Advocates and federal ministers say they’re disappointed that a bill banning conversion therapy and another on new broadcast legislation are stuck in the Senate with a possible election looming.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government is having conversations with Senate leadership to see if there is a way to move ahead with those two bills sooner. He did not provide additional details as to what the government is asking of the Senate, which adjourned late Tuesday until mid-September.
If the bills are not adopted by the Senate before the next election campaign, they will die on the order paper.
Since 2015, Mr. Trudeau has appointed senators who sit as independents. Several of those independent appointees are among those who have spoken out against Bill C-10, which would update the Broadcasting Act, over concerns that the bill would overregulate online speech. Only the Conservatives in the Senate have expressed concern about Bill C-6, legislation that would add conversion therapy to the Criminal Code, which they say could impinge on the rights of religious groups.
Both bills were sent to the Senate from the House in late June, with several senators saying they didn’t have enough time to consider them properly. Two other bills sent to Senate at the same time were approved: the budget bill and climate change legislation.
Speaking at a news conference in Ottawa, Mr. Trudeau said the Conservatives in the Senate “strategize” with Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole to block bills such as C-6 and C-10.
“Unfortunately, the Conservatives – including members of the Conservative party in the Senate – continue to show concerns about these [bills] and oppose these legislative changes. But we’re going to continue to work to keep supporting Canadian artists, to keep supporting the LGBT community in this country,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Bill C-6 would create five new Criminal Code offences. Among other things, it would ban forcing someone to undergo conversion therapy against their will. Conversion therapy is a widely denounced practice aimed at changing someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
“This should be a slam dunk for all parties to unequivocally support and protect the LGBTQ2 community,” said Kristopher Wells, an associate professor and Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth at MacEwan University. “It’s one thing to put up Pride flags in the month of June. It’s quite another thing, and more difficult, to seriously address systemic homophobia, biphobia and transphobia,” he said.
Helen Kennedy, Executive Director of Egale Canada, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ people and issues, also said she was disappointed. “I think it’s pretty irresponsible of the Senate not to push this through,” she said.
“They had an opportunity to do the right thing, pass the legislation. It’s a tragedy,” Ms. Kennedy added. “How can you sleep at night knowing you’re allowing that to happen to somebody?”
The Conservative Leader in the Senate, Don Plett, said this week that C-6 needed further review because it could raise concerns over religious freedom. Faith groups, including the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, have said the bill is poorly worded and the ban could unintentionally apply to conversations that were not meant to be targeted by the legislation.
When asked about criticism from cabinet ministers, Mr. Plett’s office directed The Globe to statements he made on Twitter, where he accused the Liberals of “playing politics” with C-6.
“The legislative agenda is the responsibility of the government, but once again we are seeing a government without a plan, that fumbles ahead … and then blames everyone else for their incompetence,” Mr. Plett said.
Bill C-10, which would update the Broadcasting Act to bring streaming services like Netflix under federal regulation in areas like supporting Canadian content, is also stuck in limbo in the Senate. The bill created controversy in the spring when an amendment led some to worry that user-generated web content such as people’s social media posts might fall under regulation.
Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, who introduced the bill in November, said in an interview on Wednesday that he’s “disappointed” to see C-10 fail to be passed by the Senate.
“The Conservatives were always opposed to this bill,” Mr. Guilbeault said. “They were opposed in the House, they were opposed in the Senate, and they did everything they could to try and delay the adoption.”
Jérôme Payette, director-general of The Professional Music Publishers’ Association, who favours the bill, said that he blames Conservatives for “systematically filibustering” the legislation in the House of Commons.
Bill C-10 faced vocal opposition from many experts, and those arguments convinced at least some senators not to rush the bill into law.
“I think the Senate did the right thing,” said Mark Buell, Regional Vice President for North America of the Internet Society, an organization that advocates for an open, secure Internet. “They saw a piece of legislation that needed some work, and, despite pressure from Mr. Guilbeault, decided not to rush a flawed act forward.”