Leaders of the various groups in the Senate are discussing a government request to recall the chamber after senators faced criticism for recessing for the summer without passing a bill that would effectively ban the practice of conversion therapy.
The decision to recall the Senate will ultimately be in the hands of Speaker George Furey, who could announce a recall as soon as this week.
With a potential federal election on the horizon, Liberals are blaming Conservative MPs and senators for the fact that the bill is not yet law. However the Conservatives say it is the Liberals who are playing “cynical political games” and using the LGBTQ+ community as “political pawns.”
Conversion therapy is a widely criticized practice aimed at changing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Bill C-6 includes a proposed amendment to the Criminal Code that would ban forcing someone to undergo conversion therapy against their will.
The bill has clearly divided the Conservative caucus. At third reading in the House of Commons last month, 62 Conservative MPs voted against Bill C-6, as did independent MP Derek Sloan, who was elected as a Conservative. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole was among the 51 Conservative MPs who voted in favour.
The leaders of the three groups of independent senators all confirmed to The Globe and Mail on Sunday that there have been behind-the-scenes discussions about a proposal to recall the Senate, but that no final decision has yet been made.
The leader of the 41-member Independent Senators Group, Yuen Pau Woo, said Sunday that the ISG is open to working through the summer if needed.
“A recall of the Senate is in the hands of the Speaker. I do not know if he will issue a recall, but ISG senators are ready and willing to work,” he said on Sunday.
Senator Scott Tannas, who leads the 12-member Canadian Senators Group, said he’s concerned the Senate may be facing pressure to quickly pass the bill this month without a thorough study or amendments.
“I’ve got some questions about that,” he said. “I understand, you know, there’s politics involved. People are preparing for an election and everybody wants to put their best foot forward, and potentially stick their foot out to trip up the other guy. But I’m more interested in good legislation and so I’m scratching my head a bit.”
On June 29, the Senate adjourned until mid-September after only passing two of four bills that the government had identified as priorities. The Senate approved Bill C-36, the budget bill, and C-12, dealing with climate change targets. However the Senate did not pass C-6, nor did it pass Bill C-10, a controversial proposal to regulate online streaming services such as Netflix via an update to the Broadcasting Act.
Several senators argued at the time that the House failed to give the Senate enough time to review the bills, given that all four were sent to the Senate in the second half of June.
The day after the Senate adjourned, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government was in discussions with the Senate leadership about recalling the chamber. Then on Friday afternoon, Senator Marc Gold, who represents the government in the Senate, released a proposal to recall the Senate to deal with C-6, but not C-10.
“Since we adjourned on Tuesday, June 29, it has become increasingly clear that an inability of the Senate to complete its study of this legislation before the fall has generated a great deal of concern, anxiety and frustration for those in our LGBTQ2 community,” he wrote.
The proposal would see the Senate recalled as soon as possible in order to approve a study of C-6 by the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee, with a deadline of no later than July 26. The Senate would then reconvene and hold a final vote by July 30 at the latest.
Conservative Senator Leo Housakos issued a statement Friday accusing the Liberals of playing cynical games at the expense of the LGBTQ+ community.
“It’s not the first time Mr. Trudeau has put on a public display of concern for a group of marginalized Canadians in nothing more than a cynical attempt to embarrass his opponents. Nor will it be the last,” he said.
Critics of the Liberals note that the government did not treat the bill with much urgency when it was in the House. The bill was first introduced in March, 2020, but died on the order paper when the government prorogued Parliament later that year. It was then reintroduced as C-6 in October. After it emerged from committee in December, it was not debated in the House until April, for one day. The government only scheduled one day of debate on the bill in May before three final days in June.
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