In a reversal, the Liberal government passed a bill Monday that adds specific protections for transgender people to the B.C. Human Rights Code.
Less than three months after dismissing the need for legislation, Attorney General Suzanne Anton introduced amendments that specifically bar discrimination on the basis of “gender identity or expression.”
“In British Columbia, every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection,” she said. “The purpose of the bill is to make that explicit.”
The bill passed all three readings Monday with unanimous support in the legislature.
Liberal MLA Laurie Throness, who represents Chilliwack-Hope, abstained from voting.
“I don’t want to vote against anyone’s rights, but neither can I support what I think threatens to be the entrenchment of the fluidity of gender,” he said in a speech to the legislature.
Anton, who argued previously that transgender people were already protected against discrimination on the basis of sex, said the amendments serve as a “public reaffirmation of our commitment to protecting the rights of all persons in British Columbia, including, in particular, transgender persons.”
She paid tribute to those who pushed for the change, including the NDP’s Spencer Chandra Herbert. The Vancouver-West End MLA introduced similar legislation in April — the fourth time in five years he had pressed for amendments to the code.
At the time, Anton accused Chandra Herbert of doing people a disservice “by creating alarm, by suggesting that there’s an issue. There is no issue with the law,’’ she said.
Asked Monday to explain her reversal, Anton said it became evident that there is “uncertainty in people’s minds about that protection and so let’s clear up that uncertainty. It’s not a difficult change to make.”
The U-turn comes in advance of Sunday’s Pride Parade in Vancouver, something Chandra Herbert suggested might have been a factor.
“The cynic would say we have an election coming up really soon and the government wants to be in the Pride Parade, which they were banned from last year,” he said. “But I would say it’s the strength of arguments from transgender people and from the vast majority of British Columbians.”
He credited the advocacy by a pair of 13-year-old transgender girls, Harriette Cunningham of Comox and Tru Wilson of Delta, who spoke in support of his private member’s bill at the legislature in April.