Good morning, everybody.
I call this meeting to order. Welcome to meeting number 13 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, as we endeavour to study Bill .
As for some housekeeping rules, when you're speaking, please speak slowly and clearly so that interpretation is not impacted. When you're not speaking, please keep your microphone on mute. You have the ability to select the interpretation language, at the bottom of your screen, so that you can understand everybody.
We're quite lucky today to have two ministers to speak to Bill . I'd like to welcome the Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. I'd also like to welcome the Honourable Bardish Chagger, Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth.
We are also joined by some witnesses from the Department of Justice. They are François Daigle, associate deputy minister; and Robert Brookfield, deputy assistant deputy minister. Then we also have a representative from the Department of Canadian Heritage. He is Fernand Comeau, executive director of the LGBTQ2 secretariat.
Ministers, you'll have five minutes each to make your opening remarks, and then we'll go into our two rounds of questions.
We'll start with Minister Chagger, for five minutes.
Go ahead, Minister.
Madam Chair and members of the committee, I would like to start by acknowledging that I am joining you from Waterloo, Ontario, the traditional territory of the Anishinabe, Haudenosaunee, and Neutral people.
Thank you for inviting me to appear before you to discuss Bill alongside my colleague, the Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
Conversion therapy practices are based on the misguided idea that a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression can and should be changed to fit a narrow-minded view of what is normal.
This idea is not only wrong, but harmful, and this kind of practice has no place in our society.
The Government of Canada must always stand up for those who are being attacked or persecuted simply for being who they are, and for those who are being prevented from living their lives fully, free from discrimination and violence. It is our duty to protect the rights and freedoms of all Canadians, and to build a country where everyone feels safe, welcome, and included.
Promoting, protecting and increasing diversity and inclusion in Canada are fundamental parts of my mandate as Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth. I am fully committed to these objectives and to supporting LGBTQ2 communities from coast to coast to coast.
The changes to the Criminal Code proposed in Bill support and protect LGBTQ2 individuals by criminalizing coercive and systematic efforts to change a person's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression into something or someone they are not.
There have been some comments about what this bill would or wouldn't do. I want to be absolutely clear. This bill does not criminalize a person's faith or individual values. This bill does not criminalize exploratory conversations with your kids, students or mentees. This bill targets forced and coordinated efforts to change someone into something or someone they are not.
Bill also allows us to protect equality rights, including religion and LGBTQ2 rights. The bill does not impose a hierarchy of rights.
Over the past year, I've participated in a number of round table discussions with stakeholders about LGBTQ2 issues. These once in-person conversations have become virtual. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the world. All Canadians have been affected, and disproportionately certain segments. LGBTQ2 communities are no exception.
Through these discussions, I've heard clearly the toll imposed by conversion therapy. The thought of another generation having to endure conversion therapy crushes my soul. It is essential that we acknowledge the people whose lives have been lost, as well as survivors. I cannot help but also think of the lives still currently being destroyed.
We all have a role to play in building an even better, safer and consciously more inclusive Canada for everyone. We can all work to build a better future, where children, who arrive in this world innocent, free and happy, are not taught bigotry or to be ashamed of who they are. Imagine a Canada where every Canadian can lead an authentic life and be true to oneself. Imagine the contributions they could make.
Last Friday, I had the pleasure of announcing that we had taken a first step towards the very first federal LGBTQ2 action plan with the launch of a federal LGBTQ2 survey. The survey can be accessed until February 28 and will focus on our government's work to improve social, health and economic outcomes in diverse LGBTQ2 communities everywhere in Canada.
often says that in Canada diversity is one of our greatest strengths. The unique and diverse forms of gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation are part of that diversity.
I would like to underscore why it is important that we are all coming together constructively today. I want us to be conscious of the human aspect, the individual toll, that is at stake here. This is a reality that many have lived and continue to live in Canada. It is our job as parliamentarians to protect Canadians from this harmful, destructive practice.
Bill is another step toward true inclusion in Canada. Ridding Canada of conversion therapy is a campaign commitment, and I can personally attest to this being a consistent ask in all round tables I've held with LGBTQ2 communities.
I'd like to thank you for your attention. I look forward to hearing Minister Lametti's comments and then answering your comments and questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Dear colleagues, I'm in Ottawa and am accordingly taking part in this meeting on traditional Algonquin territory.
I am pleased to be speaking with you today about the criminal law reforms in Bill .
The nearly unanimous support that led to the referral of Bill to this committee reflects its vital importance. I would like to thank everyone who spoke courageously about their own experiences of discrimination. These are the realities of LGBTQ2 people that give us a better understanding of why Bill is so essential to the protection of their dignity and equality.
More specifically, Bill C-6 and the five new criminal offences it is proposing target a practice that is discriminatory against LGBTQ2 people because, this practice claims that LGBTQ2 individuals can and must change a fundamental part of their identity, namely their sexual orientation or gender identity. This practice has its roots in the erroneous and discriminatory idea that non-heterosexual orientations and non-cisgender identities are illnesses that can be "corrected".
In short, it's origins betray the discriminatory points of view on which the practice is based. These points of view are completely out of sync with modern science. It's not surprising to find that conversion therapy is seen as ineffective, and harmful to those subjected to it.
I will focus on the bill's definition of conversion therapy, because there appears to be some persisting confusion about its scope.
