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Human Rights, The Profession

Swearing in of Canada’s first transgender judge enriches the bench

Toronto litigator and human rights lawyer Deborah Howden says the appointment and swearing in of Canada's first self-identified transgender judge enriches the bench and improves the quality of justice.

Justice Kael McKenzie, a former Crown attorney, officially took his seat in the Manitoba court following his swearing-in ceremony earlier this month, CBC reports.

At the Feb. 12 ceremony, McKenzie was lauded for his involvement in the legal community and told the audience, "I'm just so grateful for the faith that's been bestowed upon me.”

The article notes the appointment has helped some Canadians embrace their own gender identity and McKenzie told the publication he has received an outpouring of support from family, friends and strangers from across Canada.

Howden, a partner with Shibley Righton LLP, says she was very pleased when she first heard of McKenzie’s appointment late last year.

“It signals a welcome effort on the part of judicial advisory committees to reflect greater diversity on the bench by selecting qualified, competent judges from underrepresented communities,” she says.

The fact that McKenzie is a member of Manitoba's Métis Nation makes the appointment “a double victory for diversity,” she adds.

Howden tells that it was only in 2012 that the Ontario Human Rights Code was expressly amended to include gender identity and gender expression as protected grounds.  

“The appointment is a clear recognition that members of the transgender community have been sidelined far too long,” she says.

“When communities are properly represented amongst the judiciary, the courts become more reflective of our diverse Canadian population. When that happens, those communities are able to participate, in a meaningful way, in interpreting and shaping the law,” Howden says.

At the same time, she says, those communities have more confidence in the soundness of the courts' decisions, because they are more likely to accept that they are fairly represented and that the judges understand their perspectives and the implications of their rulings.

While the appointment is historic, Howden says it’s unfortunate that it took until 2016 for Canada to have its first judge from the transgender community.  

“Change comes slowly, and entire groups of people — including women — continue to be underrepresented on the bench,” she says. “In-roads have been made, but we have a long way to go.

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