The fight to end conversion therapy in Canada resumes – but not without opposition

National debate on LGBT2Q protections continues as the federal government re-introduces legislation to ban efforts to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, also known as “conversion therapy.”

First introduced in March, but erased from the government’s agenda following its fall prorogation, the legislation is back with a new name but the same goal – make it illegal to force someone to undergo conversion therapy against their will, put a child through the practice or to advertise and profit from it.

As with all legislation, Bill C-6 now sits in front of a committee of Members of Parliament from all parties for a closer look. In this case, it’s the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights who had their first hearing on the bill on Tuesday.

Liberal government representatives didn’t waste any time addressing the criticism they heard when the bill was first tabled in the spring. “There have been some comments about what this bill would and would not do, so let me be absolutely clear,” began Canada’s Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth, Bardish Chagger, at the hearing. “This bill does not criminalize a person's faith or individual values. This bill does not criminalize exploratory conversations with your kids, students or mentees. This bill targets forced and coordinated efforts to change someone into something or someone they are not.”

Despite Minister Chagger’s emphasis, opposition members used the hearing to chide the bill for going too far in some cases, and not far enough in others. For instance, Conservative MPs echoed public calls for a list of excepted people (parents and teachers, for instance). Doing so, however, would make the law more confusing and harder to enforce, said Minister of Justice and Attorney General, David Lametti.

“Treatments, services and practices,” is what Minister Lametti said drove their language in the bill. A casual, private conversation wouldn’t fit in to any of the above categories, so parents and other authority figures would be exempt.

On the other end of the political spectrum, the NDP’s MP Randall Garrison – who also acts as the party’s critic on sexual orientation and gender identity issues – accused the legalisation of not protecting so-called “consenting” adults. “Conversion therapy is assault, and a person cannot consent to being assaulted,” he said.

This was a view carried forward by public participants in the December 1 hearing, including conversion therapy survivor Matt Ashcroft and Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth, Dr. Kristopher Wells. Both would like to see amendments mimic similar legislation in places like Australia, where conversion therapy bans are more clearly and broadly articulated.

“The Sex Now Survey estimates more than 40,000 people have experienced conversion therapy practices in Canada, and this bill would only protect a third of them,” said Ashcroft.

The hearing also included the bill’s detractors, most of whom advocated that references to gender identity should be removed from the bill, despite research showing that one in 10 trans people in Canada have experienced the harmful practice. These witnesses, including Dr. James Cantor, claimed that while sexual orientation change efforts are widely agreed to be impossible, less is known about the fluidity of gender identity – especially as it relates to children. (It should be noted that Dr. Cantor left the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality after accusations against him of online bullying and transphobia).

Yet as more hearings are scheduled, it’s clear the gender identity component of the legislation will draw conflict. This week, a U.K. Court ruled in favour of putting an age floor on puberty blockers – a fact one hearing participant, Ghislaine Gendron from the Quebec women’s organization Pour les Droits des Femmes du Quebec, pointed out as evidence of the law’s overreach. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), however, says such blockers can prevent serious negative mental health impacts of going through puberty as a transgender person.

For continued coverage of Bill C-6 committee hearings, follow CBRC and subscribe to our mailing list. To submit a statement to the committee about this legislation, do so before Sunday, December 6 here.

The next hearing is taking place Thursday, December 3 at 11:00 AM (EST).

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Written by By Kevin Hurren, CBRC Contributor

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About CBRC

Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC) promotes the health of gay, bi, trans, Two-Spirit, and queer men (GBT2Q) through research and intervention development.
The fight to end conversion therapy in Canada resumes – but not without opposition
The fight to end conversion therapy in Canada resumes – but not without opposition
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