Bill defines conversion therapy as “a practice, treatment or service designed to change a person's sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour”. The definition, therefore, has two elements: first, that the conduct at issue amounts to a practice, treatment or service; and second, that the practice, treatment or service is designed to achieve one of the prohibited objectives.
The terms “treatment”, “service” and “practice” are used in the Criminal Code and various other federal and provincial statutes, including in provincial conversation therapy-related statutes' definitions of conversion therapy. For example, P.E.I.'s legislation refers specifically to a “practice, treatment or service”.
Notably, in none of these contexts are these terms defined, largely because the terms have a clear, literal meaning. In Bill 's conversion therapy definition, the term “treatment” means a “therapy or procedure used to treat a medical condition”, according to Merriam-Webster. That is how the term is also used and understood in the Criminal Code's mental disorder provisions, for example section 672.59.
The term “service” in this context means “labor that does not produce a tangible commodity”—again, in Merriam-Webster. The term is also used in this way in the human trafficking provisions, whereby traffickers extract a “labour or service” from their victims, as in section 279.04 of the Criminal Code. The term is also found in the Cannabis Act, to refer to using the “services” of youth in the commission of cannabis-related offences, or to services related to cannabis in the context of commercial activity.
The term “practice” means “a repeated or customary action”, again in Merriam-Webster. The term is also used in this way in the Criminal Code's illegal betting provisions, section 203, and the animal cruelty provisions, section 445.2.
All of these terms imply an established or formalized intervention, one that is generally offered to the public or a segment of the public. A mere conversation cannot, therefore, be considered a practice, service or treatment, unless it forms part of a formalized intervention, such as a talk therapy session.
The second part of the definition reduces its scope still more. The practices, services and treatments need to be specifically designed to achieve clearly defined objectives. That's why the definition uses the terms "heterosexual," "cisgender," and "non-heterosexual". More precisely, to be covered by the definition, the intervention must be designed to change a person's sexual orientation to heterosexual, or their gender identity to cisgender, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour.
This means that the practices, services or treatments designed to achieve other objectives, such as abstinence from all sexual activity, combatting sexual dependency or criminal sexual behaviour—such as child sexual assault—are not clearly covered by the definition. Legitimate medical or therapeutic practices cannot enter into the definition either, such as interventions designed to support a person's gender transition, careful observation of young people whose gender identity does not match the sex assigned to them at birth, or detransition for those who choose.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister Lametti and Minister Chagger, for being here and for your presentations regarding Bill .
We have heard from some stakeholders who are concerned that good-faith conversations to help individuals navigate their sexuality will be captured by this bill. Whether intentional or not, there is significant concern that this bill will capture those good-faith conversations.
When this bill was first introduced, language on the justice department's website stated that it would not affect:
...conversations in which personal views on sexual orientation, sexual feelings or gender identity are expressed such as where teachers, school counsellors, pastoral counsellors, faith leaders, doctors, mental health professionals, friends or family members provide support to persons struggling with their sexual orientation, sexual feelings, or gender identity.
There is a consensus in Canadian society that trying to forcibly change a person's sexual orientation or gender should be banned. Can I first ask the justice department officials if it would be problematic to simply include the language that was on the justice department's website, or similar language, in the bill for greater certainty?
I'll take the liberty of responding.
As I have gone through, mainly in French, in my prepared remarks, we feel that in fact the definition already encapsulates what you are trying, in good faith, to advance. As I mentioned, within the definition, the fact that the definition has two elements to it—first that it must amount to a practice, treatment or service, and second that the practice, treatment or service has to achieve a prohibited objective.... It does in fact encapsulate what the justice department website said and what we still continue to say. It doesn't capture good-faith conversations about people exploring their identity.
There is a “for greater certainty” provision in the act, and we don't actually even feel that that is necessary in legal terms, but we feel that it captures quite well what you're trying to put forth.
Speaking of some of the stakeholder organizations, CIJA, for example, just submitted a brief today in which they express support for the objective of the bill. Indeed, the individual who wrote that brief is a former member of Parliament, Richard Marceau, who has a long-standing track record of supporting LGBTQ rights. In that CIJA brief, there was still a concern that the language in the current bill leaves ambiguity.
I know that during a second reading debate, you did indicate that you would be prepared to work with opposition members to try to reach a consensus, to the degree that is possible, to get it right. Would you, at the very least, be open to amendments to the bill if it is...through further hearings as we proceed, so that some assurance could be provided to those groups that do have concerns?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Hello to colleagues and ministers and their staff.
My first two questions will be directed to Minister Chagger.
I'm really fascinated by your portfolio, Minister, because I think diversity, youth and inclusion are our future. I've worked for many years with young people in Cape Breton—Canso. I really want to thank you for your hard work on ensuring that so many voices are heard.
was the first prime minister to apologize to LGBTQ2 public servants and Canadian Armed Forces members who were persecuted and discriminated against for being who they are. I think this was a very important value statement from this government on standing up for Canadians who have long been marginalized.
My question to you, Minister, is this: How confident are you that this legislation works towards the same goal?
Madam Chair, through you to the member, thank you so much for that question.
I'm very confident. When we set out to have these conversations, I was not the minister at that time, so this work has continued over a series of two mandates.
Since I became Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, we've taken some steps that have built upon the work we had historically done. I think it's really important that this work continue to build upon it.
When it comes to the apology, we also had the first-ever special adviser to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ2 issues, who was Randy Boissonnault, and since then we've had a full minister at the cabinet table.
