OTTAWA — The federal Liberals have reintroduced a bill that would ban forcing children or adults to undergo therapy aimed at altering their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The government had previously introduced the legislation in March, just before Parliament shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then their decision to prorogue in August erased the bill from the House of Commons agenda.
Diversity Minister Bardish Chagger, who put the bill forward in the House of Commons Thursday, said choosing to reintroduce the effort to ban so-called conversion therapy just days into the new parliamentary session sends a strong signal.
She called conversion therapy destructive, harmful and deadly.
“On this side of the House we focus on advancing and protecting LGBTQ2 rights,” she said.
The NDP had backed the previous bill and suggested Thursday it would support this one as well, ensuring its passage through the House of Commons, whenever that may be.
“Attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is impossible and the attempts themselves do great harm to those fearing or already suffering from rejection by family, friends and their community,” NDP MP Randall Garrison said in the House of Commons.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole called conversion therapy wrong and said it should be banned.
But he accused Liberals of deliberately introducing a potentially divisive piece of legislation just as he’s begun his job as leader of the party. There are MPs in his caucus who have been vocally opposed to the bill in the past.
The new bill purposefully ignores the “drafting failures” of the first one, O’Toole said.
“Clarity is one of the goals of legislative drafting but the Liberals know that clarity and sincerity don’t always make for good wedge politics in the age of Twitter,” he said.
“The government knows if the bill is more clearly drafted they might lose their ‘gotcha’ effect that is becoming far too common in the politics we see to the south of us.”
The bill would ban conversion therapy for minors and also outlaw forcing an adult to undergo conversion therapy against their will. The bill would also ban removing a minor from Canada for the purpose of obtaining conversion therapy abroad.
The bill also aims to make it illegal to profit from providing conversion therapy and to advertise an offer to provide conversion therapy.
The new offences would not apply to those who provide support to individuals questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity, such as parents, friends, teachers, doctors, mental health professionals, school or pastoral counsellors and faith leaders.
But those who oppose the bill have suggested it is too vaguely worded to assure those protections.
Among them, former leadership contestant and MP Derek Sloan, who has said the previous bill amounts to “effectively putting into law child abuse” because it promotes gender-reassignment surgery and criminalizes conversations between parents and their kids.
Justice Minister David Lametti insisted Thursday it does not, calling the conversations youth and individuals may have with supportive adults and professionals critical to personal development.
“Nor would the proposed offences criminalize conversations where personal points of view on sexual orientation or gender identity are expressed,” he said.
“What this bill targets, what we are targeting, are those who actively work to and provide services designed to change someone’s gender identity.”
Lametti said the Liberals will work in good faith with the opposition on the bill and noted the support O’Toole gave the ban itself.
“If Mr. O’Toole is sincere, and I think he is, it will be up to him to bring his caucus in line.”
O’Toole’s office did not directly answer a question about whether Conservative MPs would be told how to vote on the bill or allowed to choose. During the leadership race, O’Toole had pledged to allow free votes on matters of conscience.
He has specifically mentioned that legislation on doctor-assisted death is a conscience issue. Many Tories are against the law, and O’Toole himself voted against it.
But amendments to it are required to conform with a court ruling last year. It struck down a provision that only allows those near death to end their lives with medical assistance. The Liberals put forward a bill with the changes before prorogation, meaning they now have to introduce it again.
The court gave the government until Dec. 18 to change the law, and Lametti said Thursday bill will be tabled “in the coming days.”