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Canada's transgender rights bill could become law before the Summer, despite some controversial opponents

Despite the controversial professor's views, which have been rejected by a litany of lawyers and academics, the Senate appears set to pass the bill in short order.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA

Legislation that would offer transgender Canadians the same human rights protections already available to millions of their fellow citizens is set to come to a final vote, as two weeks of hearings wrap up.

The legislation is set to be referred back to the Senate floor on Thursday, but it was Wednesday that proved the most controversial, as University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson — who has become a cult figure amongst social conservatives and the alt right for his rejection of gender-neutral pronouns — testified against the bill.


But Peterson’s testimony does not square with what the majority of lawyers, academics, or transgender activists say about the legislation, and his appearance at the committee was contrasted by a protest on the front lawn of Parliament, as more than a hundred supporters marched to encourage the Senate to pass the bill.

Peterson held up a cartoon of “Gender Unicorn” … and called it “reprehensible.”

Bill C–16 extends human rights protections for transgender Canadians on the federal level — complementing similar provincial efforts that have taken place across the country — and recognizes violence or advocating genocide against gender expression and gender identity as a hate crime.

The study of the legislation has been split almost evenly between hearing from proponents of the bill, most of whom were transgender; and opponents of the legislation, most of whom were not.

Peterson mixed his opposition to the bill with an argument against the very idea that someone could be transgender, and told the committee he would not use gender-neutral pronouns because they were part of an “ideological battle” led by “neo-Marxists.”

“The amendment to the [Canadian Human Rights Act] will not compel the speech of private citizens.”

Peterson is just one of a parade of iconoclastic opponents of the bill who have railed against the legislation, despite a general consensus in the legal community that the legal changes would be overwhelmingly positive.


In his opening statement, Peterson held up a cartoon of the “Gender Unicorn” and called it “reprehensible.” The nonexistent beast was designed to help children learn about gender diversity.

Those witnesses have been lauded by Conservative Senator Don Plett, who has crusaded against the legislation for years, and who was personally responsible for ensuring that the legislation did not become law, even though it has been passed through the House of Commons several times prior.

The majority of the senators on the committee, including a mix of Conservatives, independents, and Liberals, spoke in favor the legislation.

Senator Marc Gold, a constitutional law scholar, noted that the legislation does not apply to those who mistakenly use an incorrect gender, but noted that the human rights law would only kick in when someone intentionally and consistently uses an incorrect gender, regardless of the harm it may cause. “Is that not something that the law could properly address?” Gold asked.

Peterson responded by lamenting a “culture of victimization.”

Plett has previously put forward the idea that the legislation could allow men into women’s change rooms — an assertion that was widely mocked, as failing to pass the legislation could actually allow the opposite to occur.

“I oppose discrimination against gender identity and gender expression,” Peterson said, but went on to say that he doesn’t support the parts of the legislation that “compel speech.”


That argument has been forcefully rejected by the majority of Canadian lawyers, including the Canadian Bar Association.

“The amendment to the [Canadian Human Rights Act] will not compel the speech of private citizens,” reads a submission from national lawyer group. In endorsing the legislation, they write: “Bill C-16 will provide tangible protections for one of Canada’s most vulnerable minorities. It will contribute to broader public awareness of gender diversity issues. It will advance equality in Canada.”

The protections in the legislation have existed for sexual, racial, and religious minorities for decades, and gives direction to the courts to stiffen penalties for violent crimes aimed at transgender individuals by recognizing them as hate crimes.

Two transgender lawyers representing the bar association came before the committee earlier in May to argue that the bill would be a net positive for the community by offering strong legal protections, without stifling freedom of speech.

Conservative members of the Senate have used arcane rules of the upper chamber to delay and frustrate progress of the legislation, although the bill seems destined to pass into law before the end of the Summer, thanks to Liberal and independent supporters.

In his opening statement, Peterson held up a cartoon of the “Gender Unicorn” and called it “reprehensible.”