In March 2017, to continue engagement with LGBTQ2 communities in Canada, we set up the first LGBTQ2 secretariat. That's why I'm glad to see that my colleague and official Fernand Comeau is here and is building a fabulous team so that we can ensure that we are building back even better and consciously more inclusively.
This legislation builds upon that work, so I'm very confident.
One of the things I'm proudest of is that this legislation was created by community for community. It is very concerning to me that individuals and Canadians...we're so proud of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but we're still having to undergo this conversion therapy. Experts have proven it to be harmful and destructive.
Conversations exploring who you are are entirely welcome. They're not actually stopped within this legislation. We are always going to encourage those conversations.
Among other stuff we've done, we've seen the blood ban go down to three months. We have, however, invested in research, working through Héma-Québec as well as Canadian Blood Services, because we want to see that blood ban lifted. We've offered a series of other programs and services, including the LGBTQ2 capacity fund. We were pleased to see some of those announcements made. We'll continue building upon that work.
Thank you for those great questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Good morning, Mr. Lametti and Ms. Chagger.
Mr. Lametti, we in the Bloc québecois welcome this bill. I think in fact that it's important to exercise some control and to avoid letting things get out of control by trying to alter anyone's sexual orientation. However, the bill has some grey areas. You've already suggested some answers to my colleagues on these points,
I'd like once again to address the question of what can or cannot be done in discussions with these people. Clause 5 of the bill would amend the Criminal Code by adding clause 320.101, which states:
320.101 ...For greater certainty, this definition does not include a practice, treatment or service that relates:
(b) to a person’s exploration of their identity or to its development.
There has been much discussion about this, but I would really appreciate it if you could tell me precisely what the words "to a person’s exploration of their identity or to its development" are referring to. It seems to me that they open the door to a very broad interpretation.
I'm repeating myself, but I think we need to structure these practices. I'm not saying that the bill is unnecessary, quite the contrary. I'm saying that there is a grey area and that it will be very difficult to define it. There will be differing decisions in the courts as a result of each of these issues.
I am among those who think that the courts need to have some latitude, but I also think that the legislator needs to make the laws as clear as possible. Here, my view is that room for interpretation is very broad.
That being said, there is another aspect that bothers me, which is the age of consent. There is discussion of "under the age of 18 years". In Quebec, however, the Civil Code provides that children can make decisions with respect to their health at 14 years of age. This is specified more precisely in section 14 of the Civil Code of Quebec
How do you reconcile the legislator's position in Bill and the Civil Code of Quebec's stance on the age of consent? If you can' t reconcile it, can you explain this decision?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I hope you'll just indulge me for a moment as the NDP spokesperson for sexual orientation and gender identity. I just want to remark that today is World AIDS Day. As a gay man of a certain age, I'm very happy that we have finally gotten to the point where we can talk about the elimination of HIV, which is a scourge of the entire population, no longer just of gay men.
I tabled some Order Paper questions today, and I want to bring them to the attention of the . They are about how the government plans to make sure that the new testing methods are available to rural, remote and marginalized communities, because the key to eradicating HIV is for those at risk to know their status.
Now, let me return to the topic at hand today—the bill. I do want to start out by saying that I remain very supportive of the bill as a whole, even though I remain disappointed that this isn't a complete ban on conversion therapy. I want to go back to the Minister of Justice and discuss the exclusion of what people are calling “consenting adults” from this bill.
I know the minister has said he fears a charter challenge, but I want to know whether, quite apart from that, he thinks that we might be able to add adults to this bill in a way that wouldn't endanger the whole bill if there were a charter challenge.
Thank you very much, Mr. Garrison. I appreciate your question, and I understand the very sincere place from which it is coming.
We have tried, with respect to adults, to really restrict it to only consenting adults. Duress is a legally known concept, so vulnerable adults will be protected, if you will, by the legislation.
That being said, you're correct to say that I do fear a charter challenge. For an adult capable of consenting and who is not susceptible to duress and is not being subjected to duress, it would be a difficult thing to defend in court.
The best minds in my department tried to wrap their heads around it and couldn't. That was our starting position, I will admit, but if you can find a way, I'd be willing to consider it.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Ministers, for being here today.
My first question is for department officials. When this bill was originally introduced, our feedback was to include the language from the department's website in the bill. Today we received a written brief from CIJA, an important Canadian advocacy organization, that favours adoption of the original website language in the bill.
However, at some later, more recent date, the language on the government's website was changed. Can the officials outline why that was done?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
My question is for Minister Chagger. Minister, there are hundreds upon hundreds of heartbreaking testimonies from young and older men about their journey through and eventually out of conversion therapy. These stories tell of the devastating consequences of the practice of this therapy, which range from depression to suicidal thoughts. In fact, the interim result of the 2019-20 survey shows that sexual orientation, gender identity and depression changes, at first, are affecting this.
The bill before us is perhaps one of the most progressive pieces of legislation by any government to ban, criminalize and eliminate these deplorable activities, and it was about time.
However, Minister, let me ask you one question: How confident are you that this legislation is really what is needed at this time to tackle the practice of conversion therapy?
Thank you, through you, Madam Chair, to the member for the question.
I would like to begin by saying that I was very pleased to see that every single member of this committee, from every single party, voted in favour of Bill in the House, and having it sent to committee. I'm hopeful that we will continue to work together to send this bill back to the House in short order. What this shows is that we all agree that any systematic effort to change someone's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, in particular that of a child, is unacceptable in our communities and should be criminalized.
