By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government appears set to kill a Liberal bill that would ban discrimination on the basis of weight and body size.
Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard introduced the private member’s bill earlier this year and touted it as a first in Canada. It would add weight and body size as protected grounds under the province’s Human Rights Code alongside religion, sex, disability and other items.
The governing Tories allowed the bill to go to public hearings Wednesday night — normally a sign of support — but later voted against bringing it back to the legislature to be passed into law.
“We do not believe that protecting Manitobans from physical size and weight discrimination requires an amendment to the Human Rights Code,” Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said in a written statement Thursday.
Gerrard said the change is needed because overweight people have been bullied, passed over for jobs and denied health-care services.
Across Canada, there have been human rights commission rulings in favour of obese persons, but they have been limited to people considered disabled because of their size. Gerrard says his change would extend the protection to obese people who are able-bodied as well as to people with dwarfism.
The bill could still become law if the government changes its mind and brings it before the legislature in the next week, but NDP house leader Nahanni Fontaine said there’s no sign of the government bending.
The current legislature session is scheduled to end next Thursday and any bills not passed into law by then are terminated.
“It’s problematic that you have the government vote against a really key piece of legislation that would protect Manitobans,” Fontaine said.
Cullen said the Human Rights Commission can hear complaints about discrimination based on size and weight, and raising awareness of that might be the answer.
“We … heard from several presenters (at the hearings) who told us that more education about human rights for those suffering from physical size and weight discrimination would help ensure that more Manitobans know they can make a complaint on those grounds under the existing code.”