On October 25th, Dwarfism Awareness Day, Bill 216, which puts "physical size and weight" as protected characteristics under Manitoba's Human Rights Code. The bill would say it is no longer accepted in Manitoba to discriminate against people based on physical size and weight characteristics. The debate at second reading is below.
Bill 216–The Human Rights Code Amendment Act
Madam Speaker: So, moving then to second reading of Bill 216, The Human Rights Code Amendment Act.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, I move, seconded by the MLA for Kewatinook, that Bill 216, The Human Rights Code Amendment Act; Loi modifiant le Code des droits de la personne, be now read a second time and be referred to a committee of this House.
Mr. Gerrard: Madam Speaker, members of the Chamber, this bill will put physical size and weight as protected characteristics under the Human Rights Code.
The bill asks Manitobans to be fair and respectful in their treatment of others regardless of whether the person is small or tall, slim or fat.
It is time for those who are obese or thin, small or tall, to be treated with fairness, with respect and understanding and without discrimination in our society.
The judgment, bias and discrimination toward people based on their weight, shape or size disproportionately affects people seeking health care, education and employment and all too often results in poorer mental health, poorer physical health and, as a result, leads to increased costs to the health-care system and other government services such as EIA and housing.
Lindsey Mazur has recently written and shared examples of Manitobans who would have benefited from the passage of this bill. I won't repeat them here. I will note that since bullying based on physical size or weight is common in schools, this bill will help the children of our province, as in the years ahead, by providing a helpful perspective of others, regardless of size or weight.
One of the concerns that has been raised is that there might be additional costs to the health-care system if this bill were passed. Dr. Mary Forhan, who was recently in Winnipeg, has looked at this issue in work she's doing in Medicine Hat. She has found that any costs are outweighed by short-term and long-term savings in enabling improved health care for those with large bodies and so that the health care can be done more quickly so they can be discharged earlier and healthier and in fact save dollars for the health-care system.
In speaking today, I specifically extend an apology to the member for La Verendrye (Mr. Smook). In my previous comments on this bill and in a subsequent Free Press editorial, an inaccurate reference was made to the remarks of the MLA for La Verendrye, which suggested he didn't support the bill. I apologize to the MLA for La Verendrye. I'm sorry about this.
I want to thank Lindsey Mazur, Samantha Rayburn Trubyk, Elaine Stevenson and many others for helping me understand the stigma and discrimination that has existed in Manitoba with reference to physical size and weight and for their support for Bill 216. I want to thank Dr. Arya Sharma, Dr. Mary Forhan and Ian Patton who came to Winnipeg recently to talk about the need to pass Bill 216. I want to thank my staff and our caucus staff and Legislative Counsel for this assistance with bill 16. And I would most particularly like to thank Dr. Moe Lerner, who sadly passed away earlier this year.
I hope all MLAs will today support Bill 216 going to committee so it can have further input from Manitobans.
Thank you. Merci. Miigwech.
Madam Speaker: A question period of up to 10 minutes will be held. Questions may be addressed to the sponsoring member by any member in the following sequence: first question to be asked by a member from another party; this is to be followed by a rotation between the parties; each independent member may ask only one question; and no question or answer shall exceed 45 seconds.
Mr. Shannon Martin (Morris): Thank you to my colleague, the member for River Heights, for bringing in this bill and, obviously, initiating a conversation that's overdue here in the province.
I'm wondering if the member for River Heights can share any conversations or consultations he's had with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and, more importantly, any advice they gave to the member in terms of strengthening this proposal.
Yes, indeed, I have met with board members of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. We had a really good dialogue. We went over the fact that, under the present Human Rights Code, although some individuals with different body size and weight would be covered under the category disabilities, that there are clearly others who would not be covered under the category disabilities. So it is clearly a valid and important additional inclusion to put physical size and weight.
Madam Speaker: The member's time has expired.
Mr. Andrew Swan (Minto): I want to commend the member for River Heights for bringing this bill forward again.
I just want to follow up on that last point. The only real criticism I've heard is those who say, well, this could already be covered under the disability provisions in the Human Rights Code. I don't share that view; I don't believe the member for River Heights does. And I wonder if he could expand a little bit more on that point.
Mr. Gerrard: There are, in fact, two Canadian cases where people with large bodies were considered to be healthy and not disabled. Quite frankly, there are many people who are fat or obese who are–who exercise a lot. They can even be physical trainers and are clearly very fit and not disabled.