The bill we have here does exactly that, and lays the foundation for the elimination of this harmful and destructive practice in our country. I know there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to getting LGBTQ2 Canadians to a place where they can live out their lives freely, like most Canadians do, without the threat of violence or discrimination. As the minister responsible for inclusion, and as an ally, I will continue to work with LGBTQ2 communities and lead our government's commitment to stand up for LGBTQ2 rights. LGBTQ2 rights are human rights.
I would say in a short answer to the member that I'm very confident that this is an essential step to building a consciously inclusive Canada.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
It's not that I don't appreciate your answers, Ms. Chagger, but I wanted more specifically to address a number of points of law with Mr. Lametti.
Mr. Lametti, I remain puzzled about an unfortunate definition of conversion therapy, in which what is excluded appears to be the same thing as what is included. When we speak about what is prohibited, there is no grey area between the concepts of "against their will" and "minors".
And yet, conversion therapy is defined as follows:
...a practice, treatment or service designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender, or to repress or reduce...attraction...
Added to this is:
... this definition does not include a practice, treatment or service that relates
(a) to a person’s gender transition;
(b) to a person’s exploration of their identity or to its development.
What distinction do you make, on the one hand between the statement "change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender, or to repress or reduce...attraction" and the concept of "gender transition"? Is this not saying one thing and its opposite?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister Lametti and Minister Chagger, for your appearance here today at the justice committee.
Minister Lametti, I want to jump right into the definition, because we're trying to get a bill here that does what you, in your press conference, said it would do and what your department has said it would do, but there is uncertainty around the definition. This bill hangs on the definition. I heard you say five minutes ago that your best minds put together this bill, and then I heard you say a minute ago that you missed something there in syncing up with Bill .
In the early discussion on this bill, much was said about your comments and the justice department's website, which laid out what the bill did not do. It said, “personal views on sexual orientation, sexual feelings or gender identity are expressed such as where teachers, school counsellors, pastoral counsellors, faith leaders, doctors, mental health professionals, friends or family members provide support to persons struggling with their sexual orientation, sexual feelings, or gender identity.”
There have been some—today I saw a brief from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs—who have said, “Look, we're 100% against conversion therapy, but for greater certainty”—I know you believe in “greater certainty” clauses, because there are two of them in this very bill—“would you include the language that you've spoken in this bill?”
I do want to give you the opportunity to answer a question that was put to justice department officials. Once it became public that people said “Please put this in the bill”, the department website changed. Instead of saying “friends or family members provide support”, the word “affirming” was added in there.
I want to know what the background on that is. Why was the website changed? I think this plays into some of the fears that people have around this bill. Just two years ago, your government said this bill wasn't necessary because it was handled at the provincial level, and you said you didn't have clear statistics on it, but we now have a Criminal Code amendment. The Criminal Code is the highest sanction we as a government can bring against people, so we want to make sure that this bill does what you said it would do.
Why was that changed on the website, Minister?
We're here and we're going to use the Criminal Code because we feel that this practice is abhorrent and needs to be eradicated from Canadian society. It's going to coordinate with what the provinces are already doing and reinforce what the provinces are already doing.
We'll go back and look at the website to see if, in fact, it has changed, but certainly in terms of a definition in an act—we have a number of lawyers around the table, including myself—what you're trying to do in a definition is succinctly capture the activity that you want to capture without capturing more than that. There is a danger of over-defining, so a long list can be either overinclusive or under-inclusive. You get into debates about whether it's a closed list or an open list.
What we've done is focus on the practice. Everything that you have identified, everything that was identified in your question, is, in fact, captured by this definition, by the focus on practice, treatment or service. We're not capturing those very legitimate kinds of conversations that you cited in your question.
I think that the manner in which we have framed it in the act, from a juridical point of view, is the way to do it, and I think we've done it well, without redundancy and without need for a “greater certainty” clause.
We'll certainly look at what CIJA has said, but I haven't heard anything yet that convinces me that the definition is inadequate. We're focusing on illegitimate practices, treatments or services designed for prohibited objectives, without going further than that.
I presume the question is for me, Mr. Zuberi. Thank you.
Once again, what we are trying to do is criminalize conversations that begin with the presumption that who you are is wrong and that it has to be changed, and that is done through an active practice, treatment or service. Those are the prohibited objectives in the act.
We're not trying to criminalize the legitimate kinds of mentoring conversations that people have—pastoral conversations, family conversations such as parent-child, grandparent-child—where the legitimate question is “Who am I, and how do I develop in that framework?”
In order to capture the kind of activity that we want to capture, we focused on known legal concepts—practice, treatment or service—and we have specified the prohibited objectives. We think that does, legally, what we need to do. We think it dovetails well with definitions that are being used at the provincial level with respect to provincial medical systems and medical insurance systems in the provinces. We think we have defined what we need to define in a fairly clear way.
I welcome our witnesses who are here today. Thank you for your patience.
We have with us today, in our second panel on Bill , Matt Ashcroft, Dr. Kristopher Wells and Dr. Kenneth Zucker, all appearing as individuals.
We have representatives from Pour les Droits des Femmes du Québec: Ghislaine Gendron and Dr. James Cantor, who is an adviser for that organization.
