Why Trans-Gendered People Need Human Rights Protection

Herizons, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Why Trans-Gendered People Need Human Rights Protection


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"The rights of trans-gendered people go to the core of what it means to be human, to have human rights and to be able to exercise and proclaim these rights and to be able to claim and assert these rights when they are withheld, denied or abused." -Mary-Woo Sims, former chief commissioner of the B.C. Human Rights Commission

Let's start at the beginning. What are human rights?

At the most elementary level, we can say these are rights we are entitled to because we are human and because as human beings and members of this society we are all entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. They can be classified as legal rights, such as the right to a fair trial. They include political rights, such as the right to vote. And they include equality rights, to ensure all other rights and freedoms are available without discrimination. Increasingly, social, economic and cultural rights are considered to be human rights, as they address the rights to things such as food, shelter, a decent standard of living and the protection of one's cultural identity and heritage.

Where did the idea of human rights come from?

It wasn't until 1948 that the first extensive international document, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was created by the United Nations. This was in response to the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime during the Second World War. It was because of this declaration that human rights legislation was developed in Canada. Human rights are enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, part of the Constitution and also in The Canadian Human Rights Act and under provincial and territorial rights legislation.

How are human rights protected in B.C.?

The 1997 B.C. Human Rights Code created two bodies-the B.C. Human Rights Commission, which investigates and mediates complaints and a separate B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. The commission's role is to investigate and mediate complaints, educate the public about human rights and identify and eliminate systemic discrimination. The tribunal adjudicates complaints if the commission cannot resolve the complaint. The chief commissioner has the overall responsibility to ensure the fair, effective and efficient administration of the code.

The code prohibits discrimination in the following areas: publications, employment, accommodation, services and facilities, the purchase of property, tenancy, employment advertisements, wages and by unions and associations. "Services" refers to any service that is customarily available to the public, such as restaurants and public pools.

What is discrimination?

In human rights law, it means making a distinction between people or groups on the basis of certain characteristics that results in a negative effect. These characteristics written into the B.C. Code are called prohibited grounds.

In three of the areas where the code prohibits discrimination-accommodation, services and facilities-the code lists the following grounds on which discrimination is prohibited: race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex and sexual orientation. In the area of employment, discriminatory practices based on the additional grounds of age, political belief and convictions for criminal or summary offences that are unrelated to employment, are also prohibited.

Where do trans people stand in regards to human rights protection?

There is no explicit protection for trans people in any human rights legislation in Canada. The B.C. Human Rights Commission, in its report Human Rights for the Next Millennium, recommended a number of amendments to the Human Rights Code. One of those recommendations, made after an extensive consultative process, was to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

Why is specific protection necessary?

When trans people have filed human rights complaints, they have been filed under the grounds of sex, disability or sexual orientation. …

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