Conversion therapy is about to become illegal in Canada, as the Senate on Tuesday passed a bill criminalizing the widely discredited practice.
Conversion therapy attempts to change the sexual orientation of LGBTQ individuals to heterosexual, or to coerce those questioning their gender identity to be in alignment with the sex assigned to them at birth.
On Tuesday, Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos proposed that Bill C-4 — which was passed with unanimous consent by the House of Commons last week — also pass through all legislative stages in the Senate.
No senator objected, allowing the bill to pass.
“The community has been heard,” Housakos said in the Senate.
“It was heard by the House of Commons and we saw the House of Commons do the right thing and pass this piece of legislation unanimously and they did so because they thought it was in the national interest to do so.”
With the bill’s passage by the Senate, it now requires royal assent from the Governor General or her designate to become law.
“I don’t think that, on any issue, we should be using it as a political prop to make it divisive,” Housakos said. “We should be working, as an institution, to bring all Canadians together.”
It was also a proposal from a Conservative — justice critic Rob Moore — that led to C-4 receiving unanimous consent to pass the House last week.
The Liberal government had attempted to ban conversion therapy in the last Parliament, with what was then called Bill C-6. At that time, about half of the Conservative caucus voted against it.
Justice Minister David Lametti, reached by phone just minutes after the bill passed the Senate, said he was “ecstatic” at the news.
“This gives me hope that we can continue to build a better society, that’s more tolerant, that’s more understanding, that appreciates diversity,” he said. “I can’t possibly be happier right now.”
Bill C-4 is the government’s third attempt at banning conversion therapy. The first bill died last year when the government prorogued Parliament, and the second attempt, Bill C-6, died in August when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called an election.
Bill C-4 goes beyond the government’s previous attempts at a ban by making it a crime to make anyone undergo conversion therapy, regardless if they consent.
That was a key demand from survivors and advocates, who said the government’s previous bills still allowed for conversion therapy to be provided to adults who consented. Advocates have said a person cannot consent to what amounts to fraud and torture.
Like the previous bills, C-4 also makes it a crime to remove a child from Canada for the purpose of conversion therapy, promote or advertise the practice, and receive financial “or other material benefit” from providing conversion therapy.
It also allows courts to order that advertisements for conversion therapy be removed.
“I can’t help but think of just what a victory this is for human rights in Canada, and in particular the bravery and the courage of the survivors who have been speaking out for years,” said Kristopher Wells, Canada research chair for the public understanding of sexual and gender minority youth at MacEwan University.
“Today is all about them. They did it, they’ve created legislation that will hopefully prevent any other person from having to undergo these horrific abuses.”
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