OTTAWA — The federal government has introduced legislation that aims to ban conversion therapy.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti made the announcement Monday alongside Bardish Chagger, the minister of diversity and inclusion. The legislation, dubbed Bill C-8, is targeted at individuals who are actively working and providing services proposing to change someone’s identity.
“Conversion therapy is premised on a lie,” Lametti told reporters in Ottawa. He said that in 2020, there are still groups that provide “services in an effort to correct or fix those who they deem out of step with their narrow views of how one should be or how one should act.
“If passed, this bill will make Canada’s laws on conversion therapy the most progressive and comphrensive in the world.”
Watch: What is conversion therapy? Story continues below video.
The legislation is looking to introduce an official definition for conversion therapy as “any service, practice or treatment designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual, gender identity to one that matches the sex assigned at birth, or to repress or reduce non heterosexual sexual attraction or sexual behaviours.”
Erika Muse, a woman who came out as trans as a teenager and underwent conversion therapy, spoke after Lametti. She told reporters that she had prepared a speech and would not read it after reviewing the proposed legislation. She folded up the piece of paper in her hands and closed her eyes and said what she went through was government-sponsored through the public health care system.
“My conversion therapy was not just detrimental talk therapy. It was the continual systematic denial of medical affirmations to my gender,” Muse said. “My body is a prison because of what my conversion therapist did to me. And I live with that every day.”
She said after reading the new legislation, she can’t say with certainty that it would stop what her conversion therapist did to her — or if it would make her feel safer today.
“I don’t know if this would help me as a trans person. I don’t know if it’s enough.”
The bill seeks to create new criminal offences including one outlawing making a minor undergo conversion therapy in Canada or abroad. It also seeks to prohibit forcing someone to undergo conversion therapy against their will and will ban conversion therapy advertising or the ability to profit from the practice. People convicted under some of these provisions would face up to five years in prison.
I don’t know if this would help me as a trans person. I don’t know if it’s enough.Ericka Muse, conversion therapy survivor
Conversion therapy is a discredited practice that intends to repress or change a person’s sexual orientation to herterosexual or gender identity to cisgender through pseudoscientific methods of intervention.
These methods can include inducing nausea, use of electric shocks, so-called “affection training” — which the American Psychological Association describes as “physical and social reinforcement to increase other-sex sexual behaviours” — and talk therapy. Popularized in Canada and the United States in the ’70s, conversion therapy has since been widely disparaged as lacking scientific basis.
According to Vancouver-based,Community-Based Research Centre, as many as one in five gay, bisexual, Two-Spirit, or queer (GBT2Q) have reported experiencing sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression change efforts (SOGIECE).
Conversion therapy, and related SOGIECE practices, have affected up to 47,000 GBT2Q men in Canada, according to the Vancouver non-profit’s Sex Now Survey published in February.
The Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) condemned the practice in a policy statement in 2015. Conversion therapy can lead to “negative outcomes such as distress, anxiety, depression, negative self-image, a feeling of personal failure, difficulty sustaining relationships, and sexual dysfunction,” the CPA said.
“There is no evidence that the negative effects of conversion or reparative therapy counterbalance any distress caused by the social stigma and prejudice these individuals may experience.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters Monday that his party would like to see a federal ban on conversion therapy. It’s a position he advocated during the election,more than four years after the Ontario government passed an NDP billto ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ children.
“All experts have made it really clear that this therapy is hurtful, it’s horribly damaging to an individual and it’s wrong. There is no benefit whatsoever,” Singh said. “There should be no exemptions for it.”
The bill has been introduced in the thick of a Conservative leadership race where candidates are being asked to weigh in on various LGBTQ issues. HuffPost Canada reached out to some of the current front-runners in the race for their stances on the topic.
Leadership contender Marilyn Gladu told HuffPost she hasn’t heard the issue raised by people she’s met in recent weeks during campaign events.
“Ontario as well as several other provinces already have laws in place on conversion therapy. I will review the proposed bill, listen to the debate and look for amendments brought at committee before deciding,” Gladu said in an email.
“I have met with thousands of Canadians in recent weeks and this has never come up as an issue; people wish our government would focus on creating jobs, building our economy and respecting the rule of law.”
Peter MacKay supports a ban on conversion therapy, his spokesperson Julie Vaux told HuffPost. Candidate Erin O’Toole did not respond before publication.
Leadership hopeful and rookie Ontario MP Derek Sloan was asked on “CTV Power Play” in January if he supports conversion therapy. Sloan told CTV the concept is “broadly defined” and that “gender-affirming, or body-affirming counselling” shouldn’t be banned.
During the fall election campaign, outgoing Tory Leader Andrew Scheer was criticized for being vague when asked if he would ban conversion therapy. Scheer responded saying he would protect the rights of all LGBTQ Canadians.
But legislative interest from the Liberals to ban conversion therapy is relatively new.
The pledge appeared in the Liberal party’s election platform, promising to work with provinces and territories to make changes to Canada’s Criminal Code to ban the “harmful and scientifically disproven practice, especially against minors.”
After the Liberals were re-elected, it appeared as an objective in Lametti’s mandate letter.
When a public petition gained 18,200 signatures — enough for former NDP MP Sheri Benson to introduce it in the House of Commons — it solicited a passive response from the federal government in 2019.
Despite calling the practice “immoral, painful” and one that does not “reflect the values of our government or those of Canadians,” the justice minister referenced that because the concern involves the regulation of a profession, responsibility rests primarily with provinces and territories.
“We continue to work with provincial and territorial governments to address these practices through the regulation of the health profession,” Lametti said in his response to the petition at the time.