Before we go into our round of five minutes per witness for their opening remarks, we'll quickly go to Jacques Maziade, who is our legislative clerk, and Isabelle D'Souza, who is legislative counsel, for very brief remarks on proposing amendments and how that's going to work.
Please, go ahead.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'll take just a few seconds to tell the committee that I will be the legislative clerk responsible for Bill . As you said, my name is Jacques Maziade. If the members of the committee want to have information about the admissibility of their amendments, don't hesitate to send them to me.
Committee members can also contact me if they have any questions concerning a clause-by-clause study of the bill.
My contact information is in the memorandum that the clerk sent to all committee members last week.
Madam Chair, I would now like to turn things over to my colleague, legislative counsel Isabelle D'Souza.
Good morning, everyone.
My name is Isabelle D'Souza. I am the legislative counsel assigned to Bill for the purpose of drafting amendments.
I am here today to tell you a little about the drafting process itself. I strongly encourage you to send me your amendment requests as soon as possible, in your own words, even if your proposals aren't entirely concrete yet. I will transform your instructions into legislative text in order to produce the desired legal effects.
I will also inform you if your proposals raise legal, jurisdictional or charter issues, and I will suggest alternatives, if possible. Keep in mind that all of our exchanges are confidential and non-partisan.
Note that the amendment process is like a miniature version of the private members' bills drafting process, for those who are familiar with that. We go through a draft, approval, proofreading, translation and revision of each amendment. This process can sometimes be lengthy, depending on the complexity of the requests or the volume of requests received, and because we sometimes draft amendments for several bills at the same time, it can take several hours or even days to arrive at a final product.
For those reasons, do send me your requests for amendments as soon as possible. I understand the deadline for submission is December 9. That date is not that far away. Do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns. I am here to help.
Thank you for your time today.
Jacques and I will now take questions about the process, if there are any.
First of all, thank you to Randall Garrison and his team for inviting me to speak. It feels quite good that we have developed a great relationship since March. I'm thankful that you spoke with Erika Muse and me about the next steps for Bill .
This bill is extremely important to survivors of conversion therapy practices, including me, because I know first-hand the harm that can be done from conversion therapy practitioners, even though they do not fully identify with the vocabulary of “conversion therapy”.
Before I get into my speech, I'm going to say the first names and the last initials of the folks who were in my conversion therapy camp, honouring their names and honouring their confidentiality. Those names are/were: John S., Jay C., CJ or Calvin James W., Adam W., Steven M., Jerry M., Dean K., Rick S. and Rocky M. I do not know if you are here or not, but just so you know, I think about your well-being every day.
To my brothers and sister, Milton, Marlon, Makye and Myanna, I am glad that I have a relationship with you again. You have all grown into great people, and I'm glad you accept me for me. I love you always. Never forget that.
Now that I got that out of the way, I'm going to go into the heart of my speech. If you really care about what I say, you will listen with an open mind and an open heart.
Talk is cheap. Doing this process without conversing with conversion therapy survivors is quite sad. It is sad because I'm a human being who experienced this. When there are press interviews about having the best legislation in the world and you use conversion therapy survivors as a prop to make you look good, it hurts. Furthermore, it is something that I'm used to, because in conversion therapy we were used as success stories.
Not only am I grieving this, but I am grieving that this bill will not protect the Canadians it claims to protect. The Sex Now survey estimates that 47,000 people have experienced conversion therapy practices. If only 35% of the folks are under the age of 18, it means that this bill protects only 16,450 Canadians, leaving out two-thirds of the population. We need to do our best to protect as many queer, trans and non-binary Canadians as possible.
Talk is cheap. Canadian government, do you really want to be the best in the world and protect the LGBTQ2IA+ folks like you say you do? The last time I remember, when St. Albert had done their conversion therapy bylaw, you wanted the provincial governments to do their own bans and not touch it federally. Where's the transparency in what you were doing?
If you really want to take some action, here are the first steps that I recommend you take.
Australia's Victorian government worked extremely hard on their bill. It is the most comprehensive bill in the world. Thank you to Nathan Despott, co-founder of the organization Brave Network Melbourne, for his words of wisdom. I have learned a lot from having global conversations on what other countries are doing. I will reiterate the exact wording on his social media.
Number one, “It will ban all conversion practices, delivered by anyone to anyone, regardless of whether they are paid or unpaid, delivered by a professional or non-professional, or delivered to an adult or a child. It will also ban 'inducing' a person to undergo conversion practices, as well as referrals (regardless of whether professional or non-professional). There will be a criminal penalty for all of these things when injury to health (eg. mental health) can be proven. If the criminal threshold can't be met, it will go through a civil process led by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC). This will not require mediation of any kind. VEOHRC will be able to investigate and provide penalties. Failure to comply will also lead to criminal penalties.”
Number two, “It will be a criminal offence to advertise paid or unpaid(!) conversion practices.”
Number three, “It will be a criminal offence to try to get around the law by taking a person to another state.” In our case, that's a province or territory, or outside the country.
Number four, “Adults will not be deemed able to consent to participate in conversion practices, i.e., 'Informed consent' is not possible.”
You cannot consent to abuse. If every medical association deems that conversion therapy practices are discredited and unproven, you should have no issues including adults.
It is time for the government to be more transparent and to protect queer, trans and non-binary Canadians, whom you claim to ally with.
