Conversion therapy is premised on the noxious idea that gay people are broken. These pseudoscientific “therapies” can be extremely harmful, and young people may be forced into them by homophobic parents.
Jurisdictions around the world have outlawed conversion therapy, and similar legislation is long past due in Canada—so it is utterly despicable that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delayed his long-promised ban on the practice to put the interests of the Liberal Party ahead of those being victimized today.
On February 1, 2019, NDP MP Sheri Benson presented an 18,000 name petition to the Commons asking the government to act. On March 19, the majority Liberals responded, turning down the petition’s demand with their trademarked jurisdictional dodge.
To drive home the deflection, the federal attorney general wrote letters to provincial ministers asking them to take action. “No one jurisdiction can end this dangerous practice alone,” wrote the federal Liberal ministers in July 2019.
But in August of that same year, federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh upped the ante, promising his party would support federal legislation to establish a Canada-wide ban on conversion therapy.
Despite their earlier claims of jurisdictional impossibility, when the Liberals released their platform on September 30, 2019, it contained a commitment to “making amendments to the Criminal Code that will prohibit this harmful and scientifically disproven practice.”
Good work, Jagmeet Singh.
The October 2019 election resulted in a minority Commons. The Liberals held the largest bloc, and continued as government. Together, Liberal and NDP MPs constituted a majority and could swiftly pass a ban on conversion therapy. But two years later, that hope might have disappeared.
In March 2020 the Liberals tabled legislation to criminalize the practice. And on the day of the bill’s introduction, NDP critic Randall Garrison said NDP MPs would back the bill and offered to fast-track it to end a discredited ‘therapy’ that “leads to depression, social isolation and often to self-harm.”
But the NDP’s fast-track offer was rejected. When the Commons rose for the summer—and with the WE scandal building to a boil—the ban hadn’t been passed. The legislation died when Trudeau prorogued Parliament to shut down the WE investigations.
After the Throne Speech, the Liberal government reintroduced the legislation (now known as Bill C-6) on October 6, 2020. The legislation passed first reading and the government brought it back for second reading quickly. It passed later that month.
But then came more delay. Bill C-6 was referred to committee, which didn’t finish its work until December. And then not until April 16, 2020 did the government call C-6 back to the Commons, when it received debate on one day. Debate was then again adjourned until the Liberals brought the bill back on May 31. And then more delay followed until the Liberals dropped the bill into the Commons just as it was wrapping up for the summer recess—and possibly to not return until after an early election call.
Bill C-6 is now in the hands of the Senate where, due to the independence of senators, little pressure can be put by the prime minister or anyone else to pass the bill and ban conversion therapy. If the senate fails to pass bill C-6 before Trudeau calls an early election, the legislation will die again.
In delaying C-6 until the pitched battles of the last days of the Commons before the summer, the prime minister has very effectively drawn attention to the opposition Conservatives (and the opposition of so many Conservative MPs to C-6 is indeed stomach-turning).
And when an election comes, and if a conversion therapy ban is not passed into law, the prime minister will no doubt stand and blame the Conservatives. Now, it’s probably a rare Canadian who follows the zigs and zags of petitions, promises and parliamentary process. And perhaps that’s what the Liberals are betting on. Because when the path of the legislation is traced, it’s an ugly image.
Justin Trudeau had a choice. He could have worked with the New Democrats, fast-tracking the bill to get something done for Canadians. Instead, he delayed to play political games with the Conservatives.
If the prime minister calls an early election and this medieval “therapy” isn’t yet illegal, it is no one else’s fault but Justin Trudeau’s.
Tom Parkin is a frequent political columnist and commentator with a bluntly social democratic point of view. Follow him on Twitter @TomPark1n.