Justin Trudeau
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a pride flag raising ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, June 14, 2017. Reuters/Chris Wattie

The Canadian Senate passed Bill C-16 on Thursday afternoon, which is to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code in order to protect the citizens from discrimination on gender identity or expression.

Bill C-16 was introduced more than a year ago which MPs voted in favor of in November 2016 and passed it on to the senate. Then senators had raised concerns about the act imposing limits on free speech. On Thursday however, it passed a vote in the senate with 67 in favor.

The bill adds gender identity and expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination under Canadian law like the human rights code also includes prohibition of discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, religion, and other factors.

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According to Bill C-16 that was passed by the senate, “This enactment amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.”

“The enactment also amends the Criminal Code to extend the protection against hate propaganda set out in that Act to any section of the public that is distinguished by gender identity or expression and to clearly set out that evidence that an offense was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on gender identity or expression constitutes an aggravating circumstance that a court must take into consideration when it imposes a sentence,” the bill states, according to the Open Parliament website.

Several members of the trans community and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould were present during the passing of the bill, which won in a vote of 67 to 11 in the senate on Thursday.

Nicole Nussbaum, a lawyer specializing in gender identity and expression issues, said she was thankful the bill was finally passed, as the government had been approached with similar versions of the bill but never approved one before.

“Including gender expression and gender identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act will address the really desperate situation that many trans and gender non-confirming, non-binary people experience as a result of discrimination, harassment and violence,” she said in an interview with CTV News.

“The passage of this bill really represents an acknowledgment and welcome to transgender [and] non-conforming people in Canada, and so we are at least in theory, at least in principle, officially equal citizens,” she added.

Passage of the legislation “marks a significant step toward recognizing transgender and gender diverse communities as worthy of dignity and respect,” said Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale, an organization that advocates for the LGBT community. “I’m grateful to everyone through the decades who fought tirelessly to get us to this historic moment.”

Lawmakers in the senate took about seven months to study and debate the bill properly before coming to this decision. The entire process carried over for months included discussions regarding people being forced to use unusual pronouns.

The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) was in favor of the bill and stated the fears concerning the usage of unusual pronouns was a misunderstanding of human rights and hate crimes legislation.

“Nothing in the section compels the use or avoidance of particular words in public as long as they are not used in their most 'extreme manifestations' with the intention of promoting the 'level of abhorrence, de-legitimization and rejection' that produces feelings of hatred against identifiable groups,” Rene Basque, president of the CBA, wrote to the Senate legal affairs committee last month.

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Nussbaum also said the concerns were disturbing to hear.

“It was very difficult to listen to and to try to understand how senators and other witnesses understood these rights as being something so different than the other rights and the other protected grounds in the act,” Nussbaum said.

A similar bill was first introduced by the New Democratic Party in 2005, reintroduced in 2006 and again in 2009, however they died in the senate. Bill C-16 is expected to become a law by next week.