Mamadosewin (meeting place, walking together)

Second reading of Bill S-202, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy)

Second reading of Bill S-202, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy)

Hon. Serge Joyal moved second reading of Bill S-202, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy).

He said: Honourable senators, it’s really the last time I have an opportunity to stand up in this chamber. I would be remiss if I would not speak at second reading, even though I know it’s late; it’s Thursday afternoon. But once I have gone through the door and we will have adjourned today, it will be over, especially since the motion of Senator Mitchell has just been adopted.

I am really concerned that this debate take place in this chamber. As a matter of fact, I think Bill S-202 is quite an eloquent illustration of what we can do in this chamber as individual senators.

You will remember, honourable senators, that I introduced Bill S-202, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy), last spring. I had the opportunity on May 7 to go at length to explain the purpose and the substance of the bill. Since it is essentially the same bill, I will seek leave from you so that the speech I made on May 7 be reprinted in today’s proceedings so that I could address you with what I think has happened since we first approached this bill.

Therefore, maybe Your Honour, if you would want to confirm that is the will of the house.

The Hon. the Acting Speaker: Is leave given?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Joyal: Thank you, honourable senators. You certainly remember, then, that the purpose of this bill, as it is well spelled out in its summary, is to make it an offence to advertise conversion therapy services for consideration and to obtain financial or other material benefit for the provision of conversion therapy to a person under the age of 18 — and I stress under the age of 18. This bill aims to protect, in fact, the youth.

What has happened since we first debated this issue? There was an election campaign and, during that campaign, different parties took a stand on this issue. I want to remind honourable senators that, for instance, the Liberal Party had this commitment in its platform:

Conversion therapy is a scientifically discredited practice that targets vulnerable LGBTQ2 Canadians in an attempt to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. There is international consensus in the medical community that conversion therapy is not founded in science and does not work.

To continue:

To ensure that no one is subjected to this practice, we will move forward on our promise to work with provinces and territories to end conversion therapy in Canada, including making amendments to the Criminal Code that will prohibit this harmful and scientifically disproven practice, especially against minors.

In other words, what I want to illustrate is that when we start a debate here, we introduce a private member’s bill and we debate it, it has an impact on the government of the day — whatever the government. I invite you, honourable senators, to consider introducing private members’ bills. You will have an impact on the Government of Canada — maybe not immediately, maybe not the next day.

Our colleague Senator Miville-Dechêne paid tribute to former Senator Pratte. Senator Pratte was feeling impatient sometimes that his amendments were not all accepted by the government; that sometimes he thought it was a loss of time. But you have to let society absorb changes that open avenues in wider directions.

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That’s the most positive way I can put it in easy terms for any one of you to try to reflect upon your privilege. It’s the most important privilege — you can initiate legislation. There are very few Canadians who can do that. By initiating debate on conversion therapy, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Lametti, commented on the petition tabled in the House of Commons last spring, but in fact the issue was sent back to the provinces. Now we have a commitment of the government to move in that direction. The government was not the only party to move in that direction.

I can quote the platform of the NDP:

When it comes to sexual orientation and gender expression, damaging practices such as so-called “conversion therapy” have no place in Canada. We will develop a national action plan to ban conversion therapy for minors in Canada and work with provinces and territories to support eliminating this practice in all parts of the country.

Hence another party. You are probably better skilled in arithmetic than me, but if you have the votes of the government and those of the NDP, there is a majority.

I was very pleased to read in a Global News report on July 15, and quote the former leader of the Conservative Party who stated the following:

We will always, of course, stand up for the rights of LGBTQ individuals and protect their rights and, of course, we’re opposed to any type of practice that would forcibly attempt to change someone’s sexual orientation against their will or things like that.

I was the happiest man on earth when I read that because I said “here is a consensus that has emerged from that debate.” I think that this bill is needed today, and I’ll tell you why. You were all here last Thursday to listen to the Speech from the Throne, and I was all ears to try to find a passage or a statement that would refer to the commitment of the government on its platforms, and here is what I heard. I’ll read from what Her Excellency the Governor General said:

Every one of them expects their Parliamentarians to get to work and deliver on a plan that moves our country forward for all Canadians, including women, members of the visible and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities and members of the LGB2Q communities.

Vague, good intentions, but not specific. Hence the need to introduce this bill. That’s why I introduced it at the beginning of the week, because I said maybe the government needs a little support. Maybe the Senate should continue to lead the way in that direction. I would say to the Leader of the Opposition that no Canadian doubts that Mr. Andrew Scheer is an honest person and he speaks his values. And nobody in Canada should have to bear any additional weight because he or she speaks to his or her religious values. Senator Plett, as someone who has deep commitments to human rights, I think we have to be very cautious in Canada to embark this way in the political debate.

This country has been diversified on religious ground, and if we start to question the reliability of a person on his or her religious moral values I think we are going in a very wrong direction.

