moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to commence second reading debate on Bill , which proposes to criminalize conduct related to conversion therapy, a cruel exercise that stigmatizes and discriminates against Canada's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit communities.
Bill is identical to former Bill , which I introduced on March 9, 2020. Bill C-6 and former Bill C-8 signal our government's continuing commitment to eradicating a discriminatory practice that is out of step with Canadian values.
Our government is committed to protecting the human dignity and equality of members of the LGBTQ2 community by ending conversion therapy in Canada.
The bill delivers on that commitment and complements other measures, including former Bill , which provides increased protection for transgender Canadians in the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act.
I am pleased to present another initiative that will further protect LGBTQ2 people from discriminatory practices.
So-called conversion therapy refers to misguided efforts to change the sexual orientation of bisexual, gay and lesbian individuals to heterosexual; change a person's gender identity to cisgender; or repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour. Conversion therapy can take many forms, including counselling, behavioural modification and talk therapy, and may be offered by professionals, religious officials or laypersons.
This practice is a manifestation of the myths and stereotypes surrounding LGBTQ2 individuals. More specifically, it suggests that sexual orientation other than heterosexual and gender identity other than those genders can and must be corrected. This type of discriminatory message stigmatizes LGBTQ2 individuals and violates their dignity and their right to equality.
Conversion therapy has also been discredited and denounced by many professional associations as harmful, especially to children. For example, in its 2014 position paper on mental health care for people who identify as LGBTQ2, the Canadian Psychiatric Association stated that it opposes the use of conversion therapy given that the practice is based on the assumption that LGBTQ2 identities indicate a mental disorder and that LGBTQ2 people could or should change their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Canadian Paediatric Society has identified the practice as “clearly unethical”, and the Canadian Psychological Association, in its policy statement on conversion therapy, opposes the practice and takes note of the fact that “Scientific research does not support [its] efficacy”.
The position of these professional associations and of many other Canadian and international associations reflects the scientific evidence that people subjected to this practice must deal with its negative effects such as anxiety, self-hate, depression, suicidal ideation and attempted suicide.
Studies indicate that children are particularly susceptible to these negative effects. For example, research shows that negative mental health outcomes among youth who have been exposed to conversion therapy include, in addition to the negative impacts I have already mentioned, high levels of depression, lower life satisfaction, less social support and lower socio-economic status in young adulthood.
What do we know about conversion therapy in Canada?
Thanks to the community-based Sex Now survey, we have a better picture of who is most affected by conversion therapy. The survey's most recent results, from 2019-20, indicate that as many as 20%, or one in five, of respondents had been exposed to the practice, so we know that this harmful practice is currently happening in Canada. Moreover, a recent Canadian Journal of Psychiatry article that interpreted the Sex Now survey's previous results indicates that transgender, indigenous, racial minority and low-income persons are disproportionately represented among those who have been exposed. It also notes that transgender overrepresentation “may be explained by the ‘double stigma’ experienced by those who simultaneously occupy sexual minority and gender minority social positions.”
This data is significant cause for concern. Not only does conversion therapy negatively affect marginalized persons, but it negatively affects the most marginalized within that group.
Given the inherent cruelty of conversion therapy and the evidence of its effects, which are not only harmful but also discriminatory for the most marginalized, Bill C-6 proposes amendments to put an end to this practice.
First, the bill would define conversion therapy, for the purposes of the Criminal Code, as a practice, treatment or service 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.
I note that Bill 's proposed definition of conversion therapy is restricted to practices, treatments or services that are aimed at a particular purpose, that is, changing a fundamental part of who a person is. Accordingly, practices, treatments or services designed to achieve other purposes would not be captured by the definition, such as treatments to assist a person in realizing their choice to align their physical appearance and characteristics with their gender identity, and therapies that assist a person in exploring their identity, known as gender-affirming treatments.
However, out of an abundance of caution, the bill contains a “for greater certainty” clause, which clarifies that the definition would not capture certain practices, services or treatments, specifically those that relate
(a) to a person’s gender transition; or
(b) to a person’s exploration of their identity or to its development.
This clause comprehensively responds to any concern that the definition could be misinterpreted to include legitimate gender-affirming practices that help people explore their identities or realize their choice to gender transition. It is also consistent with the 2009 report of the American Psychological Association's Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, which describes affirmative therapeutic interventions for those experiencing distress, for example, because of same-sex sexual attraction. Specifically, the report notes that legitimate interventions involve exploring and countering the harmful impact of stigma and stereotypes on the person's self-concept and maintaining a broad view of acceptable choices. To be clear, legitimate gender-affirming interventions do not share the same purpose as treatments that are designed to change or suppress who a person is.
