Hon. Andrew Cardozo: Honourable senators, it is my pleasure to join the discussion on 2SLGBTQI+ rights as raised in the last federal budget.
I want to take this opportunity to address a very specific policy here in the Senate, which is the recent decision by the Long Term Vision and Plan working group to have gender-neutral washrooms in the new and renovated Senate buildings. While surprisingly there has been some resistance, I am pleased to observe that the mainstream of the discussion was squarely based in the year 2023, and not in 1923.
I want to be as clear as possible as a senator in this chamber: I’m in favour of gender neutral washrooms.
These washrooms will accommodate transgender Canadians and gender non-binary Canadians, the common word being “Canadians.”
As a bonus, as with most forms of accommodation, many other Canadians will benefit from and appreciate the measure. I speak of this as if it were the brand new invention of the private washrooms. Here is the thing. While accommodation is always a good thing for the reasons of human rights and respect, it almost always benefits other people beyond those who need it most.
Let me give you two examples. Back some 30 or 40 years ago, when buildings and sidewalks were being built to be more accessible to people in wheelchairs and those with mobility challenges, I became acutely aware that these measures were of great assistance to parents with young children. While I stayed home to raise my kids for a few years when they were little, there were countless times when those facilities made it possible for me as I lugged around two little kids and a stroller.
Facilities for people with disabilities greatly assisted all parents and caregivers of young children, who are much larger in number than those using wheelchairs. By the way, we are still not at 100% in terms of accessibility.
As a second example, when I was at the CRTC, one of the initiatives that we were working on was television closed captioning for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.
Today, subtitling on television remains a very successful program that pays for itself through advertising and sponsorship, and it is widely used for the benefit of all who are patrons to bars, pubs and restaurants, as well as gyms and health centres. So, colleagues, the next time you find yourself reading subtitles on a TV screen at an airport, remember to thank the pioneers of this service — your fellow Canadians who are deaf and hard of hearing.
I will suggest the washrooms that accommodate “others” was probably a raging debate in this Parliament a century ago, two years after the first woman was elected to the House of Commons and seven years before the first woman was appointed to the Senate. The debate for an appropriate number of washrooms for women has been going on in the decades since, but I can just imagine the male fragility that yelled and hollered about having to give up their washrooms for their female colleagues, who they probably didn’t believe belonged in Parliament to begin with. And here we are, 100 years later, and at last we have a solution. It takes us a while, but we can get it done.
I want to congratulate Senator Tannas and the Long Term Vision and Plan Subcommittee as well as Senator Moncion and the Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration Committee and all other senators who have approached this with openness and respect.
I’d like to make one last point on minority rights, and this is my plea to all parliamentarians. Let me paraphrase what President Biden said a few days ago about hate. There is some deep hate in our society at all times that is just under the surface and just needs oxygen to give it life. In our debates as parliamentarians, let us be careful not to give oxygen to the darker forces in our society.
I understand that we are often dealing with issues that are new to some, complicated or threatening. As parliamentarians, perhaps we can do our best, when discussing complex and emotional issues, not to feed the darker forces in our society, even if it could bring short-term political benefit to some of us.
To those who don’t like the idea of a gender-neutral washroom, I say: Come on; join us. Let’s be respectful and welcoming to all, be they parliamentarians, staff or visitors. Parliament is the home of all Canadians, not just some Canadians. Trust me; you’re going to like the private washrooms. Thank you.