That’s why, when I read those comments from Mr. Scheer last summer, I said he is an honest man. He understands that there is a distinction between his own belief and where Canadian society is in terms of respect for individual rights. I took his word as a true commitment when he stated that last summer, and as much as he would still be the leader of the Conservative Party in the other place, I would still respect his commitment and I will take his words for what they are. I think that we should remind ourselves of this because what we’ve seen today, to me, is not a very happy day for Canada.

Honourable senators, I think that when we look into this bill, be very mindful that it doesn’t prevent somebody from believing what he or she believes in their true moral and religious commitment. It doesn’t impose anything on anyone. It leaves anyone to choose whoever, whatever in which direction the person wants to organize his or her life.

I think this therapy, which has been scientifically disproved — that nobody can come forward and establish that it is effective. Not only that, but it is damaging to the physical integrity of a person. We are at the point where we need to prohibit that. Tis bill seeks to prohibit the advertising of, and to prohibit any kind of benefit for the practice of it.

Honourable senators, I commend this bill to your attention. I hope another senator will carry the debate on this. Let’s keep the debate continuing. You might see what we have lived in the previous Parliament. I introduced a bill to recognize Aboriginal languages, and it took three years for the government to come forward with a bill that we were so proud to adopt last June. I hope this bill will find its way into the government’s agenda. I hope the government will come forward with a bill and we will have a template to evaluate and study it with this proposal I am sharing with you today.

This is the Senate at its best, honourable senators, because we act in a way to open evolution, direction, in the full respect of any Canadian beliefs. I think that this bill, honourable senators, should be carried on among you. That’s more or less my gift to you in terms of human rights, and I hope that you will be proud to continue that debate and to study any private member’s bill that senators table. It’s the way that Canada evolves, and that is the power that you have. You have the power in your hands to help this great country evolve in the right direction. Thank you, honourable senators.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

[Translation]

Hon. René Cormier: Would the honourable senator take a question?

Senator Joyal: Yes, if there is enough time.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Yes.

Senator Joyal: Yes, Senator Cormier.

Senator Cormier: Honourable colleague, thank you for this bill, which once again shows your great concern, great interest, and great sensitivity when it comes to human rights. I first want to thank you for introducing this important bill, and I can assure you that you can count on me to continue this work.

My question concerns the ambit and scope of this bill. I told you that you would not be retired when you leave this chamber and so I will take the opportunity, since you are here, to ask you a question. This bill concerns people under the age of 18. We recognize that, in Canadian society, these people may be more vulnerable than others before they reach the age of majority. While young people are part of this vulnerable population, other groups in society are just as vulnerable, for example, people with mental health issues or those in a position of dependency because of their psychological or emotional state.

In your opinion, senator, during our work on this bill — and I ask this question without knowing all the potential repercussions in the context of the Criminal Code — should we think about extending this bill to those more vulnerable populations I just mentioned?

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Senator Joyal: Thank you for the question, Senator Cormier. That is an extremely important question because, as you point out, this bill seeks to strike a balance between the vulnerability that an 18-year old may presumably experience and the vulnerability of someone who, for example, may have a disability or who, for other reasons, may be exposed to a context of vulnerability of any kind.

Obviously, I devised the bill in such a way as to ensure that it would not be subject to a court challenge based on personal convictions.

What is more, as you know, several provinces have already passed legislation to ensure that professional bodies governing doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists do not have to practice this “therapy,” which has not been scientifically proven to be effective and, on the contrary, may be extremely harmful.

That is why we saw it in the Liberal and NDP platforms. Mr. Scheer also mentioned that he was open to considering the government’s bill, probably in the context of extending it to encompass other categories of people who might also qualify as vulnerable. That’s the kind of debate we could have in committee, and we could hear from representatives of the various professions involved. We could also hear from representatives of the provinces that are actively involved in banning this practice. In addition, we could hear from other groups that believe this practice should be allowed.

There may be different opinions, and the goal of our committee, or rather your committee, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, since we are talking about an amendment to the Criminal Code, would be to come up with a list of expert witnesses who should be invited to testify in order to determine whether it would be constitutionally possible for this bill to be extended to include other categories of vulnerable people without infringing on their fundamental freedom to make their own choices. You will see that in the text of the bill itself.

[English]

For greater certainty, this definition does not include a surgical sex change or any related service.

[Translation]

In French, the bill reads, and I quote:

Il est entendu que la présente définition ne vise pas le changement chirurgical de sexe ou tout service qui s’y rapporte.

As you know, we debated the issue of gender in this house. We need to be very careful when legislating on such issues because they can infringe on other freedoms. We need to ensure that, by protecting one group, we do not intentionally or unintentionally undermine the rights of others to make other types of decisions and thus give effect to other types of decisions.

That is why I suggest that this bill be referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs so we can determine its parameters.

In so doing, you would help the government determine for itself the bill that it deems appropriate, should it decide to follow up on its election promise.

However, since this is a minority government — and this is a political observation — the government probably has many other priority bills that it wants to pass with the support of the opposition parties. In short, we have the opportunity to chart the course that a government bill could take.