Consequently, the offences proposed by Bill C-6 do not apply to recognized therapies, first, because the main objective of gender affirming treatments is not to change a person's sexual orientation to heterosexual or to restrict their gender identity to cisgender only, or to repress or reduce attraction or sexual behaviour. In case this is still not clear, the proposed legislative measures specific to these types of practices are not included in the definition of “conversion therapy”.
Since this seems to be very important to the Leader of the Opposition, I want to explicitly reassure him. This bill does not prohibit conversations about sexuality between an individual and their parents, family members, spiritual leaders or anyone else. The legislative measure we are debating today does not prohibit these conversations, but criminalizes an odious practice that has no place in our country.
Building on its clear definition of conversion therapy, the bill would also create five new Criminal Code offences to criminalize causing minors to undergo conversion therapy, removing minors from Canada to undergo conversion therapy abroad, causing a person to undergo conversion therapy against their will, profiting or receiving a material benefit from the provision of conversion therapy and advertising an offer to provide conversion therapy.
This approach will protect all minors who are disproportionately affected by conversion therapy, whether it be provided in Canada or elsewhere. No one would be able to provide conversion therapy to minors, and no one would be authorized to take a person who is ordinarily resident in Canada abroad to receive conversion therapy.
The approach would also protect persons who are at risk of being forced to receive conversion therapy. No one would be allowed to cause another person to undergo conversion therapy.
The approach would also protect all Canadians from the commercialization of conversion therapy. No one would be allowed to profit from the practice, regardless of whether it is provided to minors or adults.
Finally, the approach would protect all Canadians from public messaging suggesting that a person's sexual orientation or gender identity can and should be changed. No one would be allowed to advertise conversion therapy, regardless of whether a fee is charged for it. Courts would also be authorized to order the seizure and forfeiture of conversion therapy advertisements or their removal from the Internet, which is similar to existing powers with respect to hate propaganda.
I cannot emphasize enough that telling someone they cannot be who they are is wrong and needs to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The balanced approach in this legislation factors in the interests of every implicated person.
To be clear, the bill's main purpose is to protect the equality rights of marginalized people in Canadian society, but we know that conversion therapy not only causes individual harms to those subjected to it, but also causes harm to all of society by sending the message that a fundamental part of who a person is, their sexual orientation or gender identity, is a transitory state that can and should be changed. Such messaging is anathema to Canadian values, as reflected in our charter, which protects the equality rights of all Canadians, including LGBTQ2 people. Respecting equality means promoting a society in which everyone is recognized at law as equally deserving of respect and consideration. This starts with promoting a society in which everyone can feel safe to be who they are. The law must provide the same protection for LGBTQ2 people as it does for others.
To promote these values, we need legislation to discourage and denounce a practice that hurts LGBTQ2 people and perpetuates the myths and stereotypes surrounding LGBTQ2 people.
As stated in the preamble of the bill, it is our duty to discourage and denounce the provision of conversion therapy, in light of all of the social and individual harms it causes. It is our duty to protect the human dignity and equality of all Canadians. That is precisely what we are doing with Bill C-6.
We recognize the proposed amendments limit certain choices, including, for example, for mature minors. We made this policy decision because research shows us that all minors, regardless of their age, are particularly vulnerable to conversion therapy's harms. Moreover, if mature minors were allowed to consent to receive conversion therapy, it would be the providers who would have to determine whether the child is mature enough to consent, but most so-called conversion therapy providers are not medical professionals and are not in a position to assess whether a minor is truly capable of making their own treatment decisions. That is why we have drawn a hard line at 18 years of age. That is the best way to protect the most vulnerable among those who are at risk of being subjected to this abhorrent practice.
We also recognize that criminalizing profiting from conversion therapy means that consenting adults would be prevented from accessing conversion therapy unless it is available free of charge. That is because deterring this harmful practice requires placing limits on its availability, and these limits assist in avoiding psychological harm to the individuals who may be subjected to it, as well as harm to the dignity and equality rights of a marginalized group.
Criminalizing advertising conversion therapy furthers that same important objective and reduces the presence of discriminatory public messaging.
