Conversion therapy for conservatives

Many residents have taken to social media to express their outrage over Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies MP Bob Zimmer’s vote on Wednesday in the House of Commons against the bill to ban conversion therapy.

Unfortunately, most of the comments simply insult Zimmer’s intelligence and morality, an easy thing to do when people are appalled by the conduct of their elected leaders (and I stand guilty as charged for past offences in general and past editorials about Zimmer in particular).

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Nobody changes their opinion when they are insulted, of course. So let’s try a different tack. The following makes a case that Zimmer’s opposition to the conversion therapy bill is wrong because it violates the conservative ideals he holds dear as a member of the Conservative Party of Canada.

It’s important to stress that Zimmer has made it clear he opposes the disgraceful and discredited practice of using therapeutic practices in an attempt to alter someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rather, he’s concerned about the wording of the bill, because it may violate the Charter rights of individuals to even discuss conversion therapy and what it entails.

Well, that’s interesting - a sitting Conservative MP worrying about someone’s Charter rights. 

Brought into law by Pierre Trudeau’s government as part of the Constitution in 1982 under howls of protest from traditional conservatives, the Charter dramatically increased individual rights and the power of the courts. The Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s abortion law in 1988 because that law violated the Charter.

Zimmer stated that he believes the conversion therapy bill as currently worded “is an encroachment” on freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of association enshrined in the Charter.

Politically, that is a very liberal stance to take, based on a very progressive interpretation of the Charter.

Traditional conservatism finds the Charter’s freedoms excessive because there should be clear legal limits on speech, religious practices and assembly, as well as on individuals to behave in a manner in the interests of the broader community, as defined by the government.

Traditional liberalism embraces individual freedoms because it elevates those freedoms above the powers of the government to limit them. Only when someone is using their Charter freedoms to cause harm to others can the law intervene and then only in a very limited way.

Normally, traditional conservatives would embrace the federal government using its authority to forbid a practice that has been rejected by professional associations because there is no evidence it works and plenty of evidence it causes great harm.

Normally, traditional liberals would be reluctant to set limits on the freedom of individuals to explore alternative forms of therapy, regardless of how offensive it may be to broader society or how much it may challenge therapeutic convention.

In other words, Zimmer’s opposition of the conversion therapy bill as worded is based on liberal ideals, not conservative ones.

This isn’t the first time Zimmer has embraced liberalism. His view on guns is extremely liberal because he has stated repeatedly that the rights and freedoms of individual gun owners trumps the authority of government to set limits on the buying and owning of firearms. 

But wait. Then aren’t modern liberals betraying liberalism?

This is where conservatives often mistake the words and intentions of liberals. 
While gun ownership worries liberals, they recognize individuals have the right to own them but there should be careful limits set by government on that freedom. The disagreement isn’t about the guns; it’s about what the limits on ownership should be.

While liberals find the idea of conversion therapy abhorrent, no true liberal would want a government ban on talking about it because of the infringement on freedom of speech. What liberals oppose is the forced application of conversion therapy on children and adults.

And even if Zimmer rejects the arguments above, there is a practical, conservative reason for him to support the conversion therapy ban bill. The government has the authority to pass laws and should exercise that authority for the benefit of all Canadians. If individual Canadians feel any law violates their Charter rights, they are free to legally challenge that law and no Member of Parliament should interfere with that process.

Based on conservative principles of government authority and individual rights, it should be easy for Zimmer to enthusiastically support the bill to ban conversion therapy when it returns to the House of Commons for third and final reading.

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