And so it's not only that. There may be people who are of small size or large size, tall stature, who are not necessarily disabled, who would be covered under this. So it's clearly, as the discussions that I had with the members of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, that this is a, you know, a valid–
Madam Speaker: The member's time has expired.
Mr. Martin: I always appreciate hearing from my colleague, the member for River Heights, as he articulates the validity of hearing from Manitobans on this bill.
Now, I know the Supreme Court has ruled that the–that discrimination should be given a broad context and a broad interpretation in order to ensure that all Canadians are covered and protected, and how does the member view the Supreme Court ruling in the context of the legislation he's bringing forward in terms of, I guess, redundancy or whether or not this actually may, in fact, strengthen our Human Rights Code?
Mr. Gerrard: Thank you for that question because, you know, clearly, the Supreme Court is, in a sense, reaching in this direction. But it's clear from the discussion with people at the Human Rights Commission here, and it's clear from people who have gone to our Human Rights Commission that unless the discrimination fits under one of the categories–gender, sex, race, ethnicity, or in this case we put physical size and weight–that there is not a case that they can really investigate and that they can get involved with.
And so it really is essential that we include physical size and weight to make it very clear that these are protected characteristics.
Mr. Martin: The member for River Heights (Mr. Gerrard) identified at the beginning some correspondence sent around by Lindsey. I received the same correspondence identifying a number of examples of individuals who were on the receiving end of discrimination based on body type and size and that.
I'm wondering if the member could share any detail as to whether any of those cases, to his knowledge, were brought to the human rights–Manitoba Human Rights Commission and whether they were investigated, or perhaps it's that lack of investigation that has led to the proposal of Bill 216 today.
Mr. Gerrard: Yes. One of the cases that Lindsey Mazur mentioned went to the Human Rights Commission. And, you know, it was, in fact, difficult, right, for the Human Rights Commission because of the question of disability. They, of course, looked at, you know, whether or not there was discrimination, and they did that in a responsible and fair way, which is really what we're asking for here.
Another of the cases was in the process of going to the Human Rights Commission, but it was never–the individual died before–
Madam Speaker: The member's time has expired.
Mr. Martin: I'd like to give the member a little more time to articulate the first component of his answer when he said that one of the cases was indeed brought forward to the Human Rights Commission, but they found it difficult. But what was the, I guess, the final conclusion of the Human Rights Commission? Although they may have found it difficult, were they able to find a resolution to the complaint, or was it identified that the, I guess, lack of specificity in the Human Rights Commission made it too difficult for them to properly investigate that claim of discrimination?
Mr. Gerrard: I think the first thing I would say is that had there been physical size and weight under the Human Rights Code, there would be no question at all that it would have fallen under the Human Rights Code. So this would be helpful.
In that particular case, the Human Rights Commission investigated, and they did not find discrimination. It was still a matter of contention, but, I mean, that is the role of the Human Rights Commission and that is what, you know, we're trying to ask in this bill, that the Human Rights Commission be given this mandate so that they can look carefully and fairly at situations, which they have a reputation for doing.
Mr. Martin: Madam Speaker, one of the, I guess, guiding, not necessarily principles, but guiding–I can't think of the proper word, but anyway–we often look to as legislators, what are–what have other jurisdictions do in terms of best practices. Now, that isn't to suggest that there aren't instances where Manitoba has been on the vanguard of protecting human rights. In fact, the recent women's day in recognizing Manitoba's role in identifying or providing women the right to vote would never have occurred if we just simply had that attitude that, you know, no one should be the first. But, that being said, I'm just wondering if the member can share with us if there's any other jurisdictions in–or in Canada that have this definition within them.
Mr. Gerrard: If we look, starting outside of Canada, I believe, in Michigan, they have this provision with regard to employment. I think that there are other countries, a couple, which have moved in this direction, and, clearly, this is the direction which is being taken in other provinces. There's movement in Ontario and Alberta to do this. It hasn't reached the stage of legislation passing at this point, but, for instance, people from Obesity Canada have been across the country in monitoring the situation. We had Dr. Arya Sharma here, and not long ago, presenting on this. You know, this is clearly something–
Madam Speaker: The member's time has expired.