Significantly, nothing in the bill limits a person's right to his or her own point of view on sexual orientation and gender identity, nor the right to express that view, including, for example, in private conversations between individuals struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity and counsellors, family members, friends or religious officials seeking to support that individual. Ensuring everyone's ability to express his or her point of view is fundamental to a free and democratic society, and this is true regardless of whether there is agreement on that point of view.
Now that I have described the proposed amendments and what they will and will not prevent, I would like to commend former Senator Joyal for his work on this issue. He introduced former Senate public bill, Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding conversion therapy, which was taken over by Senator Cormier after Senator Joyal retired. This bill had previously been known as Bill .
The proposed offences in the legislation fill a gap in the criminal law because we currently have no offence directly targeting the heinous practice of conversion therapy. Together with existing offences, the new offences would create a comprehensive criminal law response to the harms posed by conversion therapy.
Let us not forget that criminal law responses would complement existing provincial and municipal responses as well. Three provinces, Ontario in 2015, Nova Scotia in 2018 and Prince Edward Island in 2019, have enacted legislation under their responsibility for health-related matters. This legislation specifies that conversion therapy is not an insured health service and bans health care providers from providing conversion therapy to minors.
Significantly, other Canadian jurisdictions are following suit. Earlier this year, both the Yukon and Quebec introduced bills that would implement similar reforms. Although Bill is an exercise of criminal law because it would amend the Criminal Code, it is consistent with provincial health regulation.
Some Canadian municipalities, such as Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, have also prohibited companies from providing conversion therapy in their cities. All levels of government have roles to play in eliminating this harmful practice. I was pleased to get the support of my provincial and territorial colleagues when we met in January to discuss Criminal Code reforms to address conversion therapy.
There is no reason for anyone in the House to oppose this bill.
We are proud that so much is being done in Canada to address this destructive practice. Our efforts place us at the vanguard of the international community. For example, Malta is the only jurisdiction known to have criminalized various aspects of conversion therapy. Its approach criminalizes conversion therapy to vulnerable persons, which is defined as persons under the age of 16 years, persons with a mental disorder or persons considered by the court to be at risk. Malta also criminalizes advertising conversion therapy as well as involuntary conversion therapy.
The approach that we are proposing goes even further. We are proposing to protect all children under the age of 18 from conversion therapy in Canada or abroad. We are also proposing to protect all Canadians from the negative messages associated with the advertisement of this harmful practice and those profiting from it.
We hopefully will be joined by others soon. For example, in March of 2018, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning conversion therapy and urging European Union member states to ban the practice. Shortly thereafter, in July of 2018, the United Kingdom government announced that it intended to bring forward proposals to ban conversion therapy. I understand that work is ongoing.
In short, there is growing recognition worldwide of the destructive nature of this practice and acknowledgement that the criminal law is an appropriate way to address that harm.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today as the first speaker at second reading from our caucus on Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding conversion therapy, formerly Bill before COVID-19 changed our model here and we lost a few months on this legislation.
I am honoured to stand in the House of Commons today to provide some comments and feedback on the bill and at times a personal perspective, as we all share a common goal to eliminate the harmful practice of conversion therapy across Canada.
I want to start on a personal note about the debate in this chamber. In the last few weeks many colleagues have stood to ask questions and offer commentaries in the debate around Bill , on medical assistance in dying. As I mostly watched that from my office on television, I want to commend members on the tone and the civility of the debate. The questions and the debate going back and forth have been very civil, constructive and very worthy of the House and the debates that we hope to have similarly on a piece of legislation such as this.
I want to acknowledge the work of the provincial partners, as the minister mentioned in his comments, that did work in provincial jurisdictions before we were dealing with this piece of legislation in Ottawa. In Ontario in 2015, a law was passed, and in Manitoba in 2015 and Nova Scotia in 2018.
I may be a bit biased, being from Ontario, but I want to acknowledge the work that was done at Queen's Park in the provincial legislature. It is my understanding that it was the first in Canada, but also that all the parties worked together to get unanimous support for that bill, which proceeded to ban conversion therapy in the province of Ontario.
It shows how legislatures and parliamentarians from different parties can work together on issues of common concern. I believe we can achieve the same goal here in Ottawa. We all agree with the common goal, calling out conversion therapy for what it is: a terrible, inhumane, dangerous practice against the LGBTQ community that needs to be eliminated in Canada.
