rights Act
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February 7, 2011

Mr. Bill Siksay

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his strong public support of this legislation and for being one of the seconders of the bill.

In jurisdictions where this change has been made in law, the outcomes have been almost if not completely universally positive. It gives transgender and transsexual people the clear indication that they are valued members of society, that they are protected under human rights law and that they have access to remedies under human rights law in those jurisdictions that have adopted the change.

Here in Canada a number of municipalities have made the change and, in terms of their workforce and in their areas of jurisdiction, I believe it has been a positive change. The Northwest Territories has made the change. It included gender identity in its list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in its human rights law a number of years ago. My understanding is that it has been a positive change and I am sure the member for Yukon would concur in that.

I believe that jurisdictions that have moved this way have seen better protection for their citizens and a better appreciation for the contributions that transmembers of their communities make. Other jurisdictions have taken a stand to say that they believe there is a full and equal place for transcitizens in society and in their communities.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Canadian Human Rights Act
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February 7, 2011

Mr. Bill Siksay

Mr. Speaker, the Department of National Defence has made great strides on the whole issue of transgender and transsexual Canadians' place in that organization. There recently has been some positive publicity about the way the Department of National Defence has supported transgender and transsexual people transitioning from one gender to the other who are members of the Canadian armed forces or working with the forces. The department is to be congratulated for that enlightened policy. It is one place in our federal government where there is the positive aspect of full inclusion and where equality and the gifts and talents of transpeople are recognized.

With regard to particularization of offences, we have good legislation around hate crimes. Judges are allowed to increase sentences if they determine that hate was a motivating factor in a crime. This section of the law has been used a number of times and more recently it has been used in relation to the experience of gay and lesbian Canadians in particular.

There has been some confusion about how to use that law but that should not put into question the value of that kind of legislation, the value of that aspect of the Criminal Code. It has received great public support at times where it has been clearly determined that hate was a motivating factor when a crime was committed, particularly an assault or a murder. That kind of provision has incredible support among communities that have been affected by discrimination.

I would take exception by saying that being more particular somehow limits the application of that law. It has been used appropriately and it gives the courts and judges appropriate mechanisms to deal with particular kinds of crime.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Canadian Human Rights Act
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February 3, 2011

Mr. Bill Siksay (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP)

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act, which is very important legislation.

We have finally heard other opinions in debate about the legislation, and I want to congratulate the members of the Liberal Party for joining the debate. It would be nice to hear from some Conservatives, but it has been interesting to hear the various points of view.

The last member who spoke, someone I have great respect for, said that we would have to go along with the bill because we had no choice when it came to negotiating on issues of security with the United States. On that very issue, I would take him on. I believe we have a choice and the government has a choice. The government has a choice about whether we should stand up for the privacy rights of Canadians. I believe the bill diminishes the privacy rights of Canadians.

The key part of the bill is to exempt airlines from the provisions of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act so they can provide personal information about passengers on Canadian airlines to American security agencies. I think this is a very serious concern to Canadians. Just how much of our personal information will get into the hands of U.S. security agencies and where does it go from there? Who else is it being shared with? There are all kinds of questions that we need to be ask.

Rather than saying it is not a privacy issue, though I think it is, it is also an issue of sovereignty. How do Canadians make decisions about their personal information and do we have to fold every time the United States seeks to increase the security of its borders, which impacts Canada? We see that time and time again.

I wish the Conservative government was as aggressive on this issue as it is on the issue of the census, which is a no-brainer. It will defend the right of Canadians not to tell census takers how many bedrooms or bathrooms they have in their homes, but when it comes to sharing our personal information with American security officials, it is open season. It is incredibly ironic we have this debate about the legislation and that we should just holus-bolus roll over and send the information south.

The government claims to be great defenders of the privacy of Canadians, that somehow it is too intrusive to ask people how many bathrooms or bedrooms they have, when most of us know how that information is used and how much the personal privacy of the people who provide the information is protected in our country. It is an incredible irony to me that the same government is responsible for both of those positions.

