The Ontario Legislature recently passed a bill that will add the terms gender identity and gender expression to the Ontario Human Rights Code as prohibited grounds of discrimination and harassment.  The Code currently prohibits discrimination and harassment on the grounds of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status and disability.

Bill 33, known as Toby’s Act (Right to be Free from Discrimination and Harassment Because of Gender Identity or Gender Expression), 2012 and named in honour of transgendered musician Toby Dancer, has been championed since 2007 by MPP Cheri DiNovo of the NDP. It was reintroduced in 2012 with the co-sponsorship of Liberal MPP Yasir Naqvi  and Progressive Conservative MPP Christine Elliott,

Gender identity refers not to one’s biological sex or sexual orientation, but an individual’s intrinsic sense of self and particularly, their inner sense of being male or female.  Gender identity may or may not conform to a person’s birth-assigned sex. The personal characteristics that are associated with gender identity include self-image, physical and biological appearance, expression, behaviour and conduct as they relate to gender.  Gender expression is generally defined as appearance and behaviours which are interpreted as inconsistent with one’s born and raised sex and/or gender.

The goal behind the inclusion of these new prohibited grounds of discrimination was to afford greater human rights protection for transgendered persons, recognized as one of Ontario’s most disadvantaged and marginalized populations. While some protections for transgendered persons arguably existed in the Code under the grounds of sex and disability, these protections were neither clear nor explicit. Several commissions and reporting bodies, including the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Act Review Panel, had called for explicit protections for transgendered persons in Canadian human rights statutes.  As noted by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, “[b]y adding the ground ‘gender identity’ to the Code, there [will] be no doubt legally or politically that transgendered people have the same protections as everyone else2.

The timing of the amendment is particularly fitting as June 15, 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of Ontario’s Human Rights Code, the first such Code in Canada.