On Monday evening, a handful of Conservative MPs who had been preventing a vote on the Liberal government’s bill to ban conversion therapy for minors finally stood down, which allowed the House of Commons to pass the legislation on Tuesday afternoon. But the dissidents might have achieved their goal nonetheless.
Parliament is set to rise later this week, and will almost certainly be dissolved to permit a fall election. Hopes of the bill making it through the Senate in the remaining time are faint. If the bill dies on the order paper, Parliament will once again have failed to protect vulnerable minors from charlatans and zealots. Both Liberals and Conservatives will share the blame.
Conversion therapy is a dangerous, damaging and futile practice in which a religious figure or quack therapist seeks to convert someone from their LGBTQ reality into something resembling straight and cisgender. (You are cisgender if, like most of us, you identify with your birth gender.)
Bill C-6, if passed, would make it a crime to force conversion therapy upon someone against their will; to inflict the malpractice on a child; to remove a child from Canada in order to subject them to the treatment, or to advertise or make money off of such treatment.
A consenting adult would still be able to seek out a religious leader or alleged therapist for conversion counselling, if that was their choice.
But the issue is not a high priority for either the Liberals or Conservatives. The government first introduced the legislation back in March, 2020, but when the political temperature rose over a sole-source contract to the WE Charity, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament, which killed all existing legislation, including the conversion therapy bill.
Justice Minister David Lametti reintroduced the bill last October, but it was rarely high on the order paper. Of course, pandemic-related legislation had to take priority, but had the Liberals really wanted to see this bill become law, they could and would have found a way.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole supports the legislation. But he does not impose the whip on issues of conscience, and it was filibustered by a cabal of Tory backbenchers who feared the bill would unreasonably restrict freedom of religion and speech. I argued two weeks ago that it was time for Mr. O’Toole to lay down the law. It appears he did. The dissident MPs ended their resistance Monday night, though 62 Conservative MPs, along with Independent MP Derek Sloan, voted against the bill Tuesday.
But the clock has likely run out. In the final hours of this Parliament, the government’s highest priority is to pass C-30, the budget implementation bill, into law. The Liberals imposed closure to get Bill C-10, which regulates streaming services and social media, through the House; they will try to get it through the Senate as well, even though many senators are resisting. Then there is C-12, another high-priority bill that strengthens regulations for lowering carbon emissions.
The chances of the conversion therapy bill being debated and passed within that congested timeframe are pretty small, though the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, René Cormier, plans to give it his best shot.
“I do know there is a real appetite in the Senate to ensure that this important bill receives the attention it deserves,” he told me in an e-mail. But any attention other than swift passage would doom the bill.
Suspicious minds might believe the Liberals wanted the bill to fail. Grits love nothing more than painting Tories as intolerant. Mr. O’Toole is a difficult target: He has vowed never to legislate on abortion, marches in Pride parades and supported the conversion therapy bill.
But the dissident Tory MPs did a marvellous job of making the Conservative Party look homophobic with their filibuster. In the tradition of Robert Manion and John Bracken and George Drew and Robert Stanfield and Joe Clark and Andrew Scheer, Mr. O’Toole leads a party that does exactly what its opponents hope it will do, which is why the Liberals win so many elections.
But it probably wasn’t clever Liberal scheming that is leading Parliament yet again to promise but not deliver on the conversion therapy bill. It’s just that almost no one, on either side of the aisle, cares enough about protecting sexual- and gender-minority children to really push for the bill to become law. And that’s a damn shame.
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