Liberals call on provinces to ban LGBTQ conversion therapy, eye federal law changes
OTTAWA – After calls to take a leadership role when it comes to setting the standard for what has become a cross-Canada patchwork of policies around LGBTQ conversion therapy, the federal government is now urging all provinces and territories to ban the “shameful” and “cruel” practice.
According to letters sent to provincial and territorial ministers of health and justice across the country in late June, the federal Liberals say they are also considering Criminal Code reforms to better crack down on the traumatic programs.
Conversion therapy seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, often through religious counselling. The practice has been widely discredited and disparaged, but the federal government believes that these therapies are still being offered in Canada.
“We are concerned about the harmful effect of the message that someone’s sexual orientation is abnormal, and that it can and should be changed,” reads a copy of the letter, signed by Justice Minister David Lametti, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, and special advisor to the prime minister on LGBTQ issues, Randy Boissonnault. “The provincial, territorial, municipal and federal governments all have roles to play to protect Canadians from the harms associated with this practice.”
Specifically, the federal government is considering national reforms through the Criminal Code, Currently, some offences like kidnapping, forcible confinement, assault or even fraud may apply to those conducting these conversion sessions.
“However, existing Criminal Code offences may not capture the full range of circumstances in which conversion therapy occurs. For this reason, we are actively examining potential Criminal Code reforms to better prevent, punish, and deter this discredited and dangerous practice,” the letter states.
On Monday, city councillors in St. Albert, Alta. voted to ban conversion therapy.
The community’s ban includes a $10,000 bylaw fine on anyone advertising or performing the therapy on minors within the city.
This comes after Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s government dismantled a conversion therapy working group set up by the previous NDP administration to recommend ways to ban the practice, though the province’s health minister has said that the United Conservative Party opposes conversion therapy.
Similar restrictions on conversion programs already exist or are in the works in several provinces, including Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, and British Columbia. Ontario under former premier Kathleen Wynne was the first province to ban conversion therapy in 2015.
“We commend these efforts, which communicate the important message that conversion therapy is harmful. At the same time, we believe that more remains to be done and are concerned that a number of jurisdictions have not yet taken steps to end or condemn the practice,” the letter reads.
The federal ministers say that “addressing the availability of conversion therapy is a complex issue,” and that “no one jurisdiction can end this dangerous practice alone.”
“Because conversion therapy is underground, this is why legislation at all levels of government is so important. It makes it clear that these kinds of unethical practices are not acceptable and if they are occurring there are mechanisms to report it and tools available to stop it,” said Kristopher Wells, a specialist in sexual and gender minority youth, education and health in an email to CTV News.
Conversion therapy is opposed by several health and human rights groups including the World Health Organization, and the Pan American Health Organization, which in 2012 said that these conversion programs “lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people.”
The Canadian Psychological Association also opposes conversion therapy as it is “based on the assumption that LGBTQ identities indicate a mental disorder,” and “can result in negative outcomes, such as distress, anxiety, depression, negative self-image, a feeling of personal failure, difficulty sustaining relationships, and sexual dysfunction.”
Back in February NDP MP Sheri Benson tabled a petition with 18,200 signatures calling on the federal government to step up and to do more to protect minors from the practice. At the time the government’s response noted that health regulations are a provincial and territorial responsibility.
In an interview on CTV News Channel, Boissonnault called conversion therapy “akin to torture.”
“We’re looking at how do we actually criminalize the practice of this wherever and however it happens, even if it isn't in a licensed venue. And that's where the provinces and municipalities are really important, because they give businesses and organizations the local licenses to operate. They also have bylaw enforcement officers and law enforcement, that can actually be keeping an eye out to make sure that this isn't happening to Canadians,” he said, adding that the federal government is still waiting for responses from the provinces and territories.
Over the last four years the federal Liberals have made numerous changes to the Criminal Code. CTVNews.ca has asked for clarification as to what prompted the government to consider these changes now.
With files from CTV News’ Kevin Gallagher and CTV News Edmonton