Social media erupted with cheers and tears this week when parliament gave unanimous consent to fast-track Bill C-4, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy) to the Senate. The elation was felt by the conversion “therapy” survivors who have led the way in Canada for this ban. Joining in the celebration were several advocacy groups and academics who have championed this cause alongside the survivors.
I’ll provide some background before discussing why Kelowna-Lake Country MP Tracy Gray shouldn’t be given any credit for this good news after some media outlets have mistakenly done so.
"Conversion therapy," also known as "reparative therapy," refers to widely debunked and abusive medical, spiritual, and psychological practices that falsely claim to be able to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, or gender expression. Such practices have been rejected and condemned by every mainstream medical and mental health organization, including the Canadian Psychological Association, the Canadian Psychiatric Association, and the Canadian Paediatric Society, citing potential harm and lack of efficacy.
The conversion “therapy” ban has been a political football since the NDP first presented a petition to ban it in the House of Commons in 2019. At that time the government tossed the issue to the provinces to deal with saying it fell under the jurisdiction of regulating medical professionals. Several municipalities and some provinces since imposed some level of bans on the practice.
The Liberal government then introduced Bill S-260 in April 2019 to amend the criminal code however it died on the order paper when the 2019 election was called. Bill C-8 was then introduced in March 2020 but did not proceed as a result of the prorogation of parliament later that year.
Bill C-6 was then introduced in October 2020. This bill was extensively studied in committee and after a lengthy delay passed the second reading and was sent to the Senate in June 2021 where it died when the federal election was called. Sixty-two conservative members of parliament including Gray and one independent voted against the bill.
Gray was taken to task over her vote by the local LGBTQ2S+ community, as were many of her colleagues across the country. She stated that she had problems with the wording of the bill, however, didn’t respond to questions on what she thought the wording should be. Over 350 people attended a virtual town hall to express their outrage, with calls for Gray to apologize or be banned from Pride events along with dismay that she didn't consult with the local community before casting her vote.
Some local headlines this week mistakenly and misleadingly stated that Gray voted to ban conversion therapy. This is giving her credit for something she did not do. Unanimous consent is a parliamentary procedure used to expedite a bill and if there is no verbal dissent the motion is passed. In the case of Bill C-4, this allowed the social conservatives who would have voted against the bill not to be outed by a vote. It’s hard to say how Gray would have voted, however many eyes were certainly watching given her track record on the matter.
Mere hours before parliament approved fast-tracking the bill, Gray responded to local media inquiries about her position stating, “As with any legislation, I’ll be attending technical briefings and reviewing it in detail before making any decisions." Following the parliamentary procedure, she followed up with, "This version of the bill is different from the legislation that was previously introduced, and it satisfactorily addresses my concerns surrounding the definition and application of conversion therapy.”
So, did Gray make an about-face on the bill? It actually appears that she completely backed away from her original concerns. This is a logical conclusion given that she and her colleagues who voted against Bill C-6 were concerned that the language in the bill was too broad when Bill C-4 actually widened the language and made the bill more comprehensive. Her statement that the new bill adequately addressed her concerns does not make sense. All along, Gray has declared that she is against conversion therapy, however, this recent move indicates her position has been much more about politics than conscience.
I, along with so many who have put so much effort into this issue am extremely pleased to see the bill go to the Senate so early on in the sitting of the 44th parliament. The icing on the cake would be to feel that our local MPs truly do stand up for us and to have them celebrate this historical occasion with us.