Vancouver Province

Wednesday 28 February 2001

Transsexual's tribunal case an insult to real human rights

Susan Martinuk
The Province

The human rights business has become rather complicated lately.

Particularly in Canada, where a squabble over the definition of "woman" has somehow turned into a five-year-long battle over "human rights."

One might think that such an issue could be quickly resolved (by any man off the street). But according to reports emerging from the tribunal's hearing, being a woman has nothing to do with what genitals are present. Rather it hinges on political definitions, legal definitions, medical definitions and, ultimately (perhaps most frightening of all), the tribunal's definition.

No wonder it's taking so long to resolve. Being a woman just isn't what it used to be -- and Kimberly Nixon isn't what she used to be either.

Nixon is a female transsexual who is before B.C.'s Human Rights Tribunal to claim discrimination against a rape counselling centre that turned down her application to become a volunteer rape counsellor because she used to be a he.

But her lawyer has taken great pains to argue that "she" has always been a "she" -- just a "she" who had the misfortune of being born with a "humiliating appendage" (her lawyer's words, not mine). The lawyer further argues that it was this penis that made it impossible for society to recognize the girl/woman that was, quite literally, behind it. Therefore, "she" has always been a "she" and the rape crisis centre has no right to refuse her the "right" to be their volunteer counsellor. Further, the centre should pay her $10,000 in damages for putting her through all this.

That's right -- "all this" is what human rights has become in Canada.

I'm quite sure that the definition of "woman" is less confusing in places like Afghanistan, where women aren't allowed to work, can't leave home without covering every square inch of their being, and where rape is a crime that is perpetrated by women and punishable by death.

There is little room for doubt about the definition of "woman" in African and Asian countries that practice female circumcision -- a fancy word for gouging out parts of the female genitalia using crude instruments. After all, it is a rite of passage to enter womanhood and is designed to keep women faithful to one man by making sex a brutally painful experience.

Similarly, the term "human rights" takes on a different meaning in the Sudan where Christians and others are routinely persecuted by the Muslim government. Millions in that country have been maimed, tortured or raped. The more fortunate ones become slaves.

In China, human rights abuses are on the increase -- which says a lot since Chinese authoritarians have, for decades, had a notorious record of jailing, torturing and killing political dissidents.

Yet in recent months, thousands of members of a religious sect called Falun Gong have been sent to "re-education" (aka labour) camps. Political or religious dissidents (and anyone else) can be sent to these camps -- without trial -- for up to three years. Currently, more than 250,000 Chinese are currently being held.

Last year, Chinese "family planning officials" killed a newborn baby by drowning him in a rice paddy in front of his parents. The baby committed the crime of being a second child -- in a land with a one-child policy.

Yet, just last week, Prime Minister Chretien, a host of provincial premiers and Canadian business leaders elected to say almost nothing about any of these abuses -- in exchange for billions of dollars in trade contracts. Apparently, they naively believe that as China adopts our free-market business practices, it will also adopt our basic rights and freedoms.

A decade of such practices would suggest otherwise.

Yet Mr. Chretien deems it necessary to squander millions of dollars each year to sustain the Canadian human rights bureaucracy -- despite the fact that it has degenerated into a senseless experiment in social engineering and essentially become a burgeoning cottage industry for minorities and their lawyers.

Perhaps Canadians have become so accustomed to the trivialization and misplaced focus of human rights in Canada that it has become easy to dismiss the real abuses of human rights that occur in other countries.

Ignorance may be bliss, but be warned. In this self-absorbed climate, it will also be increasingly difficult to recognize legitimate human rights abuses in our own country.