Skip to main content
opinion

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole is applauded by his party as he rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill on Nov. 24, 2021.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

For those who believe that our society has become impossibly polarized, that political parties are not able to work together for the common good, that we are past our best, Canada’s House of Commons had an answer Wednesday, when it unanimously approved legislation to ban conversion therapy.

And that it was the Conservatives who made this possible is nothing short of astounding.

“We’re all fighting back tears.” Justice Minister David Lametti told reporters after the vote. He wasn’t the only one. What a great day.

And what an unexpected one. When Conservative justice critic Rob Moore put forward a motion that the House declare Bill C-4 – the third legislative attempt by the Liberals at rendering conversion therapy a crime – to be adopted, I was in the midst of writing a column about Liberal and Conservative machinations surrounding the bill.

Conversion therapy is a bogus and dangerous practice that falsely purports to be able to change a person’s sexual or gender identity. Children, especially should be protected from it.

Conservative backbenchers filibustered the second version of the bill last spring, saying it could criminalize conversations between parents and children, or religious leaders and followers. Though Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole voted in support of the legislation, slightly more than half his caucus voted nay.

Bill to ban conversion therapy clears House of Commons

So it seemed reasonable to wonder how Mr. O’Toole would handle the issue this time. As it turned out, he and other key players handled it beautifully. I suspect MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who has fought to advance LGBTQ rights within the party for years, and MPs Eric Duncan and Melissa Lantsman, who are gay, must have had some interesting conversations with their colleagues.

They appear to have convinced the social conservatives within the caucus that they had already registered their opposition to the bill when they voted against its predecessor last spring, and that any further opposition would only typecast the party as intolerant.

“People who had something to say were able to say it [last spring] and we believed that we had to get [the bill] back to where it was six months ago, which was before the Senate,” Conservative House Leader Gérard Deltell explained to reporters outside the House.

The Senate will, we hope, pass expeditiously a bill sent to it with the unanimous consent of the House.

There is a lot of praise to go around here. First to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government, for championing this legislation, which will protect vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community from charlatans and religious fanatics.

Second, to Mr. O’Toole. Many of us have written about his struggle to unite the fractious conservative coalition. The unity he achieved Wednesday was miraculous. And politically, highly beneficial.

Social conservative MPs also deserve high praise. Many religious conservatives of all faiths condemn homosexual acts as sinful. While the rest of us may disagree strongly, we must respect the right of MPs who hold those beliefs to vote their conscience.

Instead, they agreed that they had said their piece and that they would abide by the wishes of the leadership and move on. That was the right call, but for some it must have been a hard one.

“There are clearly people in the Conservative caucus who have exercised a great deal of leadership on the issue,” said Mr. Lametti. “And I thank them.” Not something I thought I’d live to hear.

The previous version of the bill left open the possibility that activists might seek the prosecution of a mental-health professional who advises a wait-and-see approach to a minor expressing gender dysphoria. That remains a concern in the new bill.

And it’s an open question whether an adult can be prohibited from seeking a treatment such as conversion therapy of their own free will. The courts will be busy sorting out the implications of C-4.

But Canadians, including some jaded observers in the press gallery, should give credit where credit is due, to members of Parliament who came together Wednesday to make the world just a little bit safer for sexual and gender minorities. Well done, and thank you.

For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.