I am a Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind. -John Diefenbaker 13th Prime Minister of Canada
Bill C-16; at first glance, is a bill that seems relatively harmless — even beneficial to the rights of a group that are often marginalized. However, at closer glance, one can see that, albeit, championing a venerable cause, the legislation itself seeks to do something very harmful to the foundations of our democracy.
This very contention, first raised by UofT professor Jordan Peterson, is a big part of why this Bill has gained so much traction in the media, and is now so highly controversial. Certainly, in this day and age, transgenderism is a very sensitive issue, so anyone who appears to be opposing anything related to the cause – is seen/labelled by many as someone who is an enemy, or in this case, a bigot/transphobic. These voices, because they are so vociferous and self-righteous, generally tend to drown out any legitimate arguments to Bill C-16, and in doing so have reduced, even a very eloquent and pertinent point, to a singularity, and the singularity in this case, is one that can be easily used as a means to tarnish or demean a certain figure or argument.
Indeed, Professor Jordan Peterson, who went to speak at McMaster University surrounding this issue, was refused a platform to speak, and was shouted down by a group of students.
What Bill C-16 sets out to do is amend Section 2 of the Canadian Human Rights Act with the words gender identity or expression:
The purpose of this Act is to extend the laws in Canada to give effect, within the purview of matters coming within the legislative authority of Parliament, to the principle that all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.
By amending Section 2 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, it would make it punishable by federal law to discriminate against someone based on the gender they identify with or outwardly express.
This would enforce and embolden the Ontario Human Rights Code, which passed legislation prohibiting discrimination (in social areas like employment and education) against transgender people in 2013.
Although seemingly benign on the surface, according to the OHRC code, discrimination could entail:
Refusing to refer to a person by their self-identified name and proper personal pronoun
This insinuation was confirmed by the Chief Commissioner of the OHRC, who said:
Refusing to address a trans person by their chosen name and a personal pronoun that matches their gender identity, or purposely misgendering, is discrimination
For reference here are a list of gender pronouns that one would have to abide to, if a transgender person requests to be referred to as one of such:
Were this legislation to be passed, it is important to understand that by failing or refusing to comply to these new guidelines, pecuniary penalties could be levied. Subsequently, if said fine does not get paid, you could potentially be admitted to jail. This means that someone (‘in a social area covered by the Code‘) who refers to a transgender person as a ‘he’ or a ‘she’, while concurrently refusing to address them by their ‘gender-neutral’ pronoun could potentially land you serious consequences. This very point – not because Peterson is transphobic as many of his detractors allege – is where Peterson draws the line of contention. Peterson, along with many others, state that this Bill imposes upon our right to free speech. Our democracy was founded upon this right, listed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the legislation would serve to undermine the very underpinnings that have afforded Canadians sovereignty.
Certainly, by forcing somebody to say something against their will, is a clear contravention of our right to free speech. The liberty to say what we believe; serves to be far more important than appeasing the arbitrary and amorphous idea of somebody’s feelings. John Stuart Mill, arguably the most influential 19th century English philosopher on liberty, stated that “Our social intolerance kills no one, roots out no opinions, but induces men to disguise them, or to abstain from any active effort for their diffusion.” Indeed, wouldn’t this Bill only serve to foster an even greater intolerance and create more resentment amongst those that this Bill seeks to target?
If a transgender person is outwardly expressing themselves as a male or female, is it not then fair to address them as what they are perceived to be? Living in a democracy like Canada, we are afforded the right to say what we want and it should stay that way – especially in the case of something as benignly inoffensive as gender pronouns. It is overbearing to think that calling a transgender as a he or a she can constitute harassment or discrimination – and therefore be constituted as a potential crime. Why? Because doing so does not have any direct effect on any services, pay, jobs, marks and is not deleterious to their working environment – only by their perception might it be so. Certainly, the only perceived effect it would have is an effect on their feelings. This is a point to consider; however, shouldn’t it be the responsibility of our society, to decide whether or not these gender-pronouns should be used? By undertaking a collective discussion as a society, instead of forcing legislative framework through Parliament, both sides are able to raise legitimate viewpoints and society can come to a collective decision on how we should approach the situation. Certainly, both sides can serve to hear from each other, indeed, Mill believes that only through fulsome discussion, can we as society truly come to an infallible judgement.
Furthermore, transgendered people are already afforded equal rights as any form of behaviour that might be perceived as discrimination can be taken to the Tribunal. Previous cases show that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal made rulings in favor of transgender discrimination and in doing so, determined that transgender issues fall under the category of ‘sex’.
Therefore, amending the CHRA with ‘gender identity and expression’ is not only redundant, but also seeks to harm our right to free speech; and for detractors to perceive it as otherwise, is crass and intellectually dishonest.
The line needs to be drawn somewhere – as for a government to impose its beliefs on its populace that infringes upon our fundamental rights, is a proven slippery slope. Professor Peterson said it best when he remarked that, ‘…authoritarianism [is] started by people’s attempts to control the ideological and linguistic territory (of a society).’
Why Bill C-16 should be repealed