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Canada to introduce legislation to ban conversion therapy

Calgary passes motion to ban conversion therapy
Calgary passes motion to ban conversion therapy.

The Canadian government is expected to announce legislation to amend the criminal code and ban conversion therapy on Monday.

If passed, the bill would make good on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign promise to end conversion therapy in Canada and mandate letters to both Bardish Chagger and Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti, which instructed them to coordinate with provinces and territories to ban the practice.

In the Liberal Party’s 2019 platform they described the act as “a scientifically discredited practice that targets vulnerable LGBTQ2 Canadians in an attempt to change their sexual orientation or gender identity,” adding that there is international consensus in the medical community that conversion therapy is “not founded in science and does not work.”

READ MORE: Canada is exploring Criminal Code reforms to halt conversion therapy

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In a press release, Lametti and Chagger said they would make an announcement regarding a bill entitled “An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy),” which bears the same name as Bill S-202.

That bill was tabled by Sen. Serge Joyal in December, who also put forward a nearly identical Bill S-260 April. Rather than treating conversion therapy as a criminal offence, the government viewed the practice as a health-care issue, and ultimately left it up to provinces and municipalities decide whether to implement a ban.

Under Bill S-202, it would be illegal to advertise conversion therapy services and to obtain a financial or other material benefit for the provision of conversion therapy to anybody under the age of 18, and punishable by up to five years in prison. It is unclear whether the Liberals are introducing that legislation on Monday, or announcing something new. 

It’s not yet clear whether the Liberals are introducing that legislation on Monday, or taking a different direction.

Former conversion therapy leader comes out as gay
Former conversion therapy leader comes out as gay

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Lametti’s office said she was not able to share details about the bill due to parliamentary privilege.

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What is conversion therapy?

As defined by the government, conversion therapy means any practice, treatment or service designed to change an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, eliminate, reduce sexual attraction or sexual behaviour between persons of the same sex. It does not include gender reassignment surgery or any related service.

The practice has been banned in Ontario and Manitoba since 2015, and Prince Edward Island outlawed it last year. Conversion therapy is also banned in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. Nova Scotia also prohibited the therapy for youth under 16 years of age, but added a provision that allows minors between the ages of 16 and 18 to consent.

READ MORE: Andrew Scheer will ‘wait and see’ before taking stance on Liberal plan for conversion therapy ban​ ​

The government would need the backing of other parties in order to pass the legislation, but multiple parties, including the NDP, Green Party and Bloc Quebecois, have expressed support for the idea.

The Canadian Psychological Association says it opposes “any therapy with the goal of repairing or converting an individual’s sexual orientation, regardless of age” in their official policy statement, emphasizing that the practice is not supported by science or proven to work.

They said there is no evidence to suggest conversion therapy would counterbalance any distress caused by social stigmas, adding that conversion 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.

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Instead, they suggested seeking person-to-person therapy and LGBT affirmative therapy, which is a form of psychotherapy for non-heterosexuals, specifically gay and lesbian clients, that focuses on working towards authenticity and self-acceptance.