Northern Saskatchewan MP defends conversion therapy vote

Conservative MP Gary Vidal said he’s against the practice but a proposed bill could have criminalized private conversations between youth and their mentors

Conservative MP Gary Vidal, who represents the riding of Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River in northern Saskatchewan, defended his vote against a bill to ban the controversial practice of conversion therapy in Ottawa. 

Conversion therapy is a set of widely discredited practices meant to change a person’s sexual orientation from LGBTQ2+ to heterosexual. 

The Liberals’ Bill C-6, sponsored by Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti, would have criminalized the practice of conversion therapy in some, but not all, situations.

Vidal voted against the bill alongside 13 out of the 14 Conservative MPs in Saskatchewan and 63 MPs across Canada — 62 of them Conservative. 

He said he’s against the practice but that the bill was worded in a way that could have “criminalized” private conversations between youth and their mentors.  

“Banning conversion therapy is something that all Canadians agree on. There’s nobody that doesn’t agree that we should ban conversion therapy in the context of what it’s understood to be,” Vidal said. 

“The issue was with a definition in that bill. Some experts said that it potentially would infringe on conversations between health professionals, school counsellors, faith leaders and parents.”

Vidal said the bill could have prevented some people from having “good faith conversations with people that they’re trying to sincerely help through a difficult journey.”

“That doesn’t mean for a second that I think conversion therapy is a good idea. I think the definition (in the bill) went way too far,” Vidal said.

“Just people trying to, in good faith, give guidance and help young folks — being criminalized. I could not accept that on behalf of Canadians.”

The bill died in the Senate when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called an election recently. The NDP argued the bill should have been fast-tracked — while Liberals have blamed Conservatives for delaying the bill in the House of Commons.

Harmonie King, NDP candidate for the northern Saskatchewan riding, criticized Vidal and said he’s out of touch with residents. She urged Vidal to gain a better understanding of how conversion therapy impacts the riding’s LGBTQ2+ community. 

“I think that he needs to go out into the community and talk with people — talk with the people that are going to be impacted by that,” King said. 

“Does he know what conversion therapy does to people? There’s no science to it.”

The New Democrats recently called for a ban on conversion therapy in Saskatchewan and pointed a finger at federal MPs in the province who voted against the bill in Ottawa.  

Vidal accused the Liberals of using the bill to score political points at the expense of “well-meaning school counsellors, youth pastors and some health professionals.” 

“They used it as a political wedge, to be honest with you… I couldn’t accept the potential that it infringes on some of those other conversations that were legitimately good conversations,” Vidal said.

“What if suddenly, somehow, in that conversation they crossed some line they didn’t know they had crossed while trying to help a young person — and now they’re being criminalized? What (that does) is limit the ability of people to have access to help from people they trust.”

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