Criminalize Conversion Therapy-related conduct in Canada

October 1, 2020

The Federal Government reintroduces legislation to criminalize Conversion Therapy-related conduct in Canada.

“Conversion Therapy is a cruel practice that can lead to life-long trauma, particularly for young people.  Our Government remains steadfast in our commitment to protecting the dignity and equality rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirited Canadians, by criminalizing a practice that discriminates against and harms them.”

The Honourable David Lametti, P.C., Q.C., M.P.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

On October 1, 2020 the federal government reintroduced legislation that would ban conversion therapy. Many of us have heard the term but have little to no knowledge about what it is and why it is being banned.

What is Conversion Therapy?

Conversion therapy, or so-called “gay-cure therapy’, is any form of talk therapy or similar activity that seeks to remove a person’s feelings of same-sex attraction to the opposite sex or to change a person’s gender identification with the recorded birth sex.  It can include prayer or religious rituals, behavior modifications and individual or group counselling. Does it work?

In a word:  no.  There is no scientific basis or evidence that suggests Conversion Therapy works, and the word “therapy” can be misleading.  Not only does Conversion Therapy fail to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, it’s also likely to worsen feelings of anxiety, self-harm, depression and low self-esteem.  It is a cure for an illness that does not exist.

What is the importance of the legislation?

The goal of the proposed legislation is to protect the dignity and rights of those who identify as part of the LGBTQ2+ community.

The legislation proposes five new Criminal Code offences related to Conversion Therapy:

  • Causing a minor to undergo conversion therapy
  • Removing a minor from Canada to undergo conversion therapy abroad
  • Causing a person to undergo conversion therapy against their will
  • Profiting from providing conversion therapy
  • Advertising an offer to provide conversion therapy

The legislation will also authorize courts to order the seizure of conversion therapy advertisements or to order their removal from computer systems or the Internet.

Quick Facts:

  • According to the interim results of the 2019-2020 Community-Based Research Centre Sex Now Survey, 1 in 5 sexual minority men have been subjected to sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression change efforts. The 2011-2012 results of the survey also showed that lower income, Indigenous and transgender persons are disproportionately represented among those exposed to conversion therapy.
  • Under their responsibility for health-related matters, Ontario, Nova Scotia and PEI have enacted legislation specifying that conversion therapy is not an insured health service and banning health care professionals from providing treatment to minors unless they are capable of consenting. In March 2020, Yukon introduced legislation to ban conversion therapy and in September 2020, the Government of Quebec did as well.  Other jurisdictions have implemented non-legislative measures, such as Manitoba, which issued a position statement indicating that it expects health professionals to ensure that conversion therapy is not practiced in the province.
  • Some Canadian municipalities, such as Vancouver, B.C. and Calgary, Edmonton, St. Albert, Strathcona County, Lethbridge, Wood Buffalo and Spruce Grove, Alberta are banning the practice and promotion of conversion therapy within their city limits.
  • These new offences would not apply to those who provide support to persons questioning their sexual orientation, sexual feelings or gender identity (such as teachers, school counsellors, pastoral counsellors, faith leaders, doctors, mental health professionals, friends or family members).

Criminal law reform is an important step toward protecting LGBTQ2+ persons and promoting their rights, but more remains to be done.  Gender Identity and gender expression are protected human rights in Canada.  Our union is committed to working with all our members regardless of gender expression, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

For more information about the proposed legislation, please visit Justice Canada’s webpage

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