Canada’s newly revived federal conversion therapy ban has passed to its second reading with resounding success, with the overwhelming majority of parliamentarians voting to criminalize the discredited practice.
It’s the outcome everyone expected, given that the Liberal Party and the NDP are both committed to ending the practice. The real story here isn’t the vote itself: It’s what the results tell us about the divided political priorities of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC).
In the days leading up to the vote, politics-watchers wondered whether new party leader Erin O’Toole would allow his MPs to vote according to their conscience or if he would require them to follow the party’s lead on the subject. One of the factors that helped him land the party dealership was a bargain with socially conservative party members to allow a free vote on “conscience matters” like abortion.
Apparently conversion therapy is also a “conscience matter” for social conservatives, and O’Toole permitted them to vote accordingly. But while it’s appalling to think that some parliamentarians were able to vote against the human rights of their own constituents, a tiny minority of only seven MPs voted against the ban. That’s good news.
More upsetting is the knowledge that, even among those who supported the legislation, there are more than a few Conservatives whose support rests on a watered-down version of the bill that would weaken protections for LGBTQ youth in favor of parental and religious rights.
In total, eight parliamentarians have stated that their support for the bill is qualified. (Two members abstained, and former party leader Andrew Scheer just didn’t bother showing up.) The objections of BC Member Bob Zimmer are representative:
Make no mistake, I am opposed to the practice of conversion therapy. However, I am concerned that the current wording of Bill C-6 leaves open the possibility that voluntary conversations between individuals and their parents, family members, pastors, teachers, or their counselors may be criminalized.
Given the actual tenets of the bill, which focus mainly on the ways conversion therapy can operate as a business just like any other type of private therapy, these objections don’t make any sense. The bill simply does not have the scope for criminalizing parents who ask their kids “have you tried not being gay?” or — as former party leadership hopeful Derek Sloan has seriously suggested — rendering prayer illegal.
Those concerns are a fear-mongering tactic to galvanize people into fearing that more rights for LGBTQ Canadians will lead to fewer rights for everybody else.
Anti-LGBTQ advocacy groups are wasting no time in propagating that reasoning. In the wake of the vote, Campaign Life Coalition’s Jack Fonseca was quick to call out the MPs who offered support to the bill, with or without qualifications:
This was a huge betrayal of the socially conservative movement by every single one of the MPs who gave their assent to criminalizing parents, pastors, priest, and licensed professionals. Shame on them. What I wasn’t prepared for was to see all but seven Conservatives MPs vote in favor of criminalizing all public expression of biblical teaching on homosexuality, which is the true motive of Bill C-6.
So much for the primacy of conscience. As usual, socially conservative pundits don’t like the concept nearly as much as they like to pretend when people’s consciences inspire them to protect queer children instead of declaring open season on them.
O’Toole himself has said that the bill requires “reasonable amendments” going forward to clarify whether parents and pastors who express concerns about a given person’s LGBTQ identity will be seen as practicing conversion therapy. Think what you will of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but the shot he took at O’Toole’s political equivocation — voting in favor of the ban while lending his political clout to misinformation — was on point:
Conversion therapy is rooted in the harmful premise that one’s sexual orientation or gender identity could and even should be changed. Our legislation will criminalize efforts to force someone to change or hide who they are. While Conservatives couch their support for conversion therapy behind misleading arguments, on this side, we will always stand up for the rights of Canadians.
In his remarks, Trudeau put his finger on the central issue: conversion therapy cannot exist separately from the idea that LGBTQ people are flawed or damaged in some way that must be fixed. People like Derek Sloan and his fellow naysayers are voting to preserve a world where LGBTQ Canadians can be dismissed as broken.
Following the successful first reading, the bill has been sent to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for review, with a second parliamentary reading pending. Meanwhile, municipal and provincial bans continue to crop up across the country and around the world.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Richard for the link)