Editor’s note: This headline has been updated to clarify Scheer’s position.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer told Global News on Wednesday that while his party opposes forced conversion therapy, he is waiting for further details before taking a stance on efforts to impose a federal ban on the discredited practice.
Reports this week revealed that Liberal cabinet ministers had sent letters in June to all provincial and territorial ministers of justice and health urging them to halt conversion therapy in their jurisdictions. The Liberals said they would, in the meantime, explore amendments to the Criminal Code to “prevent, punish and deter” it.
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When asked by Global News whether Scheer would support such a ban, he said: “This is something that this Liberal government is only now recently proposing. We will always, of course, stand up for the rights of LGBTQ individuals and protect their rights and, of course, we’re opposed to any type of practice that would forcibly attempt to change someone’s sexual orientation against their will or things like that. So we will wait and see exactly what is being contemplated.“
The letters, copies of which were obtained by Global News, stated that the federal government was “doing everything within its jurisdiction to combat conversion therapy.”
A spokesperson for Justice Minister David Lametti told Global News that as of Tuesday morning, that department had not received any response to those letters.
The practice of conversion therapy has been condemned by the Canadian Psychological Association and a wide range of medical experts and human rights advocates.
Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island have already imposed limited bans or restrictions on the practice. Legislation to ban it has been introduced in B.C. For example, Ontario’s restrictions, implemented in 2015, barred healthcare providers from practicing conversion therapy on minors.
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The letters from the federal government commend the efforts of those jurisdictions, but state that “more“ needs to be done.
Further, the letters express concern that “a number of jurisdictions have not yet taken steps to end or condemn the practice.”
This includes Alberta, where a number of municipalities are exploring their own restrictions.
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On Monday, city councillors in St. Albert, Alta., unanimously passed a motion to crack down on conversion therapy, becoming the first municipality in the province to do so.
Efforts by the previous NDP government to implement legislation banning the practice were stalled after Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party came to power.
In May, shortly after he became premier, Kenney’s government disbanded the working group that the previous NDP government had tasked with banning the practice.
“We don’t think there’s a need to address it specifically because it’s not a valid health service,” a spokesperson for the UCP health minister told the Edmonton Journal at the time. “It’s not practised in Alberta and it cannot be, because no health professional regulator would permit it.”
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Dr. Kristopher Wells, Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth at MacEwan University, told Global News he was disappointed by Scheer’s comments.
“Everyone should be fully supporting the full weight of the law to address this issue that’s tantamount to psychological abuse and torture. Quite clearly, all levels of government have an important role to play in banning conversion therapy.”
He said this includes amending municipal bylaws, health regulations and criminal laws in order to “more adequately address the new reality of conversion therapy, which is no longer a storefront business but largely happening on the fringes and underground in church basements to peoples’ living rooms.”
As for Scheer’s remarks on forced conversion therapy, Wells said, “Our government leaders really need to be clear on where they stand exactly on conversion therapy. Do they think that there’s ever a time that it’s appropriate?”
“No one should be subjected to any method or any attempt to try to change their sexual orientation or their gender identity,” he said. “The goal should always be to help these people to accept and positively integrate their sexual orientation or their gender identity into who they are.”
A spokesperson for Scheer did not immediately respond to further requests for comment from Global News.
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Scheer, and the Conservatives, have long faced criticism for not participating in Pride events.
This year was the third time since he became Conservative leader that he did not march in any Pride parade. Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper also did not take part in Pride events.
During his time as a Conservative MP, Scheer voted against legalizing gay marriage in 2005, along with most other Conservative MPs.