OTTAWA — A federal LGBTQ conversion therapy ban could be on the horizon.
Banning conversion therapy was prioritized in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Dec. 13 mandate letter to Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti, where Trudeau directed the ministry “to amend the Criminal Code to ban the practice of conversion therapy and take other steps required with the provinces and territories to end conversion therapy in Canada.”
The move marks the first concrete steps towards the fulfillment of the Liberal election promise to ban the harmful practice of attempting to forcibly change people’s gender or sexuality.
MacEwan University professor and longtime anti-conversion therapy advocate Kristopher Wells said he was “very pleased” to see banning conversion therapy prioritized by Trudeau’s minority government so quickly following the election.
“This is a real opportunity for Canada to show leadership on the world stage when it comes to passing the strongest legislation in the world,” he said. “To clearly demonstrate that conversion therapy has no place in our society or civilization.”
What is conversion therapy?
Conversion therapy refers to the practice of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity using psychological or spiritual interventions. It has widely been discredited by scientific and medical communities, and was formally condemned by the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) in 2015.
“Conversion or reparative therapy can result in negative outcomes such as distress, anxiety, depression, negative self-image, a feeling of personal failure, difficulty sustaining relationships, and sexual dysfunction,” read the group’s 2015 statement.
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Several municipalities and provinces across Canada have already banned the practice. Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia have all imposed bans, while cities including Vancouver and Sherwood Park, Alta. have introduced local bans.
This week, Edmonton city council unanimously voted to ban conversion therapy, with what Wells calls the “best, most comprehensive” policy on the issue in Canada.
The Liberals, NDP and Green Party all included references to a federal conversion therapy ban in their 2019 platforms.
Second time’s the charm
Trudeau’s mandate comes alongside progress on the issue in Parliament’s other house.
Sen. Liberal Serge Joyal tabled Bill S-202 this week, which seeks to amend the Criminal Code to criminalize receiving financial or material benefit from conversion therapy and ban advertising it to minors under the age of 18.
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It’s the second go-around for Joyal, who tabled a similar bill in April, only see the house pass priority to the provinces on the issue, citing its connection to health care, which is usually a provincial issue.
During the new bill’s second reading in the senate Thursday, Joyal took credit for a federal conversion therapy ban making its way into the Liberal Party’s 2019 election platform.
“When we start a debate — we introduce a private member’s bill and we debate it — it has an impact on the government of the day, whatever the government,” he said.
However, Wells and other experts worry that a focus on minors means Joyal’s bill isn’t broad enough to tackle the problems posed by conversion therapy.
“It’s not one that we’d like to see move forward. It’s very limited in its scope,” Wells said. “And I would expect the federal government to be much more comprehensive in its approach.”
He pointed to several issues missing from Joyal’s bill — including banning conversion therapy for people over 18, and withdrawing charitable status from organizations that engage in it — as vital parts of any bill that would become law. He says he hopes Edmonton’s local bylaw serves as a model for any future federal bill.
“Our united goal should be to produce the best, most comprehensive legislation in the country that will adequately and effectively protect all Canadians from this incredibly deceptive, dangerous and fraudulent practice,” he said.