While we're on the subject, you will also need to include trans conversion therapy into legislation, or incorporate trans medical malpractice in future legislation.
This is not a game. This is our lives.
Today I'm speaking with you from the Edmonton area, on Treaty 6 territory.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to address the committee, in particular on World AIDS Day. Today we are fighting against another form of discrimination, prejudice and stigma in the form of conversion therapy.
In support of my comments today, I have submitted a written brief and would like to draw the committee's attention to our national report, entitled “Conversion Therapy in Canada: A Guide for Legislative Action”. It includes 15 national endorsements from many public sector and LGBTQ2 organizations, background information and research, and, most importantly, the voices and experiences of the brave Canadian survivors of conversion therapy, such as Matt, who support legislative action to help end this fraudulent and abusive practice.
I would like to congratulate the Government of Canada for its leadership and action against conversion therapy, which is not therapy at all but a recognized form of coercion and abuse, and in some cases may rise to the level of torture as defined by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims and the United Nations independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
I strongly support Bill as an important legislative initiative to help bring awareness to the issue of conversion therapy and its associated harm, and to provide an important mechanism for victims to seek protection and redress through the Criminal Code of Canada.
The bill also sends an important message to all Canadians about the inherent dignity, self-worth and respect that should be afforded to LGBTQ2 people. Fundamentally, no one should have to change who they are, or whom they love, to find acceptance and support in their faith, family or community.
The research is clear. Conversion therapy has been shown to be an unethical, harmful and dangerous practice. Almost all leading health, medical and professional associations have denounced conversion therapy and its associated practices.
In Canada, an open letter supporting the research consensus against conversion therapy has been signed by 120 Canadian academics and public policy experts, including 16 distinguished research chairs.
I would like to focus my remaining comments on three critical areas to consider as potential amendments to Bill . These include aligning and clarifying the definition of conversion therapy, extending protections to include all adults in the legislation, and providing support for victims and survivors of conversion therapy efforts.
First, the proposed definition of conversion therapy in Bill should use a more standard and consistent definition that is currently in wide use within many municipal bylaws and provincial/territorial acts prohibiting conversion therapy. Rather than focusing on particular identities or directional orientation, these legislative definitions should use plain language and include clearly understood grounds against discrimination that are protected in all provincial and territorial human rights acts in Canada.
For example, Bill ought to align with the Canadian Human Rights Act by explicitly including protections against change efforts directed at any person's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Some simple amendments would help refine the definition in Bill C-6 and reinforce that all forms of conversion therapy are prohibited, and would also clarify which practices are not included and considered acceptable in helping individuals find appropriate support. The key here is that all approaches should be objective, neutral and non-judgmental to outcome, and focused on empowering the individual to be active in discovering and understanding their own identity.
Historically, conversion therapy efforts have been grounded in an anti-LGBTQ2 ideology with the underlying belief that LGBTQ2 people are pathological, disordered or sinful: in short, needing a so-called cure or correction away from deviance into normalcy.
Second, Bill , as drafted, only prevents forced conversion therapy for adults. Because of the clear evidence of harm, and the lack of research evidence of efficacy, the notion of informed consent is not a possible justification for conversion therapy. Given the well-documented and known harms of conversion therapy, it is a reasonable limitation to restrict so-called consenting adults from engaging in conversion therapy practices.
The government has an obligation to protect all individuals from known or reasonably foreseeable harms and dangers, which is why there are strict consumer protection laws and numerous medical and health regulations in Canada. Clearly, restrictions are reasonable and justifiable limitations on individual rights and freedoms. As notable examples, Quebec's Bill 70 and many municipal bylaws apply to all ages, individuals or groups.
Lastly, it is imperative that the federal government work with survivors and LGBTQ2 civil society organizations to establish an education program and compensation fund to support victims of conversion therapy. Pursuing legal recourse through the Criminal Code of Canada sets a very high bar, and support is needed.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address your committee.
I am a clinical and research psychologist. Since 1976 I have seen over 1,600 children and adolescents who experienced gender dysphoria. I was the chair of the sexual and gender identity disorders work group that was part of the task force for the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. I have published over 300 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on this topic, so I feel that I have the necessary background to address elements of Bill .
Up front, let me state that I am in full agreement that mental health clinicians should not attempt to change the sexual orientation of individuals under the age of 18 years. However, I want to point out quite strongly that contemporary mental health clinicians do not engage in such practice and have not done so for decades. Mental health clinicians do not practise conversion therapy with gay, lesbian or bisexual adolescents.
Where I disagree quite strongly with Bill is in its additional focus on gender identity in children and adolescents. Since the State of California passed similar legislation in 2012, there has been an insidious conflation of sexual orientation and gender identity. Not only does the proposed legislation erroneously conflate two very distinct psychological phenomena, but it also completely ignores developmental considerations.
The original criticisms of sexual orientation change efforts were targeted at the unsuccessful efforts by clinicians to try to change the sexual orientation of adults. Bill , by conflating sexual orientation, now targets clinicians who work with children as young as the age of three years and their parents.
In my view, this is a serious mistake. Do politicians appreciate this conflation? The background scientific material provided to the committee by Phillips and Walker is completely silent with regard to what is known about best-practice therapy for children and adolescents with gender dysphoria. No well-trained mental health clinician attempts to coercively change the gender identity of either a child or an adolescent. Well-trained clinicians consider what the best therapeutic approach might be to reduce gender dysphoria, a mental health diagnosis in DSM-5, and the distress associated with it. There are various ways in which this can be accomplished.
