Now that the third hearing of Bill C-6 has passed, it’s up to a committee of MPs to decide what – if any – changes will be made to legislation aiming to ban the practice known as conversion therapy in Canada.
Will the MPs endeavour to strengthen the legislation by including efforts to change someone’s gender expression and remove the idea of a “consenting” participant? That’s what witnesses at the hearing, including No Conversion Canada’s Nicholas Schiavo and survivor Peter Gadjics, certainly hope so.
“All forms of conversion therapy are inherently coercive,” Gadjics told the committee, recounting the ways medication was weaponized against him by his therapist to derail his self-acceptance as a gay man. “Proper informed consent is not possible in these circumstances.”
Like Gadjics, Schiavo made the case that any attempt to narrow the scope of the legislation would only create more loopholes for conversion therapy to continue under different language.
However, the committee also heard testimony that some loopholes, or exceptions, are justified. Catholic Cardinal Thomas Collins argued that faith-based chastity programs offered by church groups should not be targeted since people willingly attend these sessions. But another faith leader, Rabbi Michael Whitman, explained that consent in the context of a faith community can be difficult to ascertain.
“A person could very easily be in a situation where they feel compelled or pressured and it would be very difficult to judge if that is free and full consent,” said Rabbi Whitman.
While the fate of Bill C-6 isn’t necessarily in question (it is likely to pass with Liberal-NDP support), what is at stake is the eventual law’s effectiveness. According to the committee clerk, more than 300 people or organizations – including CBRC – have submitted written briefs on the bill, including some who have called for amendments that would reduce the scope of the federal ban.
For instance, some claim that gender identity should not be covered by this legislation – warning that it would create a wave of people de-transitioning, since health professionals wouldn’t be “allowed” to push back against patients seeking interventions like puberty blockers.
Complicating that fear, though, is the fact that more than a dozen provinces and municipalities have already banned conversion therapy in some form or other, without evidence that it has created barriers to information or prevented people from understanding their gender identity. Even prior to those laws, professional bodies stepped in to condemn or penalize health practitioners who were depriving patients of autonomy.
Representatives from one such body, the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW), spoke to this issue at the hearing. The CASW’s Alexandra Zannis testified that the real targets of Bill C-6 are the unlicensed, unregulated cases of conversion therapy – not health care workers who are acting in good-faith and in accordance with peer-reviewed best practices.
In fact, cracking down on conversion therapy can help with many upstream health issues for LGBT2Q people, said Zannis. Undergoing conversion therapy – even with so-called “consent” – leads to problems later in life which put greater strain on individuals and the health care system, like substance abuse and homelessness.
Recognizing this, Zannis – along with other witnesses and CBRC – have called on the government to attach Bill C-6 with funding for survivors’ groups, counselling supports, and other resources. While MPs go line-by-line in their legislative review, thousands of conversion therapy survivors are struggling with its impacts and they deserve help too, say advocates.
For future updates about conversion therapy in Canada, or other health and wellness issues related to GBT2Q people, follow CBRC and subscribe to our mailing list.
- CBRC Policy Report on Conversion Therapy and Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression Change Efforts (SOGIECE)
- The Latest: Conversion Therapy and SOGIECE in Canada
- The fight to end conversion therapy in Canada resumes – but not without opposition
- Can you “consent” to conversion therapy? Question looms over potential ban
Written by By Kevin Hurren, CBRC Contributor