Feds table broadened bill to ban conversion therapy in Canada
OTTAWA -- The federal government has introduced a reworked bill aiming to outright prohibit both adults and children from being subjected to conversion therapy practices, pledging to the LGBTQ2S+ community that this time will be different.
The legislation, titled Bill C-4, proposes to eliminate the harmful practice in Canada for all ages, through four new Criminal Code offences. It includes wider-reaching vocabulary of what constitutes conversion therapy than what the federal government attempted to pass in the last Parliament.
After the Liberals campaigned on the promise to re-introduce legislation within the first 100 days of a new mandate, now the government says it’s determined to get it passed, citing widespread support and confidence in the constitutionality of the bill in the face of early detractors.
“There are no excuses anymore for anybody who opposes this,” said Justice Minister David Lametti during a post-tabling press conference in Ottawa. “We've got a runway so this time, we are going to do it.”
Conversion “therapy,” as it has been called, seeks to change a person's sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender.
Through Bill C-4 the government also references additional examples of conversion practices experienced by the trans, two-spirit, and non-binary communities, such as seeking to change a person’s gender expression so that it conforms to the sex assigned to the person at birth, and repressing a person’s gender expression or non-cis gender identity. Repressing someone’s non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour is also noted.
These practices can take various forms, including counselling and behavioural modification, and they have been opposed by numerous health and human rights groups.
Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth Marci Ien said that what also makes this attempt at passing the bill different is that the re-worked legislation was “community-led,” and informed based off of feedback received through the previous legislative process.
“That's what makes this a little different than the last time around... I have sat down with survivors. When you hear the words, ‘This broke me,’ ‘I may never be the same again,’ … those kinds of things spur you to action,” Ien said.
WHAT THE BILL DOES
The legislation, if passed, would make it a crime punishable by up to five years in prison to cause another person to undergo conversion therapy.
The previous version of the legislation sought to outlaw forcing anyone into conversion therapy, but left the door open to consenting adults in limited circumstances.
The 11-page bill maintains the offences for taking a child outside of Canada with the intention of the child undergoing conversion therapy in another country. As well, it seeks to criminalize promoting, advertising, or profiting from providing the practice, with those found guilty of these offences facing up to two years in prison.
Bill C-4 also seeks to allow courts to order the seizure of conversion therapy advertisements, or order their removal if they are online.
While currently some offences like kidnapping, forcible confinement, assault or even fraud may apply to those conducting conversion sessions, the government wants to enshrine in law specific protections to deter this practice.
Several provinces and municipalities across Canada have already sought to outlaw conversion therapy in their jurisdictions, including Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, P.E.I., Yukon, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.
The government said Monday that the proposed laws are “among the most comprehensive in the world.” Malta and New Zealand are two of a small number of countries who have criminalized conversion therapy, while the United Kingdom is currently consulting on proposed offences for those under the age of 18 and non-consenting adults.
WILL THIRD TIME BE THE LAST TIME?
This is the third iteration of conversion therapy legislation tabled by the Liberals over the last few years.
This time, anticipating the support of all parties in the House of Commons, the government has committed to making the bill a priority.
While there had been some indication the Liberals were angling to see the bill pass the House by the end of 2021, Lametti said his aim is to get it through as soon as they can, and without having to re-traumatize the survivors who have already come forward during committee study on the previous draft to share their stories.
“This time around, I think we've got a great deal of consensus in the House of Commons to move this through quickly. And I also think we have a great deal of consensus in the Senate to get this through quickly,” Lametti said, voicing hope that the legislative process won’t be impeded by the same kinds of Conservative delay tactics seen in the last Parliament.
In a statement, Randall Garrison and Blake Desjarlais, the NDP’s critic and deputy critic for 2SLGBTQI+ issues said that they “stand ready to help make sure this bill proceeds through the House as quickly as possible.”
“We hope to get this bill to the Senate before Christmas so we can avoid a repeat of the Liberal’s failure to get this done,” the pair said, noting the NDP have been calling for a federal ban since 2015. “It is beyond time that this extremely harmful practice is finally banned.”
