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Senate passes bill to ban conversion therapy

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OTTAWA -

Conversion therapy will soon be banned across Canada, after the Senate agreed to the expedited passage of Bill C-4 on Tuesday.

After two previous attempts to pass legislation banning the harmful practice failed in recent years, the bill has now cleared both the House of Commons and Senate without changes or committee study, in just over a week. Once it receives royal assent, the bill will become law.

On Tuesday after a brief period of debate on the bill, Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos rose in the upper chamber to seek unanimous approval to move Bill C-4 through all legislative stages in the upper chamber, echoing sentiments from his Conservative colleagues in the House who led MPs to fast-track the bill through the House last Wednesday.

“I think we have to get to the reflex in this institution, that when something is in the universal interest, public interest, that we should not create unnecessary duplication and engage into unnecessary debates,” Housakos said, adding that politicians should also not be using legislation to divide or as a political tool. There was no objection to the motion, seeing it swiftly passed amid applause.

Bill C-4 proposes to outright prohibit both adults and children from being subjected to harmful conversion therapy practices, through four new Criminal Code offences including making it a crime punishable by up to five years in prison to cause another person to undergo conversion therapy.

It includes wider-reaching vocabulary of what constitutes conversion therapy than what the federal government attempted to pass in the last Parliament, and expands beyond the past proposal which focused on outlawing the use of the practice against children and non-consenting adults. 

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 previous version of this bill was held up in the Senate at the end of the 43rd Parliament and died when the federal election was called. At the time, Conservative Senators expressed concerns about the bill and said it merited a fulsome study in the fall.

After campaigning on the promise to re-introduce this legislation within the first 100 days of a new mandate, Justice Minister David Lametti tabled the reworked bill on Nov. 29.

That day the government vowed to the LGBTQ2S+ community that this time would be different, voicing optimism in cross-party support. Both the Conservatives and New Democrats pledged in the last campaign to also pass the bill if elected, with the issue becoming a political wedge given more than half of Conservative MPs voted against the ban in June. 

During an emotional post-passage press conference in the House last week alongside several of his colleagues, Lametti had said he’d be working closely with the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rene Cormier, to see the bill cross the finish line.

“A major milestone just passed for the rights of LGBTQ2+ communities in this country and I am beyond proud,” Cormier tweeted Tuesday evening.

Expecting the Senate would want to take on a more fulsome study, the government was asking that it be mindful of not re-traumatizing survivors of conversion therapy who have previously testified about the impacts being subjected to it has had on their lives.

“If we can now work hard to get this through the Senate quickly, less Canadians are going to suffer, less Canadians are going to be tortured,” Lametti said last week.

Still, passing the bill without hearing from any witnesses could mean those with concerns about the legislation could look to challenge the law once it comes into force.

In an interview on CTV News Channel’s Power Play on Tuesday, recorded prior to the bill’s passage, Lametti said that he was confident in the constitutionality of the bill, and should the broadened legislation face a potential Charter challenge down the road, he’d be prepared to defend it, despite expressing past concerns.

Lametti cited both the stories shared from survivors who testified that no one could consent to what they experience and growing international calls to eradicate the practice.

“Those kinds of arguments help us to justify, according to the structure of our Canadian Charter, helps us to justify and defend what we're doing. So I think we can now defend it, I think we can defend it successfully. And I'm proud of where we've landed on it,” he said.

Bill C-4 has now become the first bill to fully pass the 44th Parliament. 

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