Explainer: Equal bathroom rights in Canada

KPU, SFU, and UBC are just some of the universities that have gender-neutral, all-inclusive bathrooms for students and staff

(Kristen Frier)

Transgender people are publicly banned in the United States from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity. In Canada, there are some regional considerations for those individuals to use the bathroom they choose, as well as gender-neutral bathrooms available in some schools and some province and city-owned buildings.

In 2016, Bill C-16 was introduced by Federal Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould. The bill amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender expression and gender identity as protected grounds and to target “hate propaganda” as described in the Criminal Code.

This includes promoting genocide and inciting hatred “against any identifiable group where this is likely to result in a breach of the peace.” The bill received royal assent on June 19, 2017, going into effect immediately.

Michael Bach, CEO of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, told Global News that implementing Bill C-16 also means that public facilities should conform to and accommodate the LGBTQ2S+ community. One example of this is providing gender-neutral bathrooms.

“The best practice would be don’t bother with urinals. Have stalls that have floor to ceiling walls and doors so that people can’t look in. A private space with locks, they do their business, and come out to wash their hands and it’s no big deal,” Bach said.

KPU was ahead of the game in creating gender-neutral bathrooms. In 2015 the university converted nine men’s and women’s washrooms in busy areas at each campus to “gender inclusive, wheelchair-accessible facilities.” There are also individual bathrooms on each floor of the Civic Plaza campus.

It was the members of the President’s Diversity and Equity Committee and Pride Kwantlen that pushed for this change.

The bathrooms were renovated to replace signage, modify sink and counter heights, and add grab bars, shelves, and hooks to each bathroom. Seven of the nine washrooms are single-stalls and the other two have multiple stalls.

Other universities like SFU and UBC also have gender-neutral washrooms on their campuses.

Before Bill C-16 was passed in Canada, many transgender and non-binary Canadians participated in the #WeJustNeedToPee hashtag. The movement consisted of transgender people across the U.S. and Canada, sharing selfies of themselves in single-sex bathrooms in protest.

Bill C-16 was the last of a lineage of previous bills — C-389, C-279, and C-204 — which were proposed by NDP MPs Randall Garrison and Bill Siksay. The Senate blocked two of the bills, and the final one never moved on from the first reading in the House.

These bills were referred to as “bathroom bills” by critics as they aimed to change federal laws to allow transgender individuals to use the public bathrooms that correspond to the gender they identify with.

A 23-year-old Canadian started the hashtag #PlettPutMeHere in response to Conservative Senator Don Plett, who introduced three amendments to Bill C-279 in 2015, one of which exempted public bathrooms and changerooms from the bill’s protections.

Since then, though making space for gender-neutral bathrooms is not required by law, many institutions and businesses across the country have been including them as a standard addition to their buildings.