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Bill to ban LGBTQ2 conversion therapy re-opens Conservative Party split

FILE - Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds his first news conference as leader on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Aug. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Seven Tory MPs voted against bill to ban discredited conversion therapy in Canada

Langley-Cloverdale MP says bill could 'criminalize' parental conversations

Liberals, expert says bill would not outlaw parents from discussing gender and sexuality

LANGLEY (NEWS 1130) – Cracks in the Conservative Party of Canada were exposed this week as some socially conservative MPs broke with the majority of their caucus by refusing to support a bill to ban so-called conversion therapy.

The proposed legislation would outlaw the practice of using “therapy” to try to change the gender identity or sexual orientation of LGBTQ2 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit) people. Conversion therapy has no scientific backing and there is ample evidence it causes mental harm, according to the Canadian Psychological Association.

The Liberal bill passed second reading on Wednesday by a vote of 308–7 in the House of Commons.


Some Tories oppose conversion therapy bill

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole voted for it but allowed his caucus to vote their conscience in a free vote. Seven Conservatives voted against it, including Bob Zimmer of Prince George–Peace River.

A handful of Tories either did not attend the debate or entered an “abstain” vote.

Three Fraser Valley MPs – Ed Fast, Mark Strahl and Tamara Jansen – did not vote for or against the bill.

Fast’s office said he was not available for an interview. Strahl did not respond to a request for comment.

Jansen, who has represented Cloverdale–Langley since 2019, attended the debate virtually but abstained from the vote.

“Let’s be really clear about the fact myself and my colleagues absolutely support the principle [of the bill] and anything that is dehumanizing is not a therapy – it’s just torture,” she told NEWS 1130.

‘Parental conversations’ could be outlawed: MP

Jansen said she did not support the legislation because she has “grave concerns” about its “very vague” wording.

“To me, there’s something fishy,” she said. “Our concerns are that things as simple as a parental conversation can be criminalized.”

She said the bill would strip parents of their rights to “encourage” children who are “going through a really tough time.”

“I mean, puberty was really, really tough. I know I had challenges trying to fit inside my body. So the way the bill is written right now, it is possible that you, as a parent, would not be able to actually do anything with your child,” Jansen said.

Justice Minister David Lametti said the bill won’t criminalize conversations meant to guide people who are questioning their gender or sexuality.

‘Parents can always talk to their children’: constituent

Jen Marchbank, a queer woman who lives in Jansen’s riding, also said the legislation would do no such thing.

“It doesn’t close down conversations. Parents can always talk with their children,” said Marchbank, a professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies at Simon Fraser University (SFU).

She said Jansen’s vote of abstention, rather than for or against the ban, seemed “like smoke and mirrors” – an attempt to appeal to social conservatives without appearing to endorse conversion therapy.

“It’s indicative to [my wife and me] that [Jansen] was not prepared to put her name against an appalling therapy,” Marchbank said.

‘Change efforts’ cause ‘long-term distress’: prof

Travis Salway, an SFU health sciences professor, published a study earlier this year that found conversion therapy is still common in Canada. He found four per cent of gay and bisexual men had been subjected to some form of the practice.

He said “conversion therapy” is a misnomer and “sexual orientation and gender identity and expression change efforts” is more accurate.

“The word ‘efforts’ is the most important part there because ‘therapy’ implies that there’s actually some therapeutic benefit to the practices and, in fact, by all accounts, by all rigorous scientific data that I’ve looked at, it’s quite the opposite. These practices seem to cause long-term distress, including, in many cases, suicide,” Salway said.

Salway said federal legislation to ban conversion therapy is a step in the right direction, but more change is needed, including provincial legislation and institutional reforms within education, health-care and religion.

“It’s much harder work because it’s not just putting a bill on the books, it’s actually working with parents and working with religious leaders and helping them to understand that, despite what some would believe, being LGBTQ2 is not inconsistent with a happy and healthy life,” he said.

Salway said Jansen’s concerns about the potential for the bill to restrict the type of conversations parents can have with their kids were “not valid.”

“As much as I wish we lived in a world where no youths would be subjected to conversations where they’re told that being LGBTQ2 is wrong, I do understand that some of those conversations will occur,” he said.

And, Salway said, such conversations often occur within a power imbalance – LGBTQ2 kids depend on their parents for food, shelter and security, so they are sometimes forced to either go along with their parents wishes or leave their home. That’s why, he said, queer youth are over-represented in the homeless population.

Tory split will plague O’Toole: political scientist

The split between social conservatives and more moderate members of the Conservative Party is not new and not going anywhere, according to University of the Fraser Valley political scientist Hamish Telford.

Most Conservatives voted in favour of the bill’s second reading, including the openly gay Eric Duncan, who called conversion therapy a “terrible, inhumane, dangerous practice.” But it was also forcefully opposed by others, including former leadership contender Derek Sloan, who once said the bill is akin to child abuse.

He said O’Toole, who has only two months on the job as Tory leader, has already been forced to make the tough decision to “walk both sides of the issue” by allowing a free vote on the conversion therapy ban.

O’Toole would have risked creating a rupture within his party – alienating his party’s social conservative base and possibly losing some MPs – if he had whipped the vote to force his caucus to support the bill, Telford said.

But, he said, Wednesday’s seven “Nay” votes will follow the party into the next election and hurt its chances in socially progressive areas, such as the suburbs of Toronto and Vancouver.

“We saw how it plagued Andrew Scheer in the last election and Andrew Scheer was particularly paralyzed by these sorts of issues,” he said of the socially conservative former Tory leader who was dogged by questions about his support of LGBTQ2 rights during the 2019 election.

“Those social conservatives are a force to be reckoned with within the Conservative Party and how Erin O’Toole keeps them happy while also trying to expand the tent, or include more middle-of-the-road voters in urban areas, is going to be a huge challenge.”

Telford also said O’Toole could also learn a lesson from last week’s provincial election in B.C.

BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson also struggled to answer questions about his party’s support for the LGBTQ2 community while running candidates with controversial views.

Only time will tell whether O’Toole has an easier time maintaining a large political tent.

“That’s precisely what Andrew Wilkinson was trying to accomplish and failed quite spectacularly – and lost the urban vote decisively,” Telford said. “So I think Erin O’Toole really does need to study what happened here.”

With files from the Canadian Press