Mr. Martin: And I thank my colleague for sharing that perspective and that information, and, again, there are times that we will want to lead the country on this file or any number of files, and it is important that we as legislatures take a look at that, and I said, like, not use the fact that there may not be another jurisdiction as an excuse for inaction.
And I'm wondering–I know the member did articulate a number of jurisdictions south of the border or overseas and that some–at least two provinces are looking at it. I'm wondering if he has any perspective on, potentially, the federal government and whether or not they're looking at any changes on a national level that may supersede what he's proposing here today.
Mr. Gerrard: I'm not specifically aware of changes at the national level or what is happening. What I can say is that, you know, this is clearly the direction it is going, and we as legislatures, this legislative session and the MLAs here have a chance, right, to step forward. We have a chance to at least let this go to committee so we can hear from others and get an additional perspective from the citizens of Manitoba, and I think that is worthwhile doing, and I hope you'd be supportive.
Madam Speaker: The time for questions has expired.
Madam Speaker: Debate is open.
Mr. Shannon Martin (Morris): It's always a pleasure to rise in this House, and I think it's very apropos that we're discussing this bill the day after municipal elections here in Manitoba that saw a large number of people put their names forward on a ballot in order to ensure that the democratic choice remains here in Manitoba and in Canada at large. And if it wasn't for the courage of those individuals to put their lives on hold and to put themselves out there–and sometimes it can be a challenge in more ways than one, not just a financial challenge and time challenge, but in today's world of social media, can lead to unfortunate anonymous attacks and such. But, again, our democracy is strengthened by the involvement of all those individuals who put their names forward. And so I say congratulations to everyone who will be either re-elected–who was either re-elected or elected yesterday in their municipal councils. And I know we as a government, indeed, all members of this House, look forward to working with our municipal counterparts.
And so it is with that that I have an appreciation for what the member is doing today. And I think not only is it appropriate that we're debating this bill in light of the municipal elections yesterday, but maybe most members aren't aware of this, but actually today is dwarfism awareness day, on today, October 25th.
So, again, I think it is very appropriate, and I don't know if it is by plan or by just sheer coincidence that the member for River Heights' (Mr. Gerrard) private member's bill here on The Human Rights Code Amendment Act is coming forward this Thursday on Dwarfism Awareness Day. But, again, I think it just will highlight to all of us as legislators the need to look at the–at this legislation and this request that those protections for all Manitobans be enshrined within the Human Rights Code here in Manitoba.
Now, I listened carefully to the member for River Heights, and he always has, I think, a good perspective, and I know he has challenged this legislation and he's brought forward a number of supporters. And I know in one of his comments, he made a reference to individuals who may be larger, who despite their size are actually quite physically fit.
And it's interesting, Madam Speaker, because myself and actually the member for Minto (Mr. Swan) are avid runners and our paths will often cross on the half-marathon courses and that. And I've had the opportunity to teach a number of clinics through the Running Room. And it always struck me as to the variety of individuals who come forward to train for a particular goal, whether that be a half–a 10K or a half or a full marathon.
And it–I remember one individual in particular when I ran and was training for my first full marathon. His name was Brad and he worked at Maple Leaf. And I don't know if it was too much bacon and that, but he had decided that–to embark on a healthy lifestyle. But what was interesting in his perspective, again–and–that his goal was health, not weight, Madam Speaker. And there is a difference between the two of them.
We can be healthy and not fit a certain mould perpetuated, whether it's by, you know, the–you know, whether it's perpetuated by the media, magazines or the culture in which we live, that there is no, sort of, perfect mould. And I always was astounded by his amazing stamina as we would go out and run, you know, 10, 15, 20 miles as we prepared for the Manitoba Marathon. Because he didn't, you know, fit the–sort of–your stereotypical physique of a runner. But that being said, he more than made up to it in terms of just sheer stamina and endurance where he maybe, you know, not have met those criteria earlier. So he did meet his goal of becoming fitter and becoming healthier, but you didn't actually–you didn't see–and, again, he didn't identify weight loss as being a significant motivator. Again, it was the birth of a child and a desire to obviously see that through.
