Manitoba LGBTQ+ group hopes to press rural MP over 'no' vote on conversion therapy ban

A rural Manitoba LGBTQ+ pride group says it’s “not surprised, but appalled” their Conservative MP voted against a bill which would see conversion therapy outlawed in Canada, and will press her for a meeting to voice their concerns. 

Portage-Lisgar MP Candice Bergen says she had concerns about bill's wording

Conservative deputy leader Candice Bergen says she voted no on Bill C-6, which would outlaw conversion therapy in Canada, because its language failed to protect private conversations. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

A rural Manitoba LGBTQ+ pride group says it's "not surprised, but appalled" their Conservative MP voted against a bill which would see conversion therapy outlawed in Canada, and will press her for a meeting to voice their concerns. 

Pembina Valley Pride's chair, Peter Wohlgemut, said Candice Bergen's stance on Bill C-6 is wrong-headed and the bill is much-needed in Canada. 

The bill "sends a very clear message that members of the rainbow community are accepted and celebrated as they are, for who they are," Wohlgemut said. "And trying to force someone to change is wrong and not going to be tolerated in Canada." 

The Portage-Lisgar MP was one of 62 federal Conservatives to vote against the bill, which would make it illegal in Canada to subject a person to conversion therapy without their consent, and would make it illegal to subject children to the practice, regardless of consent.

The bill proposes Criminal Code changes effectively outlawing the widely discredited practice of attempting to change an individual's sexual orientation to heterosexual or their gender identity to cisgender (which means identifying with the sex assigned to them at birth).

The bill passed third reading but still needs to be passed by the Senate, which is on summer break and not due to sit again until mid-September. Compounding the issue is a potential summer or early fall election call, which would see the legislation wiped out. 

In a statement, Bergen said she believes conversion therapy "is wrong and should be banned." The language of Bill C-6 however, is such that it doesn't protect private conversations between parents and children, counsellors and patients nor faith leaders and members of their congregations, Bergen said. 

"It was concerning when the Liberals refused to clarify the language of the bill and make amendments," said Bergen, adding she welcomes talking with constituents about the "important topic." 

Wohlgemut said in areas like the Pembina Valley — parts of which are included in what's commonly called Manitoba's "Bible Belt" — Bergen's reasoning is problematic, as the influence of faith leaders can play a large role in the practice of conversion therapy.

Some people keep their sexual or gender identities hidden for their own safety or feel a need to hide it, and it takes a toll, said Wohlgemut, who uses the pronoun they.

"Trying to water down the bill in the way she's suggesting would in large part negate the bill in the first place," they said.

Stories they've heard from people who have endured conversion therapy are "horrible to listen to," they said. "The experiences they went through — I really cannot believe in this day and age people are still doing things like that." 

Pembina Valley Pride has written a Google Forms letter for supporters to sign and send to Bergen. Alternatively, the group is asking supporters to email her directly to express their views.