House of Commons unanimously agrees to pass bill to ban conversion therapy
OTTAWA -- The House of Commons unanimously agreed to pass Bill C-4, the legislation to ban conversion therapy, through all stages without study or amendment after a Conservative motion, making it the first bill to pass the House in the 44th Parliament.
This rapid fast-tracking came just two days after the Liberals tabled re-worked and expanded legislation aiming to outright prohibit both adults and children from being subjected to harmful conversion therapy practices.
Bill C-4 proposes to eliminate the harmful practice in Canada for all ages, through four new Criminal Code offences. It includes wider-reaching vocabulary of what constitutes conversion therapy than what the federal government attempted to pass in the last Parliament.
Conversion “therapy,” as it has been called, seeks to change a person's sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender. It can include seeking to repress someone’s non-heterosexual attraction, or repressing a person’s gender expression or non-cis gender identity.
These practices can take various forms, including counselling and behavioural modification, and they have been opposed by numerous health and human rights groups.
The legislation will now be in the hands of senators who may still want to seek changes.
If passed as is, Bill C-4 would make it a crime punishable by up to five years in prison to cause another person to undergo conversion therapy. The 11-page bill also seeks to criminalize promoting, advertising, or profiting from providing the practice, with those found guilty of these offences facing up to two years in prison.
While Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole was set to make the bill a free vote, meaning he wouldn’t whip his caucus to vote one way or the other, there was no objection heard in the chamber to seeing the bill be expedited without changes. Passing the bill in this way meant that not every MP had to stand and take a position as is done in a recorded vote.
Conservative MP and justice critic Rob Moore was the one to raise the motion, asking that the bill move straight into the Senate.
When House Speaker Anthony Rota said that he “declared the motion carried,” MPs rose in a standing ovation and those responsible for the bill on the government side went across the chamber to shake hands and hug their Conservative colleagues.
“It's a fantastic day,” said the bill’s sponsor Justice Minister David Lametti, backed by a handful of out LGBTQ2S+ MPs after the decision.
“There are clearly people in the Conservative caucus who exercised a great deal of leadership on the issue, and I thank them, I thank them sincerely. They have done a very important thing for Canadians. This is what we can do when Parliament works together,” Lametti said.
“If we can now work hard to get this through the Senate quickly, less Canadians are going to suffer.”
After the Liberals campaigned on the promise to re-introduce legislation within the first 100 days of a new mandate, the government said it was determined to get it passed, voicing optimism in cross-party support after both the Conservatives and New Democrats pledged in the last campaign to pass the bill if elected.
Still, the move, particularly the Conservative’s willingness to expedite the bill without changes, came as a surprise -- 62 Conservative MPs had raised concerns over the bill and voted against implementing the ban in the last Parliament.
While O’Toole sought to frame himself as a more progressive leader during the 2021 campaign, the party’s platform included a commitment to seek amendments to clarify that “the ban does not criminalize non-coercive conversations.”
Coming out of a meeting with his entire caucus on Wednesday where the plan was discussed, O’Toole said that all of his MPs opposed the practice and “the LGBTQ community deserves real action,” calling himself a “long-time ally.”
This is the third iteration of conversion therapy legislation tabled by the Liberals over the last few years. The most recent past version got held up in the Senate at the end of the last Parliament and died when the election was called. The attempt before that died when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued the House in 2020.
Gemma Hickey, an LGBTQ2S+ rights advocate and conversion therapy survivor who joined the Liberals on Monday when the bill was tabled, said they were “overjoyed” by Wednesday’s “pleasant surprise.”
“I'm feeling so overjoyed today. I can't believe I lived to see this day, literally. After undergoing conversion therapy when I was 15 years old, I tried to take my own life. And so, I survived my suicide attempt and here I am to see this day… I can't tell you how happy I am right now,” Hickey said. “It makes me feel safer, you know, makes me feel proud to be from this country... This will save lives."
Amid questions over whether there are still Conservatives who oppose the bill, Conservative House leader Gerard Deltell said the whole caucus was behind seeing the bill move back to the legislative stage it was at six months ago before Trudeau launched the country into a summer campaign.
Both the Liberals and New Democrats celebrated that the bill had become the first piece of legislation to pass the House in the 44th Parliament, and were pleased to see that the bill advanced without having to re-traumatize the survivors who have already come forward during committee study on the previous draft to share their stories.
“I think the critical piece all through has been the testimony of survivors, and the work that survivors did in talking to members of Parliament about what they experienced as a result of conversion therapy, and the horrible negative aspects that conversion therapy has on people's lives,” said NDP 2SLGBTQI+ rights critic Randall Garrison. “These stories as they came forward, I think are what changed people's minds and what convinced people that this was important to get done.”
Noting the human cost of inaction on past attempts to pass this—conversion therapy still occurs in Canada—deputy NDP 2SLGBTQI+ rights critic and Canada’s first openly two-spirit MP Blake Desjarlais said seeing unanimous consent on this was particularly encouraging to see in his second week in the House.
“This place can work and it can get things done, and it's encouraging to know that more young people's lives won't be put at risk,” he said.
“I dream of a day when our LGBTQ issues are no longer political footballs, and we are one day closer to that future,” said Tourism Minister and out gay MP Randy Boissonnault, getting emotional. “I think we have turned a corner and turned up the heat that you can't stand against LGBTQ issues in this country anymore.”