Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies MP Bob Zimmer was one of only seven Members of Parliament to vote Wednesday against a federal bill to outlaw the discredited practice of conversion therapy.
The bill would criminalize the practice of forcing children or adults to undergo therapy aimed at altering their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The bill passed easily by a vote of 308-7 but exposed divisions within Conservative ranks.
Conservative leader Erin O'Toole voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs, including Conservative Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty.
Former leader Andrew Scheer was among those who simply did not show up for the vote.
O'Toole allowed his MPs a free vote on the issue as part of his bargain with social conservatives that helped him secure the Conservative leadership in August.
In a statement Thursday morning, Zimmer stressed his opposition is about the wording of the bill, not about conversion therapy.
“Make no mistake, I am opposed to the practice of conversion therapy. However, I am concerned that the current wording of Bill C-6 leaves open the possibility that voluntary conversations between individuals and their parents, family members, pastors, teachers, or their counsellors may be criminalized," the statement said. “Freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of association are fundamental in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and I believe the current language of this legislation is an encroachment on those foundational principles. I will be watching to see if this language is changed when the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights reviews the legislation before it comes back to the House of Commons for a third and final vote.”
Other Conservative MPs who voted against the bill raised different issues.
During debate on the bill earlier this week, former leadership contender Derek Sloan went so far as to suggest it would outlaw prayer. Sloan has previously said the bill amounts to child abuse.
Others supported the bill for now but made their reservations crystal clear.
“With the best of faith, I vote in favour of sending this flawed bill to committee,” said Saskatchewan MP Cathay Wagantall as she registered her virtual vote.
By contrast, all Liberal, Bloc Quebecois, New Democrat, Green and independent MPs who took part in the vote supported the bill. A number of Liberal MPs made a point of announcing that they were “proudly” voting in favour.
The NDP questioned the validity of votes that came with “qualifiers,” prompting Speaker Anthony Rota to remind MPs that when voting virtually, they are supposed to say simply whether they are for or against the motion, with no other comment.
The bill would ban conversion therapy for minors and outlaw forcing an adult to undergo conversion therapy against their will.
It would also ban removing a minor from Canada for the purpose of undergoing conversion therapy abroad and make it illegal to profit from providing the therapy or to advertise an offer to provide it.
The practice has been widely discredited as cruel and traumatic.
The Canadian Psychological Association says there is no scientific evidence that conversion therapy works but plenty of evidence that it causes harm to LGBTQ individuals, including anxiety, depression, negative self-image, feelings of personal failure, difficulty sustaining relationships and sexual dysfunction.