The problem with Bill is as follows.
In clause 5, proposed section 320.101 defines “conversion therapy” in part as “a practice, treatment or service designed to change a person's...gender identify to cisgender”. Yet, the same proposed section states that this does not include “a practice, treatment or service that relates...to a person's exploration of their identity or to its development”. Bill , like many initiatives that have preceded it, is completely vacuous in defining what such exploration would look like or constitute. Let me give you a couple of examples.
A three-year-old boy expresses a very strong desire to be a girl. When asked why he wants to be a girl, he tells his parents that he likes very much to play with Barbie dolls and to wear dresses. Under Bill , can a mental health clinician explore with such a child this belief? For example, would it be acceptable to point out that boys can play with Barbie dolls too?
A seven-year-old boy expresses a very strong desire to be a girl. When asked why, he says that all the boys in his classroom at school are mean and rough. In contrast, all the girls in his classroom are kind and gentle. He does not want to be mean or play rough. Under Bill , can a mental health clinician explore with such a child these beliefs? For example, would it be acceptable to point out that not all boys are mean and rough and that not all girls are kind and gentle?
A 14-year-old girl expresses a very strong desire to be a boy. This girl also has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, which includes the propensity to think in very binary terms. Because she does not feel like other girls, she thinks that the only option is to be a boy. Under Bill can a mental health clinician explore with this adolescent the idea that there are many ways that one can be a girl?
In my view, Bill should be modified in one of two ways. One is to delete entirely any reference to gender identity and restrict it to sexual orientation, the original target of criticism of conversion therapy. Failing that, Bill should be extensively revised in terms of explaining the scope of what exactly it means to engage in exploration of gender identity or its development—in other words, provide objective markers.
Such a revision would help both clinicians and families that have a child or adolescent experiencing gender dysphoria understand what the legislation truly intends to target.
I only have a few words to say.
I hope that you'll support Bill , except for the inclusion of gender identity, because the bill treats it the same as sexual orientation.
As a clinical psychologist and research scientist, I've been providing therapy and publishing on the neuroscience of human sexuality for over 25 years now, including helping many transsexuals to successfully transition. I've served as a senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, editor-in-chief of the journal Sexual Abuse, and associate professor at the University of Toronto. I'm currently the director of the Toronto Sexuality Centre.
Finally, I'm also an openly gay man. I was lucky to have appropriate and supportive therapy when I was a teenager, now long ago, and I feel honoured to have the opportunity to help ensure that future generations have access to it.
Therefore, I am here today to help provide three perspectives: that of a scientist, to point out that this legislation mistakes the content of the current science; that of a mental health care provider, to note that this bill would cause a chill effect, inhibiting my and others' ability to act in the patient's best interest; and that of a member of the LGBT community itself, to describe exactly how this is affecting my brothers and sisters.
Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.
I'd like to thank the committee members for having invited our organization, Pour les droits des femmes du Québec, or PDF Québec.
In September 2019, PDF Québec received an email from a young woman who wanted to inform us of treatment she had undergone for gender dysphoria and about how it had affected her life once she reached adulthood. She asked me to read the following evidence on her behalf:
During adolescence, my periods were so painful and frequent that they interfered with my education. My doctor was not helping me obtain appropriate care. It's also around that time that my borderline personality disorder surfaced. I was given psychiatric treatment after frequent hospitalizations. I was obsessed by the idea of being perfect, and I became very hung-up about my appearance. I didn't feel like a proper woman.
After learning about gender identities on the Internet, I found an escape route from my complexes and periods: transitioning. I was given access to hormone blockers, testosterone, and a mastectomy. The psychiatric team treating me had noted increased aggression and some suicide attempts. Rather than accepting myself, I chose it as a way to escape who I was. I stopped taking hormones after three years, but some side effects are not reversible. I went into debt to pay for breast implants. Going back is not as easy as the initial transition.
This young lady was still a minor when she underwent a mastectomy and biomedicalization. Her personality disorder had been diagnosed before she took steps to receive gender affirmation therapy. Her case is unfortunately similar to what has happened to many young ladies who show up at gender clinics. Dr. Cantor, who is with me here today, can explain it better than I could.
How would a practising psychologist who meets this young lady tomorrow be regarded under Bill ?
Would the psychologist be criminalized for asking a child about her perception of her condition or her self-diagnosis of gender dysphoria?
Twice as many girls as boys are affected by gender dysphoria, though the ratio has been reversed in recent statistics. In the legislative summary for Bill , the subject is neither addressed nor explained.
We had to change our opening statement this morning at the very last minute, and I would like to apologize to members of the committee and to the interpreters. That's because barely three hours ago, the BBC broadcast information of crucial importance to this topic. I'll tell you about it.
The High Court of the United Kingdom ruled today that children under the age of 16 with gender dysphoria are unlikely to be able to give informed consent to treatment with puberty-blocking drugs or cross-sex hormones.
The young Keira Bell, who detransitioned in adulthood, won her case in England against the Ministry of Health. However, our health department does not appear to have been mentioned in the bill.
Thank you for your attention.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to each of the witnesses who are appearing here today on Bill . We appreciate your taking the time to give your perspective on this piece of legislation.
For our part, we want to make sure that we get this legislation right and that it does what it says it's going to do.
