“Conversion therapy is a cruel practice that can lead to life-long trauma, particularly for young people,” David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, told reporters at a press conference.
“It sends a demeaning and degrading message,” Lametti said, adding that the practice “is premised on a lie.”
Bill C-8, An Act To Amend The Criminal Code (conversion therapy), proposes five new criminal code offences related to conversion therapy.
They include causing a minor to undergo conversion therapy, removing a minor from Canada to undergo conversion therapy abroad, causing a person to undergo conversion therapy against their will, profiting from providing conversion therapy and advertising an offer to provide conversion therapy.
The legislation would also authorize courts to order the seizure of conversion therapy advertisements or to order those who placed the advertisements to remove them.
If passed, Lametti said the bill would make Canada’s laws on conversion therapy the most progressive and comprehensive in the world, as well as fulfill the Liberal’s campaign promise end the practice in Canada.
Three Canadian provinces — Ontario, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island — as well as Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary have enacted bans on conversion therapy. Additionally, the province of Manitoba has issued an official position statement against these practices.
But just how necessary is a federal ban?
As defined by the Canadian government, conversion therapy aims 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.
Conversion therapy alive and well in Canada
A recently-released report from the The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) suggests that conversion therapy is much more prevalent in Canada than would initially appear. The report, which was published in February, tracked 70 organizations in more than 20 countries.
Faith-based organizations like the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity (formerly known as NARTH) still exist in Canada, and a majority of them have offices that operate in multiple provinces. It provides “Sexual Attraction Fluidity Exploration in Therapy,” ironically abbreviated “SAFE-T.”
Lucas Ramón Mendos, who authored the report, said some organizations — like Journey Canada, which presents itself as “a safe and spiritually supportive place to help them get in touch with their hearts and emotions and integrate their beliefs with their feelings and experiences” — still attempt the practice under the cloak of more nuanced procedures, like offering advice or religious counselling.
He said this makes it difficult to track them down.
When asked about the allegations, Journey Canada told Global News “Journey Canada does not offer reparative or conversion therapy.
“In fact, we do not offer therapy of any kind. We are a spiritual ministry focused on allowing people the space to talk about the things that prevent intimacy with God.”
His findings also point to the Campaign Coalition for Life (CLC). The organization. whose national office is headquartered in Toronto, directs those seeking “support for unwanted same-sex attraction” online. NARTH is one of the organizations listed.
David Cooke, CLC national campaign manager, told Global News that even if the bill is enacted, they will continue to direct Canadians to what he prefers to describe as “reparative” therapy services.
“We stand behind what we say. We believe in helping people who want help with their unwanted same-sex attraction or unwanted gender dysphoria,” he said, adding that conversion therapy was “not abuse.”
Cooke added that his organization believes in conversion therapy, but does not believe in forcing anyone to undergo treatment against his or her will, nor do they believe in electroshock therapy.
Mendos noted that his research was unable to determine whether conversion therapy practices were growing or if countries were just becoming more aware of them.
The ILGA report offers testimony of “deliverance sessions” carried out by ministers of the Pentecostal Church in Montreal to exorcise the “demon of homosexuality,” published in the Alliance Arc-en-ciel de Québec in 2018.
It details harrowing accounts from survivors all over the world, including that of Canadian Harper Perrin, who staved off efforts to change their social orientation at a church in Langely, B.C.
During their therapy, they said efforts were made specifically to change the way they walked and talked, making them very mindful of their body and making sure they lived a “masculine expression.”
It also spoke of Erika Muse, a trans woman advocating against conversion therapies in Canada, who told the ILGA that when she wanted to transition at the age of 16, she was “treated” for years by doctors who told her she should “be a better man,” to fix herself, and was criticized by psychiatrists who questioned her convictions.
Despite these, Mendos, said he’d noticed “a lot of progress” being made in Canada in recent years.
He said the conversion therapy bans in Vancouver and Edmonton are some of the most comprehensive in the world, rivalling only Spain in the list of countries that enforce bans for children and adults.
Ontario, which authorized its own ban on the practice in 2015, was among the pioneer jurisdictions in the world to enact bans on conversion therapy.
“One of the particular things that we see going on in Canada is that the three levels of the state seem to be involved in adopting measures to restrict infection therapies and that’s something unique,” Mendos said.
In a majority of countries, anti-conversion therapy bills don’t receive bipartisan backing, he added, referencing the United States, where legislation against the practice stalled due to a lack of Republican support.
“It conveys the idea that the government is seriously involved in adopting measures to restrict conversion therapies.”
The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ2 youth, told Global News in a statement their research showed that LGBTQ2 youth who had undergone conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who did not.
In their 2019 national survey of 34,000 LGBTQ2 youths, they found 42 per cent of respondents who underwent the process reported a suicide attempt in the past year, including 57 percent of those who identified as transgender and non-binary.
In a statement to Global News, the government said conversion therapy harms and stigmatizes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit (LGBTQ2) persons, undermines their dignity and negatively impacts their equality rights.
“It reflects myths and stereotypes about LGBTQ2 persons, in particular that sexual orientations other than heterosexual, and gender identities other than cisgender, can and should be changed,” the statement read.
This view is supported by The Canadian Psychological Association. In their official policy statement, they said they oppose “any therapy with the goal of repairing or converting an individual’s sexual orientation, regardless of age.”
During the press conference, Muse said even years later her body is still “a prison to what my conversion therapist did to me.”
“My conversion therapy was not just detrimental talk therapy. It was the continual systematic denial of medical affirmations to my gender,” she said.
Muse was unable to say whether she thought Bill C-8 could stop all conversion therapy in Canada, but hoped it could prevent others from experienced the same pain she underwent as a teenager.
“It would stop what happened to so many other people… but I don’t know if it would stop what happened to me,” she said. “I don’t if it’s enough.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.