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Saturday 11 April 2015

O Canada: Paradox Versus Progress?

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 19th March 2015

Why is Canada so paradoxical? Carter v Canada recently introduced access to assisted suicide across Canada, but the nation also shot down a trans-inclusive anti-discrimination bill, C-279, and passed a retrograde anti-sexworker bill. Yet it has also decriminalised abortion access and was the first British Commonwealth nation to introduce marriage equality, back in 2005.

First, the good news. Although Canada has had a Conservative federal government for the last eight years, a fusion of the former Progressive Conservatives and Reform Parties, and although that government has cut funding to the Charter Challenges legal aid programme, the Harper administration's version of social conservatism isn't as virulent as the Republican counterpart south of the border in the United States. Apart from a feeble foray early in its tenure, the Harper administration hasn't touched marriage equality, although it does have cold feet about federal antibullying legislation. Nor has it acted against women's widespread access to abortion rights, a legacy of Morgentaler v Canada, the Canadian Supreme Court decision that decriminalised abortion across Canada. And the Harper administration is also pragmatic enough to recognise that given that the Canadian Medical Association has declared neutrality over the subject of assisted suicide and won't oppose decriminalisation, and that assisted suicide has massive public support, it needs to move with the times on that issue as well. This has outraged Canada's inflexible, dogmatic and extremist Christian Right organisations, which still ruminates against abortion and homosexuality and continually express disdainful statements about the Harper administration, unfavourably comparing it to the US Republican Party. However, Canada is not the United States- the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a robust, open-ended constitutional document, and Canadian society is far more liberal and secular than their southern neighbour.

This isn't to say that the Harper administration doesn't pander to religious social conservatives on other issues. One of them is sex work. While Australia and New Zealand tend to favour pragmatic decriminalisation as the best framework to deal with sex worker occupational health and safety issues, Canada initially made a prudent Supreme Court decision striking down the provisions of the Criminal Code that prohibited sex work, back in December 2013, Attorney-General (Canada) v Bedford and Others. Unfortunately, and despite abundant evidence from New Zealand about the positive occupational health and safety consequences of decriminalisation from our Prostitution Reform Act 2013 provided to the Canadian House of Commons and Senate select committee in Ottawa, the Harper administration ignored this firm evidential basis for positive and practical reform and lurched backward into prohibitionism. Granted, they did so under the guise of the "Nordic" prohibitionist model, which criminalises client purchase of commercial sexual services in theory, but has actually resulted in repressive intensified policing, particularly against street sex workers in its native Sweden. The passage of this punitive legislation, Bill C-36, occurred in October 2014 and was understandably bitterly fought by Canadian sex workers rights groups, given the destructive impact this has had on Swedish sex workers, driving many into unsafe occupational venues. Hopefully, with the Harper administration trailing in the polls, the issue will be positively revisited if Justin Trudeau's Liberal Opposition win the forthcoming Canadian federal election in October 2015.

If that proved frustrating, so have prolonged attempts by Canadian LGBT organisations to add gender identity to Canada's antidiscrimination Human Rights Act- much like our own sorrows and stubborn resistance to its direct inclusion during the tenure of our own centre-right Key administration. Fortunately for transgender Canadians, Canada is a federal nation, and provincial antidiscrimination laws are more inclusive. Happily, Manitoba (2012), Newfoundland and Labrador (2013), the Northwest Territories (2004), Nova Scotia (2012), Ontario (2012), Prince Edward Island (2013) and Sasketchewan (2014) all have trans-inclusive antidiscrimination laws, which means that only Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec, Yukon and Nunavut lack such protections. At the federal level, centre-left New Democrat MP Randall Garrison has been trying to insure the passage of Bill C-279, the second attempt to insure federal Canadian antidiscrimination and hate crimes legislation includes gender identity. Like a previous attempt, Bill C-389, Bill C-279 passed the lower Canadian House of Commons, but was stymied by Harper administration select committee obstructions and then derailed with a grotesque "bathroom bill" amendment designed to prevent transgender people using the ablutionary facilities of their reassigned gender. This occurred because of the backward religious social conservative elements from the prior Alberta-based Reform Party within the current Conservative Party. However, the good news here is that most of the Liberal, New Democrat, Bloc Quebecois and Green caucuses voted for C-279. In the event of a change of federal government after October 2015, there may finally be progress for the long-suffering transgender community.


Attorney General (Canada) v Bedford and Others [2013] : do

"Canada Supreme Court strikes down prostitution laws" BBC News: 20.12.2013: 25468587

Egale Canada: Transgender Rights: rights/

Egale: "Disappointing Senate decision exposes transgender people to threats and violence" Egale: 26.02.2015: committee/

Not Recommended:

Bill C-36 (Canadian Parliament: Debates, Submissions and Text-October 2014): 2

Craig Young - 19th March 2015

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