Dr. Zucker, I want to ask you a question. You mention the definition and challenges with the definition. That's something we've identified. When this bill was introduced, the minister gave lengthy remarks about what the bill doesn't do. He says that it doesn't criminalize many things, including expression of “views on sexual orientation, sexual feelings or gender identity...such as where teachers, school counsellors, pastoral counsellors, faith leaders, doctors, mental health professionals, friends or family members provide support to persons struggling with their sexual orientation, sexual feelings, or gender identity.”
We're starting to get feedback from different stakeholder groups throughout Canada. One of the concerns that have been raised is that if this is what the bill purports not to do, if this is what the minister says it doesn't do, then we should fix or strengthen the language and the definition so it more narrowly focuses on what our goal is, which is to make sure that people are not subjected to conversion therapy.
Can you maybe explore a little further your thoughts on the definition and what you see as faults with the definition as it's currently construed? It's our job as parliamentarians to make sure that we get this bill right. The committee level is where we get that feedback and can perhaps have amendments that would improve the bill.
Sure, I'll try to answer that.
In science, we have a term called “operational definition”, meaning that we have a particular term and then we have to define it in a way so everybody can agree on what one is actually measuring.
My point about Bill —it's very similar to all prior legislation, including Bill 77 in Ontario—is that there's this “does not apply” clause, which I read out to you. It does not include practices, etc. that relate to a person's exploration of their identity.
That is a completely vague descriptor. It does not give clinicians clear guidance on what is considered acceptable in terms of exploration. I think that is a fundamental problem. It's frightening to parents, because they worry that they're going to be accused of taking their kids for conversion therapy, whereas any well-trained clinician, as I said earlier, does not coercively try to change a child's or an adolescent's gender identity.
I think a well-trained clinician engages in all kinds of exploration. The problem with Bill is that it doesn't define what that means or doesn't mean. I think that is a very serious issue.
First of all, Mr. Ashcroft, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for your candour, and thank you for your courage in presenting here and elucidating a lot of important thoughts for us to consider.
I want to voice some agreement with some of what I've heard, particularly from Dr. Wells. Even the term “therapy” seems a bit of a misnomer here, because what we're talking about is forcible, imposed treatment on individuals, and that's not therapy at all from my perspective either.
What informs this, particularly when we're talking today, on World AIDS Day—and we've talked about historic discrimination in respect of that issue for the LGBTQ2 community.... What we're talking about here is just the freedom to be who you are and to love whom you want to love. That's what informs everything we're doing.
Mr. Wells, I want to ask you a few questions, and I would ask you to take just 30 to 45 seconds for your responses.
From my perspective, this bill is quite clear in terms of what is an offence. It is an offence under the code pursuant to this bill, if it passes, to force someone to undergo something that they're not consenting to, regardless of age.
Does that provide the clarity that people need, including medical practitioners, Mr. Wells?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
My question is for Ms. Gendron from the Pour le droit des femmes du Québec organization.
Ms. Gendron, based on my understanding of your evidence and the evidence from Dr.x Cantor and other witnesses, you are in favour of the idea of prohibiting conversion therapy. That would be what the new clause 320.101 of the Criminal Code defines as follows:
320.101 ...conversion therapy means a practice, treatment or service designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender, or to repress or reduce ... attraction...
However, practices, treatments and services for gender transition and the exploration and construction of identity are excluded. What is excluded is rather similar to what is prohibited. That's also what I have understood from the evidence, and it strikes me as a sort of contradiction.
Would your organization not be more at ease with the idea of adding an exclusion for honest non-interventionist conversations about gender transition and the exploration and development of identity?
What I am talking about is honest conversations that are not aimed at any intervention, as opposed to allowing certain practices, treatments and services.
No. Based on our understanding of paragraph 320.101(b), conversations are covered. Conversations are not the problem—at least I don't believe they are—but rather exploratory psychotherapy.
As Dr. Cantor and Dr. Zucker Explained, children ought not to be self-diagnosing gender dysphoria. They need to have access to psychotherapy, which does not necessarily include biomedicalization.
In other words, our major concern is that parents and children should have access to psychotherapy which does not necessarily include biomedicalization. We would like such psychotherapy, without biomedicalization, to be permitted and not criminalized by the bill.
Many young ladies who suffer from autism or personality disorders end up in gender clinics. They represent a new clientele. I would also like to hear Dr. Cantor on this subject. They self-diagnose gender dysphoria. The bill would appear to indicate that a psychologist has no choice but to corroborate this information, even though patients might be suffering from something else.
No, I don't share the same concerns, nor do the legal experts I have consulted with, including those who have argued already before the Supreme Court of Canada on the LGBTQ issues.
Quite simply, that is because of the clear research we've heard time and time again from all of the major professional health and medical associations, which have denounced any research or scientific support behind this notion of conversion therapy. What we do know are the harms and the dangers that it causes.
I think the best description of conversion therapy I've seen is that it is nothing more than a dangerous lie. It's an abusive, fraudulent, coercive practice, so this notion that one can give consent to something that doesn't work.... The government restricts all kinds of adult behaviours. You can't drive your car without a seatbelt. That might be part of your freedom of expression, but we know that it's not only to protect the individual but also to protect others.
There is a compelling public health interest in extending this legislation to include all adults, much as Quebec has done in their legislation—which they're debating right now, Bill 70—and many of the municipalities across Canada ensure that their legislation covers all ages.