This past month, the National Post published an article in opposition to Bill C-16, the legislation that would add gender identity and gender expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act. It is the eighth such article by the newspaper opposing the anti-discrimination bill for trans, non-binary, and gender diverse individuals in the past year.
In this piece, the newspaper articulated the view that the anti-bullying “Day of Pink” is harmful and that the inclusion of gender identity and expression in the law that prohibits advocating for genocide would curtail freedom of speech. The paper did so despite acknowledging the high bar to charge someone for advocating genocide, recognizing that it “involves an intent to destroy or kill an identifiable group and requires the consent of the provincial attorney-general.” They stated:
With the criminal code, it means the section against hate propaganda — this is the one under which advocating genocide falls — is similarly enlarged to include the tiny percentage of people who don’t have the same gender identity as their biological sex.
That means, presumably, that if someone like Eric Brazau were to fixate on the gender-fluid and say negative things about them, he too could be charged with advocating genocide.
No wonder Peterson raised the alarm.
Defy the stultifying parameters around public discussion that exist in this suffocating country at your peril.
Such arguments blending free speech with violent overtones have not only been promulgated by the national newspaper but also in Parliament.
Senator Don Plett, perhaps the most vocal opponent of Bill C-16, invited Gad Saad to serve as a witness on the Senate committee for the legislation. The Concordia professor had no professional or personal experience with trans or non-binary individuals but regularly made disparaging remarks about them on Twitter and in his YouTube show, The Saad Truth. In the private event organized for him on Parliament Hill afterwards, Gad Saad suggested that including “gender identity” and “gender expression” in the Canadian Human Rights Act was not merely an impediment to free speech, but would lead to the “death of the West.” As he stated in Parliament earlier the same day, the “slippery slope of totalitarian lunacy awaits us.”
On Twitter, the Concordia professor continued to ridicule trans and non-binary people advocating for their rights.
He wasn’t the only witness to blend freedom of speech arguments with suggestions of calamity. University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, also invited by Plett, said in his testimony that these rights would infringe freedom of speech and were a “vanguard issue” in an “ideological war” with a “neo-Marxist base“. That these protections would lead to “re-education committees“. That trans advocates were “unforgivable and reprehensible“. That the request for these rights showed “how deeply a culture of victimization has sunk into our society“. Like Gad Saad, Peterson regularly admonished trans and non-binary people on Twitter and YouTube.
Terms like “genocide”, “war”, “murderous ideology”, “re-education”, “death of the West” were being used by Peterson and Saad when discussing the inclusion of “gender expression” and “gender identity” to federal anti-discrimination protections.
Peterson and Saad’s arguments in Parliament largely targeted the rights of non-binary individuals. They were joined by witnesses who took aim at transgender women. Here the rhetoric shifted from language around totalitarianism and atrocities to rape.
Paul Dirks, the pastor behind the “Woman Means Something” campaign, explained that trans women were predators and a threat to women:
But there is one piece of evidence that’s important in this, and that is that there exists amongst trans women certain criminal patterns that do not exist at all amongst women.
In the Okanagan in B.C. recently, in 2017, women were being kicked out of women’s shelters because they objected to having a [trans woman] in their space where they are unclothed. We have all sorts of examples where these predators are getting in.
Dirks stated on his website that being inclusive of trans women was an “erasure of women’s identity and idealogical rape“. Members from the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter asserted that transgender women did not exist but rather were men who took on sexist stereotypes and that “gender expression” included rape. Members from Pour les droits de femmes du Québec stated that transgender women had no place in women’s washrooms, change rooms, sports, prisons, and shelters under implied threats of sexual assault:
With regard to prisons, everyone remembers Colonel Russell Williams, who was found guilty on 92 charges, including murdering two women and numerous sexual assaults. Colonel Williams liked to take pictures of himself in his victims’ underwear after committing his crimes. Why might he not decide that he would be better off in a women’s prison?
The witnesses had deep misconceptions about trans women and non-binary people yet were treated as authorities on the matter in Parliament and given extensive time to air their views. Those misconceptions were then further distributed through outlets such as the CBC. Opponents largely had neither professional nor personal experience with trans people, which is why they spoke to hypotheticals in asserting their opposition whereas proponents spoke to the present and measurable discrimination that trans and gender variant individuals encounter.
As I write this, it’s the day after Peterson’s testimony and Bill C-16 just passed the senate committee. This is the furthest this legislation has gone in the 12 years since former NPD MP Bill Siksay introduced the first such bill and in the 7 years I’ve been following its various incarnations. Every previous iteration – Bill C-392 (2005), Bill C-326/C-494 (2006), Bill C-389 (2009), Bill C-276/C-279 (2011) – was killed. C-16 is now likely to become law by the end of June. A conclusion to this legislative process will hopefully mark the end of these committees, and thus of inviting transphobic bigots from across Canada to spread their harmful misconceptions through Parliament and the media coverage that ensues.
Opponents have used rhetoric around rape, murder, war and genocide when describing their fears of what would happen in a world where trans women such as myself could change after working out at the gym. This isn’t a fringe view: it’s advertised in Parliament and in our national newspapers.That so many influential people equate the simple things I do with such violence is scary. I ground myself in the knowledge that things are the safest they’ve ever been.