Conservative leader Erin O’Toole will once again allow her group to have a free vote on a government bill that seeks to ban conversion therapy.
The so-called therapy is widely discredited as a harmful practice, the aim of which is to try to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Earlier in the week, the Liberals introduced legislation for the third time in the House of Commons to criminalize the practice.
The first bill died when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament in 2020.
A second version presented shortly thereafter was not approved by the Senate before the legislative agenda was approved by Trudeau’s convocation last summer.
However, it passed the House of Commons, where 62 of O’Toole’s 119 MPs voted against the bill, despite the leader’s efforts to demonstrate a more progressive stance on LGBTQ issues.
At the time, numerous Conservative MPs complained that the bill’s wording was too broad and could criminalize conversations about sexuality between children and their parents or with religious leaders.
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The vote sparked a backlash, with critics charging that O’Toole had failed to live up to his more progressive rhetoric on LGBTQ issues.
Faced with another vote on the issue coming soon, an O’Toole spokeswoman confirmed that it will once again allow free voting, but added that it “has long been an ally of the LGBTQ community and will continue to support efforts to ban conversion therapy.” .
“He will also continue to highlight the fact that liberals have failed three times to act swiftly on the issue,” wrote O’Toole communications director Josie Sabatino.
@erinotoole to allow Conservative MPs to vote on the new #ConversionTherapy ban. #CDNPoli #CPC
“While the bill will be subject to a free vote, all conservative MPs oppose the coercive and harmful practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Allowing MPs to vote as they please on matters of conscience has been O’Toole’s position since he became leader of the party, which includes a considerable number of MPs who come from his conservative social wing.
Nicholas Schiavo, founder of the advocacy group No Conversion Canada, said federal leaders must ensure that the legislation receives unanimous approval to send a clear message to LGBTQ Canadians that conversion therapy is unacceptable. He called O’Toole’s decision to allow a free vote disappointing.
“You are putting the lives of LGBTQ2 Canadians who have proven to be at risk for debate. And you are putting their fundamental freedoms up for debate,” Schiavo said.
“I don’t think you can have votes of conscience on issues that are inconceivable … that’s a lack of leadership.”
A spokeswoman for the New Democrats confirmed that all of their MPs will vote in favor of the ban.
Schiavo said Michelle Rempel Garner, a well-known conservative MP who has long advocated for LGBTQ rights, agreed to meet with them. His group hopes that two openly gay Conservative MPs, Eric Duncan and Melissa Lantsman, will also push the issue.
O’Toole MPs will have a chance to discuss the legislation when they meet in Ottawa today for their weekly national caucus meeting.
They also have to deal with another government bill related to COVID-19. The two-pronged bill would legislate 10 days of paid sick leave for federally regulated workers and create two new Penal Code offenses for anyone who threatens a healthcare worker or obstructs access to a health center. medical care.
These latest measures are in response to protests against vaccines in hospitals and clinics, but would also apply to facilities where abortions are performed.
Liberals have long used abortion to drive a political wedge between conservatives, the most recent example being the federal election campaign in September.
The Campaign Life Coalition, a national anti-abortion organization, has already warned that the bill could restrict freedom of expression for those who want to publicly oppose the procedure.
Cheryl Gallant, a longtime Ontario advocate, also said in a recent video on social media that Trudeau was pushing for a “protest ban” and questioned “what kind of protest will be banned next.”
A statement from O’Toole’s office suggests that Conservatives plan to support the legislation. But Sabatino did not respond when asked if the vote would be flogged.
He said they support existing Penal Code measures that protect healthcare workers and “will also support the new measures proposed in (the bill) along with paid sick leave provisions for all industries regulated by the federal government. “.
Sabatino also promised that a conservative government would expand the legislation to apply to “other public works and critical infrastructure.”
O’Toole has been critical of blockades and organized protests in transportation infrastructure, such as rail lines, in the past.
This Canadian Press report was first published on December 1, 2021.