The government of Alberta recently announced that public funding for sex reassignment surgery (SRS) will be eliminated to save about $700,000 of a roughly $ 13-billion annual health-care budget.
Concern about the size of provincial expenditures on health is legitimate, but removing funding for SRS is not. Why? Because it is always wrong to single out a much persecuted minority – in this case, transsexuals – for a deprivation unique to them.
The delisting is almost assuredly contrary to Alberta’s human rights legislation, the Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act, and thus illegal.
Trying to justify the delisting, Alberta’s Minister of Health and Wellness Ron Liepert noted that only about 20 people will be adversely impacted.
This is irrelevant. It is precisely to counter the tendency of majorities to make decisions that oppress minorities, such as transsexuals, that we have human rights laws in the first place.
Complaints have already been filed with the Alberta Human Rights Commission. A similar complaint was filed in Ontario when funding for SRS was eliminated there.
The Ontario government lost that complaint and had to reinstate SRS funding.
Alberta Finance Minister Iris Evans has been quoted as saying “she was not aware of the Ontario human rights case.”
Lindsay Blackett, minister responsible for the Alberta Human Rights Commission, has admitted that the Ontario experience was not mentioned when the decision to eliminate SRS funding was taken.
It would seem impossible, but sadly is not: the Alberta government delisted SRS without knowing the move is almost assuredly contrary to its own human rights law.
And does the Alberta government not see the parallels with the Delwyn Vriend case? Vriend lost his job and filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission alleging he was dismissed because he is gay.
The commission refused the complaint, noting that the wording of Alberta’s human rights law does not include “sexual orientation” as an illegal ground of discrimination. Alberta courts agreed, but the Supreme Court of Canada did not.
In 1998 it ruled that, given the Constitutional guarantee of equality in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, gays could not be excluded from the protections offered to other groups.
Even though Alberta law does not state that “sexual orientation” is an illegal basis of discrimination, it is.
The same will be true of “gender identity.”
Janet Keeping is president of the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership.