Senate approves bill outlawing LGBTQ conversion therapy

Exposure to conversion therapy associated with negative psychosocial health outcomes, data suggest

Senate approves bill outlawing LGBTQ conversion therapy

The Senate has approved on second reading a proposed legislation prohibiting conversion therapy-related conduct.

Bill C-6, known as An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy), seeks to prohibit certain activities in relation to conversion therapy, which the Department of Justice Canada defined as “a practice that seeks to change an individual's sexual orientation to heterosexual, to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviours, or to change an individual's gender identity to match the sex they were assigned at birth.”

In introducing the proposed legislation, the Justice Canada provided, through its official website, some notable scientific evidence on the effects of conversion therapy. The department cited the 2011-2012 results of the Sex Now Survey, which suggested that exposure to conversion therapy is positively associated with negative psychosocial health outcomes such as loneliness, regular illicit drug use, suicidal ideation and suicide attempt, and the 2019-2020 interim results of the Sex Now Survey, which revealed that one in five sexual minority men have been subjected to conversion therapy.

“Conversion therapy is a cruel practice that can lead to life-long trauma, particularly for young people,” said Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti, in the news release.

“The approach we are proposing today demonstrates our government’s strong commitment to protecting the dignity and equality rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit Canadians, by criminalizing a practice that discriminates against and harms them.”

Primarily, bill C-6 proposes to create five new offences that would prohibit the following:

  • Causing a person to undergo conversion therapy without the person’s consent;
  • Causing a child to undergo conversion therapy;
  • Doing anything for the purpose of removing a child from Canada with the intention that the child undergo conversion therapy outside Canada;
  • Promoting or advertising an offer to provide conversion therapy;
  • Receiving a financial or other material benefit from the provision of conversion therapy.

It also contains provisions authorizing courts to order the seizure of conversion therapy advertisements or their removal from computer systems or the Internet.

The bill does not, however, penalize a consenting adult if no money or other material benefit is received for providing conversion therapy. Nor does it punish a consenting adult seeking or receiving conversion therapy. It is also inapplicable 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).

If passed, Lametti noted, the bill would make Canada’s laws on conversion therapy the “most progressive and comprehensive” in the world.

 In the meantime, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have passed legislation specifying that conversion therapy is not an insured health service, Justice Canada mentioned in the news release. The legislation bans health care professionals from providing treatment to minors, unless they are capable of consenting. Manitoba has implemented non-legislative measures reminding health professionals to ensure that conversion therapy is not practised in the province. Justice Canada added that some Canadian municipalities, such as Vancouver, B.C., and Calgary, Edmonton, St. Albert, Strathcona County, Lethbridge, Wood Buffalo and Spruce Grove, Alberta, have also started banning the practice and promotion of conversion therapy within their city limits.

“Some provincial legislatures and municipalities have already responded to the harms posed by conversion therapy by prohibiting or restricting it, or certain activities associated with it, in accordance with their jurisdiction,” said Karin Phillips and Julian Walker of Parliament Legal and Social Affairs division in their research publications on legislative summary of Bill C-6.

Philips and Walker stressed while those measures may restrict or discourage the provision of conversion therapy, they do not criminalize the practice, as this would fall under federal jurisdiction.

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