17 June 2015
Yesterday in the Senate Question Period, Senator Mitchell asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether he would commit to bringing Bill C-279, the transgender rights bill, to a vote. This is their exchange.
[Please note that Senator Carignan spoke in French; his words have been translated]
Hon. Grant Mitchell: Honourable senators, in stark contrast to this government's failure to push through the transgender rights bill, Bill C-279, the U.S. Department of Labour has recently issued guidelines to private businesses that say transgender employees should be allowed to decide for themselves whether to use the men's or the women's facilities. I quote:
The core belief underlying these policies is that all employees should be permitted to use the facilities that correspond with their gender identity. . . . The employee should determine the most appropriate and safest option for him- or herself.
Given that the U.S. Government has actually implemented the policy of fairness, justice and civil human rights for transgender people, is it too much to ask this leadership in the Senate, the government's leadership in the Senate, simply to have a vote on Bill C-279 before we rise for the summer?
Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, as you know, that bill is currently being debated. I invite you, when the time comes, to request a vote.
Senator Mitchell: Interestingly enough, these guidelines are very enlightened. Under the section on why facilities access is a health and safety matter, the department advised:
Gender identity is an intrinsic part of each person's identity and everyday life. . . . it is essential for employees to be able to work in a manner consistent with how they live the rest of their daily lives, based on their gender identity.
Given this insight and this enlightenment south of the border by the U.S. Government, is it too much to ask simply to have a vote before we rise this summer on Bill C-279? You're the ones that want the vote on Mr. Chong's bill because it was passed over there. Well, this one was passed over there as well. So could you just implement and force — request your side to have a vote, Mr. Leader? You certainly have the power to do that; don't you?
Senator Carignan: Yesterday we received an email form our clerk, Mr. Robert, regarding a new guide on Senate procedure and practice. It is a comprehensive document that provides a detailed explanation of all procedures governing Senate and committee deliberations. Senate Procedure in Practice is the first procedural manual that deals exclusively with Senate procedures. The document provides a practical guide of the procedures in place and takes into account the events that occurred up until March. If you consult this guide, you will see that a vote can be requested when an item is called.
Senator Mitchell: Well, I'm asking for a vote, and I'm not getting an answer. Why couldn't we simply have a vote? This is an interesting scenario.
Let's just say for argument's sake that a member of Parliament or a senator invited Caitlyn Jenner to come to Canada. We know she's a remarkable athlete. Let's say the senator or the member of Parliament decided that they would go for a run together; they'd work out together. Where would it be that Caitlyn Jenner would change? Would she change in the men's facilities on the Hill, or would she be allowed to change in the women's facilities on the Hill?
Why can't we just have a vote on Bill C-279 to clarify that issue here in the federal government, right here in the House of Commons and the Senate?
Senator Carignan: You can suggest that your leader put Bill C-279 to vote at the same time as Bill C-377. I don't see a problem with that.
Senator Mitchell: This isn't a question of negotiation. This is a question of rights. Why can't you just have a vote? We're supposed to vote for Mr. Chong's bill because it was passed on the other side. Why wouldn't we vote for this bill because it was passed on the other side? How is that you're shaving this difference? What is different about these two bills to the extent that they were both passed on the other side?
I am asking for it to be passed. I don't know that it will be passed, but I am asking for a vote. Why is that too much to ask for? Why can't you, as the leader, simply say, "Yes, sure, we'll have a vote"? Just put it up for a vote.
Senator Carignan: Senator, I encourage you to have a look at the Senate Procedure in Practice, which was tabled by the Speaker yesterday. You'll see that a vote can be requested when an item is called.
Senator Mitchell: I can consult a practical guide, as you say, but I'm consulting a practical guy — you. Why don't you just call a vote? What's the matter? You've got the power. You're the leader. Why don't you show us some leadership and call a vote on something that is fundamentally important to people's rights in this country?
We're Canadians. We believe in people's rights, and one of their rights is to see a vote in their legislatures, in their chambers, on something that affects their daily lives. Why don't you just call a vote?
Senator Carignan: That's what we will do. When the time comes to vote on Bill C-377, I will call a vote, and when we move on to Bill C-279, you will request a vote.
Senator Mitchell: There we go again. Isn't that an interesting juxtaposition? On the one hand, you're prepared to call a vote on Bill C-377, which takes away people's rights and which disproportionately erodes the rights of unions, to set off against a vote on something that gives people rights. Isn't that just a classic example of how this government views rights?
Senator Carignan: You have repeated the same question a number of times. My eldest son is 23 years old and it feels as though I have been transported back 20 years to a time when he would ask the same question over and over and I would always give him the same answer. You can request a vote when Bill C-279 is called, and then we will see.
Senator Mitchell: Maybe you just never gave him a straight answer.
Please click here to read the text of this exchange in French / Veuillez appuyer ici pour lire cet échange en français