OTTAWA -- St. Boniface MP Shelly Glover gave an emotional explanation Tuesday for why transgender people need protection.
Glover, a former Winnipeg police officer, told a Commons committee she saw cases of extreme brutality against some in the transgender community.
"It is important that we embrace the notion that we invite other Canadians to feel that sense of belonging that this bill will give them," she said.
"When people say it's symbolic only, I disagree wholeheartedly. I want to see transgendered individuals feel they can go to a police service or a court, knowing that gender identity is in the Criminal Code and the human rights act."
Stephen Harper's Conservatives have declared themselves strong advocates for gay rights worldwide, but the prime minister's caucus is divided over a bill that would recognize some of those rights at home.
MPs are studying a private member's bill that would make it illegal to discriminate against transgender Canadians and to disseminate hate on the basis of someone's gender identity or expression. Not all transgender people are homosexual, but their issues are often represented within the gay and lesbian community.
Conservatives on the Commons committee handling the bill are split. Glover has said she will vote in favour of the bill, with some amendments. With the support of the NDP and Liberals, that means it will head back to the Commons, where it must pass two more key votes.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission told the committee the Canadian Human Rights Act should be expanded to include the prohibition of discrimination based on gender identity.
A bill that passed a minority Parliament in February 2011 did so without the support of most Conservatives. It died on the order paper when an election was called.
This time it's gotten as far as the Commons committee, with the support of 15 Conservatives including Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, Glover and B.C. MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay. Nine other Tories abstained from a vote in June.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney sent an email to some Canadians earlier this year explaining how his government was fighting for the rights of gay Iranian refugees. The subject line included the term "LGBT refugees," the "T" standing for transsexual or transgender.
But the transgender bill for the first time tests the appetite of the Conservative caucus to support legislation directly involving the LGBT community. Because the proposed legislation is a private member's bill, MPs are able to vote on it as they wish, without toeing any party line.
Some Conservatives have expressed concern the bill might inadvertently shield pedophiles who lurk in bathrooms. Conservative MP Rob Anders posted a petition on his website warning against allowing transgender men to use women's bathrooms.
Diane Watts, a spokeswoman for the socially conservative group REAL Women Canada, repeated the argument at committee Tuesday.
"This places females and children at a strong disadvantage and at risk, since child predators can use the legislation as a pretence," Watts said. Federal employers might be forced to pay the medical bills for hormone therapy and surgeries, then have to reintegrate the employees into the workforce with some "social difficulty," she added.
NDP MP and bill sponsor Randall Garrison told Watts her comments were "offensive."
-- The Canadian Press