Joining the Liberals for the announcement was Gemma Hickey, an LGBTQ2S+ rights advocate and conversion therapy survivor. Hickey shared their traumatic experience with conversion therapy as a teen and a subsequent suicide attempt.
“I was raised Roman Catholic and my church taught that being homosexual or transgender was wrong. Society reinforced these beliefs. My doctor referred me to the therapist in the next office. When she greeted me at the door, my eyes gravitated towards the large wooden crucifix that hung around her neck on the outside of her blouse. ‘Welcome Gemma’ the therapist said. ‘You're safe here.’ She lied,” Hickey said.
- Resources are available in communities across Canada for anyone struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns.
In an interview with CTVNews.ca, Jules Sherred, who was put in conversion therapy at the age of 17 related to his gender dysphoria, said that being told he could “to learn to be comfortable in my body and be happy being a woman,” caused internal conflict that led to him feeling like he wasn’t trying hard enough.
“I just wanted to be seen, and I didn't understand it. And then it wasn't until the therapy that I thought that I was completely broken, and I needed to be fixed, and there was something seriously wrong with me psychologically for me to feel the way that I was feeling,” Sherred said. “I was suicidal up until my mid 30s because of my exposure to conversion therapy.”
After expressing frustration that it’s taken this long, but hope that the reworked bill would take into account that conversion therapy doesn’t just take place in church basements or at religious camps, Sherred said that he was pleased with the wording put forward by the government.
“There's a lot of education that needs to be done. Legislation, though, is the first step and to have that legislation, nothing else can happen without that,” he said.
In a statement, advocacy group “No Conversion Canada” said Bill C-4 has “significant improvements,” noting a recent push from more than 100 organizations from across Canada to see the bill take into account feedback from survivors and the community writ large.
“It is critical that Parliament pass a complete ban on conversion practices - that are proven to be fraudulent and dangerous - so that all LGBTQ2+ Canadians are protected from abuse. We look forward to working with survivors and all Parliamentarians to see it through,” said No Conversion Canada Executive Director Nicholas Schiavo.
PREPARING FOR RESISTANCE
While the federal Liberals appear buoyed by the positive stakeholder reaction, the expanded scope of Bill C-4 is likely to prompt fresh concerns from past opponents to the ban despite a growing understanding of the harms caused by seeking to change someone’s identity.
“We know what we're up against. We know the falsehoods and half-truths are that are going to come up,” said Tourism Minister and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former LGBTQ special adviser Randy Boissonnault. “Canadians and LGBTQ communities have seen these tactics over and over and over again when it comes to proposed legislation that protects us.”
“These same people will try to scare Canadians again… It won't work,” he said. “They will say this bill harms freedom of expression, it doesn’t.”
Within a few hours of the bill being tabled, the Association for Reformed Political Action Canada-- Christian political advocacy organization—issued a statement vowing to work with MPs “to urge amendments that will improve and clarify this bill,” after calling the bill too far-reaching, and potentially unconstitutional claiming it would “criminalize counselling.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s platform pledged to eradicate the practice, though would seek amendments to clarify that “the ban does not criminalize non-coercive conversations.”
As was the case with the last bill, when concerns were raised about the potential for criminalizing conversations, the government pointed to wording in the legislation that stipulates that it is not looking to criminalize practices, treatments or services “that relates to the exploration or development of an integrated personal identity… that relates to a person’s gender transition, and that is not based on an assumption that a particular sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is to be preferred over another.”
Speaking to the constitutionality concerns, a Justice Canada official briefing reporters on a not-for-attribution basis said that the government is confident in the constitutionality of this bill and a Charter statement will be issued shortly.
“Challenges can always be expected, but the approach of expanding the prohibition… was in the government’s view the best way to protect all adults,” said one official.
Out gay Liberal MP and ordained United Church Minister Rob Oliphant, who was called “unclean” by a former Conservative MP during a debate on the former Bill C-6, said he’s confident the bill’s passage this time is all but certain.
“It is going to happen, and nobody will want to be seen no matter how much they may hide behind some of what they would call technicalities… which they did last time. It's not happening now. Something is different,” he said.