Senator proposes plan to get conversion therapy bill passed this summer

A senator is pitching a plan to reconvene the Senate in order to adopt legislation that would ban the practice of conversion therapy in Canada.

Speaker of the Senate can recall the upper house if the ‘public interest so requires’

The Senate of Canada is on a summer break until September 20 at the earliest. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

A senator is pitching a plan to reconvene the Senate in order to adopt legislation that would ban the practice of conversion therapy in Canada.

The Senate went on its summer break earlier this week before it was able to vote on the legislation, titled Bill C-6.

With the Senate not scheduled to return until Sept. 20 at the earliest, supporters of the legislation fear it could be further delayed or wiped out entirely if a widely anticipated federal election is called in the late summer or early fall.

"It has become increasingly clear that the inability of the Senate to complete its study of this legislation before the fall has generated a great deal of concern, anxiety and frustration for those in our LGBTQ2 community," said Sen. Marc Gold, the government representative in the upper house, in a public letter issued on Friday.

Under Gold's proposal, the Senate's committee on legal and constitutional affairs would examine the bill during virtual meetings this month and finish its work by July 26.

The Senate referred Bill C-6 to that committee during its final days before summer break, but committees typically do not meet when the Senate itself is not sitting.

The Senate would then return on July 26 to vote on the bill by the end of the week.

"I believe this would be a responsible approach that would bring hope to LGBTQ2 Canadians and to the Senate's role as a chamber of sober second thought," Gold wrote.

Bill C-6 proposes changes to the Criminal Code that would effectively outlaw conversion therapy — 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 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.

Conservatives say government playing 'petty politics'

Opposition to the bill has come almost exclusively from Conservative MPs and senators, who have said the legislation's definition of conversion therapy is too vague.

Critics say that could turn voluntary conversations about personal identity and sexuality into criminal acts.

Conservatives also have criticized the timing of the bill, arguing that the Trudeau government set it up to fail by introducing the bill so late in the Parliamentary calendar. That created an opportunity for the Liberals to make conversion therapy an election issue, those critics say.

"It is clear by the latest actions of this government that the priority isn't now, nor was it ever, putting an end to this terrible practice," said Sen. Leo Housaskos, a Conservative.

"The priority is in using it as a tool to play petty politics in the lead up to an election campaign rather than in advancing good legislation."

The Liberal government also delayed the bill by proroguing Parliament in August 2020, which removed the bill from the House of Commons agenda.

The Speaker of the Senate, currently Sen. George Furey, has the power to recall the upper house "if satisfied that the public interest so requires."

That happened as recently as April 30 and during the summer of 2020, when the Senate was debating COVID-19 emergency bills.

David Lametti, Canada's justice minister and attorney general, said he hoped the plan to recall the Senate could save the bill.

"I hope Conservative senators take this opportunity to do the right thing and finally pass our ban on conversion therapy this month," Lametti said.

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