After six years and four tries, Toby’s Act was passed today. The legislation amends the Ontario Human Rights Code to explicitly recognize both gender identity and gender expression.
Introduced by the NDP Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Cheri DiNovo, Toby’s Act was co-sponsored by Liberal MPP Yasir Naqvi and Progressive Conservative MPP Christine Elliott. Previously the Ontario Human Rights Code prohibited discrimination based on “race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status or disability” but didn’t differentiate between sexual orientation and gender identity. Recognizing the differences between sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression is incredibly important in making sure that trans* folks and other gender non-conforming individuals are protected when their human rights are violated. Ontario is the first place in North America to pass this type of legislation. Hopefully Toby’s Act will encourage similar changes in policies and practices across Canada and beyond. Let’s take time to celebrate everybody who worked so hard to make Toby’s Act happen!
In less exciting news, the federal government has voted to remove a section of the Human Rights Act that prohibits “the communication of hate messages by telephone or on the Internet”. This means that police and courts could still respond to hate speech if it falls under the Criminal Code, but the human rights commission no longer could. The government argued that this part of the Human Rights Act violates the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also means that people have fewer tools to resist or respond to the hatred they might experience in the very big—and sometimes scary—online world.
So, that’s the good news and bad news in law this week. In both cases, there’s still a lot to fight for. There are some laws that don’t protect LGBTQ people and others that discriminate against them. Often the most marginalized people in our communities are those least protected. Let’s keep on advocating and making noise, working to keep ourselves and each other safe.
For more on Toby’s Act look here.
For more on the changes to the Human Rights Act look here.