Canada takes another step towards banning conversion therapy

This week there was a surprise turn of events in Parliament that was very unusual, if not unprecedented. The Conservatives shocked poli...


This week there was a surprise turn of events in Parliament that was very unusual, if not unprecedented. The Conservatives shocked political analysts by fully passing a polarizing bill that, just before the election, the majority had fiercely opposed. Some Conservatives even hugged opposition members after voting yes unanimously.

Before the elections, the conservative opposition had become a bill banning conversion therapy, the discredited practice of changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender expression, into one of Parliament’s most controversial pieces of legislation. Sixty-two Conservatives voted against, while party leader Erin O’Toole and 50 other Conservatives voted for.

The legislation died when Parliament was dissolved with the election call in August. But this week the government tried again and introduced a new bill with some additional protections to prevent attempts at conversion therapy.

Then came the unexpected turn. Rob Moore, a Conservative from New Brunswick, rose on Wednesday afternoon and moved a motion to expedite the bill and send it directly to the Senate.

“I was completely taken by surprise when this happened” Jonathan Malloy, a professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, told me. “It was something the House had previously divided over and we expected it to divide again – and then it wasn’t.”

What exactly happened in the Conservative caucus before Mr. Moore brought forward his motion is not public. But Professor Malloy said the rare moment of parliamentary unity that followed could mark an important point in Mr. O’Toole’s political career.

At times during the election and after, Mr. O’Toole struggled to reconcile his positions on issues such as LGBTQ rights with those of his party’s social conservatives. This led to policy reversals and compromises which pleased neither the Social Conservatives within the party nor those who might consider voting Conservative but who are not Social Conservatives. Recently, Mr O’Toole has been criticized for personally promoting vaccination but refusing to endorse compulsory vaccination even for members of his party in Parliament.

Another protracted fight over conversion therapy legislation, Professor Malloy said, would have allowed the Liberals to suggest to voters that regardless of Mr. O’Toole’s personal positions, the Conservatives are being guided by the socially conservative wing of their party.

“For him to seemingly get some sort of agreement within the party, that’s something,” Prof. Malloy said.

There can be no assurance that the rapid journey of the Conversion Therapy Bill to the House of Commons will be repeated in the Senate. Mr. O’Toole’s influence on Conservative senators is uncertain. Last month, Mr. O’Toole fired Denise Batters, a senator from Saskatchewan, from the National Conservative Caucus after launching a petition to dismiss him as party leader. But the party Senate caucus challenged Mr. O’Toole and Ms. Batters continues to serve as curator. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision not to allow anyone to sit as a Liberal in the Senate leaves his party without a formal voice in the Senate, presenting another potential hurdle for the legislation.

And the “fantastic day” in the House of Commons, as Justice Minister David Lametti described it, is unlikely to reflect the tone of the rest of this Parliament. Just before the opening of this session, Mr. O’Toole appointed Pierre Poilievre, the most rhetorically combative Conservative MP, as the party’s finance critic.

The Conservatives have also defined inflation and the growth of the federal deficit due to pandemic support spending as their main points of attack against the Liberals, meaning fans of an overheated Parliament and partisan speeches probably won’t be disappointed.


  • I come from the interior of British Columbia where swollen rivers have devastated communities. My full report, illustrated with powerful photographs by Ian Willms, can be found here. Among the many conversations I have had with people there, one remark always lingers with me. “I never thought it would be as bad as this is,” Denise Cook, who had returned to her hometown of Princeton, told me as a cleanup volunteer. “It’s bad. The people sitting at home watching this, they have no idea.

  • Turner Sports is new to hockey and has brought in Wayne Gretzky and Paul Bissonnette, with Anson Carter and Rick Tocchet, to analyze the game for American viewers. It’s a learning experience for everyone involved, but the group has found a chemistry similar to that of a hockey team itself, writes Jonathan Abrams, sports reporter for The Times.

  • Peloton, the fitness company, has entered the apparel business with products that include the strappy bra. This led to a Lululemon patent infringement action, which is based in Vancouver.

  • Workers at three factories in Winnipeg owned by Canada Goose, the manufacturer of luxury parkas, voted overwhelmingly to unionize, Noam Scheiber, workplace reporter for The Times, reports. This year there were allegations that Canada Goose sanctioned two workers who presented themselves as union supporters. But the union said the company had abandoned its anti-union efforts in recent weeks.

  • As the arctic melts, the killer whales have found a new hunting ground.


A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported on Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.


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