Now, the member mentioned Samantha Trubyk, who I consider a friend. I used to–I got to know Samantha first–and Samantha is the president of Little People here in Manitoba. And they've had awareness days here in Manitoba, just last year, in the Golden Boy Room–again, advocating on behalf of Manitobans to ensure that awareness is there. I got to first know Samantha during my previous role as the executive director of reaching employment equality services, where we help people with physical or health–physical disabilities or health circumstances find or improve their employment circumstances. And Samantha had come to us in relation to her son, and–who also is a little person–and obviously the barriers that he faced in terms of identifying employment opportunities and a willingness on the part of some employers to look past stature and instead look to the skill set that this young man could bring forward. And I'm pleased in that instance that we were successful, and I do hope that that success for him in terms of employment opportunities has continued, Madam Speaker.
The–and, obviously, this isn't just simply about height or lack thereof. I mean, the member has identified that this is a broad range of identified characteristics. So, you know, some people are–can be discriminated against potentially for being too thin, that, you know, they may be considered unhealthy and an employer, you know, unfortunately–or an individual may think, you know, I don't want to take a chance on this person because they, you know, they look, you know, quote, unquote, you know, near death or something, Madam Speaker.
And, of course, we often hear–or too often we hear stories in the news of individuals who may be on the larger size, who are put in a position of being publicly embarrassed because they're–because a particular business or maybe an airline aren't able or willing to make those necessary or requested accommodations in a respectful manner, Madam Speaker.
Now, I know there have been some comments made, Madam Speaker, as to whether or not the current Manitoba Human Rights Code and commission has the ability, based on the current legislation and current wording, to protect individuals as identified by the member of River Heights under the basis of size and weight as a characteristic of disability, and maybe that, you know what, I don't disagree with the member.
And I think the member of Minto also made reference to it as well. And that might be the crux of some of the conversation and it’s that attribution of the word disability to these individuals. Being a little person is not a disability, being a tall person is not a disability and being large is not a disability.
And so I see that point, and I see it as a valid point, that that imposition of that phrase, in terms of identifying themselves as a person who has received–on the receiving end of some sort of discrimination within society is only valid because society sees them as disabled, Madam Speaker.
And, obviously, it's incumbent upon us as legislators to ensure that we are all educated, that we all are valid. As individuals, we all have something to contribute, Madam Speaker. Obviously, we are not there yet. We have come a long way, but there is no doubt from all our lives and all our perspectives that there is more to do.
So, again, I thank the member for River Heights (Mr. Gerrard), for bringing this bill forward, bringing–for starting a conversation here in Manitoba. I know on this side of the House that we are supportive of moving this bill forward to committee so that we can hear from Manitobans and that Manitobans can share their perspectives on this bill, on the member River Heights' perspective and they can identify ways to improve the Human Rights Code here in Manitoba, whether or not the Human Rights Code currently meets those objectives and that.
But, yes, I think on this side of the House that we agree that Manitobans' voice should be heard on this bill through the committee. So I look forward to continuing debate discussion on this bill brought forward by the member for River Heights.
Mr. Andrew Swan (Minto): The only thing harder than speaking for 30 minutes in this House is speaking for about a minute and a half. Let me be very clear that our NDP caucus supports this bill moving ahead to committee.
The road to full inclusion and the road to human rights is not a sprint; it is a marathon and sometimes a long and difficult path. There was a time in this province when people were not protected from discrimination against having a physical or mental disability.
There was a time when people weren't protected from discrimination based on their political beliefs. There was a time, only 30 years ago, when people were not protected from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, and Manitoba became only the second province in Canada to make that protection.
And there was a time, only six years ago, when people were not protected from discrimination based on their gender identity. And we were actually the first province in Canada to move ahead with that protection, although only one day ahead of Ontario, thanks to my friend Cheri DiNovo, an MPP in that province.
And I think the member for Morris (Mr. Martin) has touched on one of the most important issues, and that is that many of the people who are supporting this bill not only say that they do not have a disability, that is the very crux of their argument.
Somebody's ability to seek redress because they've been refused employment or a promotion or housing or health care, it's not because that they have disability. Frankly, it's that they would like the world to know they are not disabled. They are full members of our society and the Human Rights Code should reflect that.
Thank you, Madam–
Madam Speaker: Order, please.
As per the written notice, debate on Bill 216 is now concluded, and we will move on to the next item of business.
Later - the vote came:
Bill 216–The Human Rights Code Amendment Act
Mr. Deputy Speaker: In accordance to rule 24, as previously announced, I am now interrupting this debate to put forward the question–selected Bill 216.
The question before the House is the second reading of Bill 216, The Human Rights Code Amendment Act.
Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion? [Agreed]