On International Women’s Day I’d love to talk about Canada’s equality system

Today is International Women’s Day and there are so many things I’d like to talk about.

I’d love to talk about how our equality system is framed in Canada. It’s such a good system that benefits from a ground-up rewrite in the late 20th century. When I contrast it with what other countries have I am so grateful to live in Canada and be protected by its laws.

I’d love to talk about the way access to special programs for groups that need them matters, in contrast with anointing people with special specific entitlements on the basis of who they are to form a basis for segregation. Segregation is the opposite of what lifts us all up: our prohibiting acts of discrimination on grounds of characteristics we have no control over. For example on the basis of our sex, our place of origin, our gender, or our core beliefs.

I’d love to talk about how Ruth Bader Ginsberg totally got the point.

In the US the #NotoriousRBG (Ruth Baden Ginsberg)’s life work was centered around how the pedestal some antiquated laws put women on was actually a gilded cage keeping us on an uneven footing.

Ruth Baden Ginsberg. Feminist Activist Lawyer, U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
image: The New Yorker

I subscribe to RBG’s philosophy on cages. As a Trans woman, I find it self-evident that limiting anyone from accessing services based on arbitrary purity tests is fraught with the risk of excluding people who really do need to access them.

I know how defining in-groups with legislated entitlements is a throwback to long-done-away-with norms such as primogeniture and the inability of women to be heard by a court, finally addressed in Canada with the 1929 Persons Case.

This is why such approaches are prohibited by legislation specifically framed to ensure equality and inclusion of all persons. I know where purity tests have taken us in the past and worry about how concern-based activists leverage outliers to tempt us all to turn on the arbitrary outsider. It is so disappointing to see some influencers continue to push for exclusionary enclaves intended to limits membership in a demographic to a narrow definition of who we are based on their own deeply-held biases.

You can learn more about this unstoppable force for human rights through her New York Times obituary.

Persons of a common belief system do, and are entitled to, associate around the things they value.

People congregating into groups around faith, social interest, and political ideals is a foundation of Canadian society. That does not mean however that we should allow service providers to discriminate against clients because they are not “Jewish enough” or “White enough” or “gay enough” or “female enough” or “trans enough” or “Canadian enough”.

Canadians are entitled to access services free of prohibited discrimination and we ensure fairness with strict regulatory oversight of the rare instances when an exception to our anti-discrimination regulations allows a group to be prioritized in a program because it faces additional barriers.

On International Women’s Day I’d love to talk about how in British Columbia the Office of the BC Human Rights Commissioner’s Special Programs process protects us all from arbitrary discrimination by addressing such gilded cages and making sure programs are not unnecessarily oppressive to women or any other disadvantaged group. I’d love to talk about how this model should be universally adopted to keep service providers accountable for how services are provided.

In British Columbia, a “special program” is any program adopted by an employer or other service provider that aims to improve the conditions for an individual or group that has faced disadvantage.

I’d love to talk  about the Canadian government’s amazing GBA+ analysis work and the brilliant free online GBA+ course you can take so everyone who wants to can catch up.

The Canadian Government’s GBA+ program is designed to ensure all factors are considered when policy is enacted and programs are funded.

I’d love to talk about how grateful I am to all the women lawyers and activists standing up and to  change happen that helped free us from patriarchy’s many yokes – and all the other lawyers and change-makers who helped bring real social change that frees people from inequity.

I’d love to talk about these things because I believe that to women and girls can live our lives here and elsewhere that are more free and more equal and more inclusive. 

And I believe that we will get there if we ensure our policy makers and our lawmakers reflect who we are and implement policies and legislation that enshrine resilience, inclusion, and more agency that lifts us all up regardless of who we are by implementing Gender-Based Analysis.

I’d also love to just reflect with you how grateful I am a transgender woman living my authentic life today here in Canada and not ten, or 20, or 50 years ago – or in the places from which I receive daily pleas for help from trapped trans women who are far, far less fortunate than I am.

I’d also love to talk about places with names like Uganda, Great Britain, Russia, the UAE, Poland, the Bahamas , and too many UNHCR refugee camps that Canada helps fund .

I’d love to talk about how these places remain dangerous and awful places to be a woman who is Transgender and on how disappointing it is that Canada tolerates this today.

These are the things I’d love to talk about today. And I’ll be talking about them a lot this month at the 65th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. And I’ll be doing that every other day too. The campaign to liberate everyone who faces obstacles because of their sex or because of their gender by systems designed to do that is a year-round commitment we can’t afford to be distracted from, and we can’t wait for 25-year reflections at the U.N. to ask what still hast to be done.

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