OTTAWA — Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould — a former First Nations leader — says a proposed government bill that changes the human rights code will apply on reserves, adding she hopes individuals will see that it provides additional legal protections in the face of discrimination.
Wilson-Raybould’s comments come after experts spoke publicly to The Canadian Press about the link between the indigenous suicide crisis and discrimination against people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender or two-spirit.
Some indigenous people, such as Ojibwa-Cree elder Ma-Nee Chacaby, use the term two-spirit to describe carrying a male and female spirit in their bodies at the same time and note the identity was traditionally viewed as sacred.
Chacaby, who came out in 1988, said she was bullied and beaten for her identity, both by other First Nations people as well as non-indigenous people.
Sen. Murray Sinclair, who spent six years documenting Canada’s church-operated, government-funded residential school system, said evangelical foundations continue to speak out loudly against traditional values and beliefs, particularly around two-spirited people.
Sinclair also noted a undoubted link between discrimination and the mental health crisis plaguing a number of indigenous communities.
Individuals who feel they can’t full express themselves and seek drastic measures to alleviate their suffering underscore the purpose of the proposed legislation, Wilson-Raybould said.
It is incumbent upon Canada to provide necessary protections to individuals so they can be who they are, she added.
“The Canadian Human Rights Act applies on reserve,” she said. “I hope that individuals that live in indigenous communities on reserve that are two-spirited see this legislation as providing them with the protections to come out and be who they are.”
They should also know they are not alone, Wilson-Raybould said.
“There are other people that … identify them themselves the same way,” she said. “It is OK to be who you are and we as a country need to support the free expression of individuals.”
The government’s bill, discussed at the Senate legal affairs committee on Thursday, is designed to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity or gender expression.
The legislation proposes making it illegal to deny someone a job or to discriminate against them in the workplace on the basis of their gender identity or how they outwardly express it.
It would also amend the Criminal Code to extend hate speech laws.
Some members of the upper chamber, including Conservative Sen. Don Plett, have expressed concerns about the bill, including the notion that the concept of gender expression should be protected under human rights laws.
Provinces and territories have taken the lead on amending human rights laws to recognize gender identity and gender expression, Wilson-Raybould said Thursday, noting the federal government must follow suit.
“There is a necessity to ensure … that we continue to have this discussion on a national level, to continue to have this discussion between and among parliamentarians to ensure that people understand the purpose of this legislation,” she said.
“I feel confident in this place and time that this is something that will move forward.”
In the last Parliament, a version of the bill sponsored by NDP MP Randall Garrison passed in the House of Commons but was blocked in the Senate.
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Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press