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The Power of One: Government Returns Bill for Review in Response to Trans Advocate

Underscores Importance of Law Amendments Committee

by Laura Shepherd

Kate Shewan, pictured, stood before the Nova Scotia Law Amendments Committee and argued in favour of removing gender markers from Bill 82, entirely. As a result, the Bill has been returned for further adjustments. [Photo: www.waterfronttv.org]
Kate Shewan, pictured, stood before the Nova Scotia Law Amendments Committee and argued in favour of removing gender markers from Bill 82, entirely. As a result, the Bill has been returned for further adjustments. [Photo: www.waterfronttv.org]

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) - A day before perhaps compromising on the controversial proposed cut to the film tax credit, the government of Nova Scotia agreed to re-examine the inclusiveness of Bill 82, which proposes changes to two laws to ease the process of changing name and gender on provincially-issued identification.

Bill 82 alters The Vital Statistics Act and the Change of Name Act to remove surgery as a prerequisite for change in the so-called ‘gender marker’ on drivers’ licenses and birth certificates, and similar private information government records for each of us. Measures are intended to prevent transgender Nova Scotians from being incorrectly identified on official identification, a situation that places them at risk of violence and increased scrutiny by authorities. Advocates argued that some measures, as constituted, only included binary-identified trans people, and some medical requirements pathologize being transgender.

Appearing before the legislature’s Law Amendments Committee on Monday, April 13, long-time trans and rainbow advocate, Kate Shewan, argued for several changes to make the legislation truly inclusive of transgender, non-binary and genderfluid Nova Scotians. The committee received a written submission echoing perspectives articulated by Shewan.

Shewan called for further study to possibly remove gender marker requirements entirely. She also argued the current binary gender designations of male and female are exclusive, and do not reflect the lived gender experience of all Nova Scotians.

Shewan went on to say the requirement for corroboration of a person’s gender identity by a licensed practitioner is pathologizing, and perpetuates the trope that the transgender reality is abnormal, or a medical phenomenon. Instead, she advocates a self-declaration that respects principles of equality, full participation and self-determination.

Under the terms of Bill 82, gender marker provisions apply to those born in the province. Shewan argued sensible strategies for including those born elsewhere, whether or not their jurisdiction of origin recognizes transgender status, are available and, in fact, exist in provinces like Manitoba. Adopting them in Nova Scotia would be both effective and progressive, setting a standard for other jurisdictions as well as signalling the province as relatively trans-friendly.

Liberal cabinet minister, Mark Furey, responsible for The Vital Statistics Act and the introduction of Bill 82, agreed to return the Bill to bureaucrats for further adjustment. The Law Amendments process allows for a Bill to be amended without requiring full reintroduction through the law-making process. Instead, Bill 82 remains at the Law Amendments Committee level on the legislature’s order papers, so can proceed to third and final reading once any adjustments to the original, based on the review the Minister promised, are completed.

As the people of Nova Scotia are patiently teaching the McNeil government, there is political mileage in being able to say, we’re trying but we don’t yet have it right.

In light of the sustained shit-storm caused by the reduction of the percentage of the film tax credit proposed in the Liberal budget, returning Bill 82 for improvements before its final reading sidesteps a controversy the government neither wants nor needs. Furey, a senior RCMP officer before entering politics, readily responded to the critique that he had not gotten Bill 82 right the first time.

His willingness to put the intent of the legislation ahead of his image is laudable.

It speaks to the effectiveness of advocates like Kate Shewan, but also to the larger fact that transgender, non-binary and genderfluid Nova Scotians are increasingly visible on the political radar as a distinct interest group whose widespread allyship elsewhere in the body politic is detectable to those whose job it is to take the pulse of the province.

Shewan effectively forced further amendment to the Bill. Her ability to do so in part speaks to the validity of the Law Amendments process, retained in Nova Scotia but moribund in most of the rest of the country.

Borne of a time when information, particularly the detail of proposed legislative measures, moved more slowly, and the physical barriers to direct response to government were formidable, the law amendments committee is a holdover from the pre-confederation configuration of settler government. Essentially, a Bill goes through three “readings” - introduction; debate of principle and practice; and clause-by-clause consideration - before it is called for a vote. Between the second and third stages, Nova Scotian legislation goes to an all-party committee of MLAs which seeks public input.

It is rare for a single advocate or even a small interest group to sway a government intent on its own Bill, as the optics of compromise are not always regarded as politically attractive to a government in power.

That Shewan succeeded in doing just that speaks to her ability and credibility as an advocate, the standout sensibility of Mark Furey in comparison to the stubbornness some of his cabinet colleagues, and the value of the Law Amendments process to Nova Scotians.

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