Nova Scotia has introduced a law that prohibits the use of conversion therapy with LGBTQ youth.
The bill to ban conversion therapy – which attempts to change people’s sexual orientation – outlaws people “in positions of trust or authority” from attempting the practice for youth under 16.
The prohibition would also apply to young people under 19 if they are not “capable of consenting to the services,” according to the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Protection Act introduced on Tuesday.
In addition, the bill prohibits health professions from offering the therapy to youth, and says groups or individuals who provide and advocate for it won’t be eligible for government funding.
The legislation would make Nova Scotia, along with Manitoba and Ontario, the third province to enshrine the prohibitions.
The push for the legislation emerged after a church group was pressured to cancel two speakers at a conference in Pugwash, N.S., in July, amidst concerns they promoted the practice for young people who would attend.
Michael Carducci and Danielle Harrison were invited as youth speakers to the event at Camp Pugwash, a venue owned by the Maritime Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, during a week-long conference open to families.
The leaders of Ohio-based Coming Out Ministries have referred to themselves as “redeemed souls” who tell their personal stories about being “freed from the chains of homosexuality” to follow God.
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Two Halifax LGBTQ groups – Pride Halifax and the Youth Project – co-authored a petition asking the church to rescind the invitation and expressing concern that the speakers’ message promotes techniques similar to conversion therapy.
The Canadian Psychological Association has condemned conversion therapy, as has Nova Scotia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The association defines the practice as any “therapeutic attempt to change the sexual orientation of bisexual, gay and lesbian individuals to heterosexual,” with methods that include prayer or religious rites, modification of behaviour or individual or group counselling.
Justice Minister Mark Furey, along with the leaders of both the opposition NDP and Progressive Conservatives, said the practice has no place in Nova Scotia.
Furey said he was upset about the bible camp’s invitation.
“I think most Nova Scotians were concerned, even appalled to be quite frank. I know I was,” he said.
“The news we heard highlighted the fact that as a province we didn’t have legislation in place for young people who were at a vulnerable stage in their life, in their adolescence and in some cases still coming to terms with their sexual orientation and sexual identity.”
Kate Shewan, the executive director of the Youth Project, said the law is needed because quantitative medical research has shown conversion therapy is harmful, creating “feelings of self hatred that leads to depression,” and it may lead to suicide.
She said during interviews at the legislature that the practice still exists, though operating “under the radar,” across Canada.
The advocate said she is concerned about the law allowing people between 16 and 19 to consent to the conversion therapy, as they often would do so as a result of pressure.
Shewan said these youth may have been exposed to fearful and hateful attitudes and might feel pressured to consent as a result.
“They’ve been exposed to homophobia or transphobia to the extent where they feel their identity is a problem or something that needs to be fixed,” she said.
However, Furey said existing Canadian case law requires him to leave open the possibility that youth between 16 and 19 may consent to the practice.