Members of the LGBTQ community and its allies are expressing shock and outrage after three MPs in Windsor-Essex, Chatham-Kent and Sarnia-Lambton were among Conservative MPs who voted against passing a bill this week that criminalizes conversion therapy.
Bill C-6 basically outlaws the practice, which aims to change an individual's sexual orientation to heterosexual.
"The bill is aimed at protecting vulnerable people that are being put through conversion therapy — and voting against it means you're not willing to protect LGBTQ youth. It really does. That's the signal you're sending," said Colm Holmes, chair of the Windsor Pride Community.
On Tuesday, the bill passed third reading in the House of Commons. Over half of Conservative MPs — including Chris Lewis, Dave Epp and Marilyn Gladu — voted against it. Members from all other parties unanimously supported the bill in a vote of 263-63.
Holmes called the number of Conservative MPs who voted against it "daunting."
Bill C-6 is an amendment to the Criminal Code that proposes five criminal offences:
Forcing a minor to undergo conversion therapy.
Forcing a person to undergo conversion therapy against their will.
Profiting off of providing conversion therapy.
Advertising conversion therapy.
Removing a child from Canada to undergo conversion therapy abroad.
The practice has been widely discredited as cruel and traumatic. According to the Canadian Psychological Association, there is no scientific evidence that conversion therapy works, but plenty of evidence it causes harm to LGBTQ individuals.
Lewis, MP for Essex, released a statement Thursday that noted while he voted in favour of Bill C-6 at second reading, "the definition of conversion therapy" at third reading "lacked clarity and was too broad."
The bill does not criminalize the provision of conversion therapy to a consenting adult if no money or other material benefit is received for providing such therapy. - Legislative summary of Bill C-6
"This legislation fails to safeguard voluntary conversations with friends, parents, doctors, counsellors and clergy, without facing jail time," his statement reads. "The Liberals could have clarified the definition, so that this was not even a faint possibility. They chose not to.
"What I voted against was the lack of clarity and the too broad definition."
Lewis's concerns — that Bill C-6 risks criminalizing conversations between adolescents and religious leaders and therapists — have also been raised by some of the other 63 Conservatives who voted against passing Bill C-6.
However, the legislation appears to directly addresses those concerns. The legislative summary says it "does not criminalize the provision of conversion therapy to a consenting adult if no money or other material benefit is received for providing such therapy."
"Furthermore, it does not make it a criminal offence for a consenting adult to seek or receive conversion therapy," the summary adds.
According to Holmes, some adults may willingly look at conversion therapy to "potentially help them with self-discovery" — and if that's their personal choice, there should be no issues with that.
But a line must be drawn when it comes to youth, he said.
"A youth that is not sure about what's going on and being guided into a practice under the guise of religion, stating that we're going to start with the premise that something is intrinsically wrong with you and that we need to really fix you results in shame.
"People internalize shame. And then there's all sorts of mental health aspects that it can lead to suicidal ideation, depression, substance use. The list goes on and on."
Holmes added that the explanation being provided by some PC members who voted against Bill C-6 is not sufficient.
One of the surprising aspects of Tuesday's vote, Holmes added, was that Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole voted in favour of passing Bill C-6. He said it clearly indicates the vote "wasn't pulling party lines" or a case of politicians having to "do what they were told."
Essex resident Laura Soutar-Hasulo, founder of the Hate Has No Home Here campaign, said she's disappointed and "can't imagine" how her MP could vote against passing Bill C-6.
While she acknowledges the 63 PC caucus members' decision to vote against it may not have "come from a place of hate," their decision not to support the bill can cause deep pain through the LGBTQ community and its allies.
"No matter what their reasoning is, they voted 'no' during Pride Month against banning conversion therapy — and that pain in that community is going to be remembered for a while."
She said any MP who voted against the bill and was truly concerned about parents' rights should have been "shouting from the rooftops" weeks before the vote.
"I think they're just trying to play make-up afterwards, not taking into account the pain that this has caused. I have a young trans teenager on my street and the look on his face and the look on his mother's face was just heartbreaking."
On Thursday evening, Epp released a statement citing similar concerns to Bill C-6 as Lewis. Epp said he was "completely opposed to coercive practices" surrounding conversion therapy, and any claim that Conservatives who voted against Bill C-6 at third reading support it is "entirely false."
"At committee, Conservatives introduced an amendment that would better clarify the definition of conversion therapy in the bill to target coercive practices, based on language from the Justice Department's own website," said Epp.
I am completely opposed to coercive practices. - Dave Epp, Chatham-Kent-Leamington MP, on his vote to oppose Bill C-6 this week
"We heard from Canadians, including those from the medical community, who raised concerns about the broadness of the definition. Unfortunately, the Liberals ignored reasonable efforts to build a consensus and strengthen the bill."
CBC News also reached out to Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu for comment, but she had not responded as of publication of the story.