By Leah Schnurr
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Liberal government introduced legislation on Tuesday to protect transgender people from discrimination and hate crimes, a move that comes as the push for such rights has sparked controversy in the United States.
"Our laws must reflect the rich diversity and inclusiveness which are among our greatest strengths as Canadians," said Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was joined by members and advocates of the transgender community.
"We believe this legislation would ensure that everyone can live according to their gender identity and express their gender as they choose."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement on Tuesday that even with the legislation, "there remains much to be done."
"Far too many people still face harassment, discrimination, and violence for being who they are. This is unacceptable," he said in the statement recognizing International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
The bill would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of gender identity and expression.
The criminal code would also be amended so that gender identity is included in the identifiable groups protected from hate propaganda. The code would also be clarified to say that if a crime is motivated by hate based on gender identity, a judge must consider that as an aggravating factor in sentencing.
With the Liberals holding a majority in the House of Commons, the legislation is highly likely to pass, though it was not clear if parliamentarians will be allowed to vote freely as they are with physician-assisted dying legislation that is currently been debated.
Past attempts to approve similar transgender rights legislation in Canada have failed, though this is the first time the legislation is being brought forward by the current government.
Amnesty International welcomed the government's move, saying that it will "uphold the human rights of individuals who are vulnerable to significantly heightened levels of discrimination and violence, in Canada and worldwide."
Although it is less controversial in Canada, transgender rights have become part of a heated debate in the United States with North Carolina passing a law earlier this year that prohibits people from using public washrooms that do not correspond to their gender assigned at birth.
Since then, President Barack Obama's administration has told U.S. public schools that transgender students must be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice, a non-binding guidance that has been met with push back from conservatives.
(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Alan Crosby)