Senate gives speedy passage to bill banning conversion therapy


Published December 7, 2021 at 6:32 pm

OTTAWA — The Senate gave speedy approval Tuesday to legislation banning conversion therapy in Canada.

After minimal debate, senators agreed to fast-track Bill C-4 through all stages of the legislative process and deem it passed.

The move was proposed by the interim leader of the Conservative Senate caucus, Sen. Leo Housakos.

It followed a similar move by Conservatives in the House of Commons last week to speed the bill through that chamber without lengthy debate, committee study or votes.

The bill is expected to receive royal assent as early as Wednesday.

The bill makes it a criminal offence to force a person to undergo the traumatizing practice of “conversion therapy” aimed at altering their sexual orientation or gender identity.

More than half of the 119 Conservative MPs voted against a similar bill last June, which gave Liberals ammunition to accuse the party of being anti-LGBTQ during the fall election campaign.

That bill did not make it through the Senate before it rose for the summer and it eventually died when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called an election in August.

Some Conservative MPs sat stone-faced last week while other colleagues celebrated the swift passage of the new bill through the Commons. But in moving to pass it without debate or a vote in both parliamentary chambers, leader Erin O’Toole is hoping to neutralize the issue as a wedge that can be used against his party in future.

“The Trudeau government has been using LGBTQ2S Canadians as political pawns and conversion therapy as a political weapon. Long enough,” Housakos tweeted Tuesday shortly after the Senate passed the new bill.

“That’s why today we gave the govt a clear path forward in banning conversion therapy.”

The new bill goes further than the original, banning conversion therapy for consenting adults, as well as for children and non-consenting adults. 

It creates four new Criminal Code offences: causing a person to undergo conversion therapy, subjecting a minor to conversion therapy abroad, profiting from the provision of conversion therapy and advertising or promoting the practice, with penalties of two to five years in prison.

In moving Tuesday to pass the bill immediately in the Senate, Housakos told senators that no Canadians “deserve to be treated as political props or for political expediency. That’s not the Canadian way.”

When something is in “the universal public interest.” he added that the Senate should “not create unnecessary duplication and engage in unnecessary debates.”

There were no dissenting voices to Housakos’s motion and the bill was thus passed, to applause from senators.

“With the unanimous passage of Bill C-4, all senators stood shoulder to shoulder with the House of Commons in the defense of human rights and Canada’s LGBTQ2 community,” Sen. Marc Gold, the government representative in the Senate, said in a statement.

However, Campaign Life Coalition, an anti-abortion group that has had considerable influence in the Conservative party, condemned passage of the bill. 

Coalition president Jeff Gunnarson asserted in a statement that the legislation will make it illegal for parents or religious leaders to counsel “gender-confused” children — a charge the government has denied. And he predicted the ban on consenting adults receiving conversion therapy will be struck down as unconstitutional.

“Banning consenting adults from voluntarily obtaining the kind of clinical therapy, psychoanalysis, or spiritual counselling that they desire for themselves is simply unconstitutional,” Gunnarson said.

“We hope that individuals who no longer wish to identify as LGBT and who want to voluntarily avail themselves of these supports will sue the government and ask the court to strike down the law.” 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2021.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

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