Should we be concerned about our information going south? Time and time again we see that information crops up in places where it is a real problem. This morning we heard the member for Winnipeg Centre say that he was on the no fly list, that he could not get on a plane in Canada easily. It has changed now because he misspells his name to alert the airlines and security officials that he is the member of Parliament from Winnipeg Centre, not the guy who should be on the no fly list. What kind of bogus approach is that?

A Canadian member of Parliament cannot get his name off of the no fly list. What chance does an average citizen have? That is just one of the problems with this kind of security apparatus that has been established. When a mistake is made, it cannot be corrected.

I have a friend who is in exactly the same position as the member for Winnipeg Centre. He has to make the same kind of run around the no fly list because it has created havoc with his ability to travel, totally unjustly. There is no way of correcting that in the system. There is no way of finding out why a person's name is on the no fly list.

People are justly concerned about their personal information and what happens when it gets into the hands of a security agency that they have no ability to access, to appeal to or to make changes.

We see it in other ways. It is not exactly a parallel to the situation we are debating today, but it is another instance of what happens when a security agency outside of Canada gets hold of our personal information. Recently, a woman from Toronto was denied access into the United States because a U.S. customs and border protection officer at Pearson airport denied her entry for medical reasons because he had access to her medical report. He knew that she had attempted suicide in 2006. Apparently he knew this because police records were available to him that showed the police had attended at her house because she had attempted to do violence to self.

Why does this American agency have information about a non-criminal activity from the metro Toronto police? Why would it have what is essentially health information about this Canadian woman who is trying to travel to the United States? Why would the Americans deny her entry on the basis of that information?

She had to go through a whole rigmarole. She had to have a medical examination by a state department physician that cost her an additional $250. Then that report had to be screened before she was eventually allowed into the United States.

This is just another example of what happens to our personal information. In my opinion, from what I have read in the media and heard from her lawyer, this information should never have been made available to a foreign security agency. It has no relevance to her interest in travelling to the United States. There is no security issue with her travelling to the United States. Yet it was raised in that circumstance with her at the airport while she was trying to travel to the there.

No one can seem to allay my fear that this is the kind of thing that will become more common. More information will be shipped south about Canadians wanting to travel to the United States and even when they are not trying to travel there. It is very worrisome.

Another example is this. Most of us who travel at least have had pause to consider the placement of the full body scanners in Canadian airports. We have seen these expensive machines cropping up at all of our security checkpoints in airports. There are real privacy concerns about the kind of imaging they produce, the full body scan. Recently a new generation of these machines have been unveiled that gives an even finer, more exact naked image of the person being screened. I think people have legitimate concerns about that.

Today there is a report that the machines are being modified so not all images would be viewed by the person doing the screening, only those where there is an identified problem. One wonders why that feature was not built into the system from the get-go rather than weeks or months down the road when people raised concerns about it. It speaks to the enthusiasm for new security measures that are not tested appropriately and not thought through.

Again, why do we have these kinds of expensive scanners in airports? I have not seen the evidence that says the old scanning system was somehow flawed or that there had been incidents of major concerns, especially in Canada, that would cause us to need this new technology. Every time I see one of those I wish it was a scanner in a hospital rather than at the airport. If we could sink that money into scanners for medical purposes, I think Canadians would be extremely enthusiastic.

Somehow, because the United States started putting them at security checkpoints in its airports, we had to do it in Canada. I do not think we did it for our own reasons. I think we did it because the Americans wanted it. Once again, they said “hop” and we hopped and put them in here at the expense, aggravation and diminution of the privacy of Canadians. The perception of the Americans of their security needs demanded it. I do not think that is acceptable. It is not acceptable from a privacy standard or a sovereignty standard.

This goes back to the misapprehension that somehow the 9/11 attackers came from Canada. We know they did not. However, Canada accepted 30,000 people who were trying to fly into the United States without question. We landed them here, welcomed and took care of them when the United States would not let them into its country.

That says something about the difference between how we approach a security problem and how the Americans approach a security problem. I want us to remember that when we approach any kind of legislation that deals with the security demands of the United States and the sovereignty and privacy concerns of Canadians.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Strengthening Aviation Security Act
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