As I start my comments here today, I want to acknowledge the many organizations that have worked for years to raise awareness of this issue. As we debate and discuss the details of the legislation, we need to always remember the stories and the scars of those who have suffered through some form of conversion therapy.
There are many who have come forward to share their stories, to help educate us and to bring light to this issue. Unfortunately, there are some who have not been able to share their stories with us, because they are not with us anymore. The torture, the pain that they faced was too much to handle. Many suffered in silence. Too many have taken their lives because of the harms that conversion therapy caused them.
We often talk in the House about making our Parliament more diverse and reflective of Canada, by gender, by race, by profession, by sexual orientation and by lived experiences. As we debate this legislation, this is exactly why we aspire to that goal: to bring perspective from across the country, and to share stories and experiences that could help guide us all. I want to do that today for a few moments.
I have said a few times over the last year that I have talked more about my sexual orientation this past year than I have in my entire 33 years. I am a proud gay man who lives in rural eastern Ontario, and I have come to realize that my story matters. If I could get personal here for a moment, I want to talk about my story and my coming out.
It was back in 2017, in my hometown of Winchester, Ontario, a small town with lots of churches and a mix of bedroom community people working in Ottawa and people who have called the rural community home for their entire lives. People coming out maybe was not as common as it would be in downtown Ottawa or downtown Toronto or other places. I served as the mayor of my community at that time. I was out to my family and friends, and I had decided that it was important for me to let my community know that I am a proud gay man so that I could live my life openly, happily and freely.
I wrote a letter on a Sunday morning at about nine o'clock, posted it on Facebook and it went viral. I was not expecting the reaction. It was the lead story on the news channel the next day, and it went viral on Facebook.
What I was hoping from that was indifference, that people would just move on and not care, in a good way, showing how far we had come. However, what I got was the absolute opposite. The love, compassion and support I got from people was overwhelming, people from all different backgrounds and different life experiences. I find that as more people share their stories, it becomes a degree of separation.
I went to bed that night very happy and on a high. Unfortunately, it did not last too long. A couple of days later, in a community just south of my hometown, a young gay man only a couple of years younger than I was took his life. The high I had felt a few nights previous was equally emotional a couple of days later in the struggles he had faced, a variety of struggles. If that were not enough, there was a further degree of separation that broke my heart.
A friend of mine had let me know that a friend of his was a closeted gay man who had married a woman but was actually gay and struggling with his sexual orientation. He was nervous about coming out to his family, friends and community, and he hid it. He suffered and suffered in silence until he could not take it anymore.
I share these stories not because I know that any of the individuals were subject to conversion therapy, but it shows the struggles that people still face. Even with the positive experience I had with my family, friends and community, we need to acknowledge that it is not the same for everybody. We need to show compassion and care and understanding, whether someone is coming to terms with their sexual orientation or their gender identity.
Adding on something like conversion therapy to a child, any sort of therapy in that regard to change somebody, would be devastating for them to go through. What they would have to go through and what they are subjected to is so fundamentally wrong and dangerous. Subjecting a child to it to change them to be who they are not is wrong. It is dangerous and it must end.
I want to talk about the first speech our new gave here in the House when there was an opportunity to speak to this legislation when it was tabled by the . I have to say I am really proud of his response, his compassion and his understanding of the issue. He spoke of his military service. He spoke about how a fundamental part of his job, of that service, was to defend the rights of all Canadians wherever his service took him. He did that proudly in our military and he has done that as a member of Parliament here in this chamber when legislation has come forward. The NDP legislation a few years ago on gender identity was a key example of that.
I want to reflect on and put back on the record a quote from what our said that day, which really stuck with me. He said:
I stood and was counted for rights that day. As a parliamentarian, I am here to secure the rights of every Canadian, including those in the LGBTQ community, and to build an inclusive and prosperous country for all. Now, as leader of the Conservative Party, I pledge to continue this work.
Conservatives agree that conversion therapy is wrong and should be banned. No Canadian should be forced to change who they are, whether it be their sexual orientation or their gender identity. We know that too many Canadians have been harmed by this practice and, as parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in our society. That includes members of the LGBTQ community, who have been the target of degrading and dehumanizing practices in an effort to change their sexual orientation against their will. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
The bill states:
This [legislation] amends the Criminal Code to, among other things, create the following offences:
(a) causing a person to undergo conversion therapy against the person’s will;
(b) causing a child to undergo conversion therapy;
(c) doing anything for the purpose of removing a child from Canada with the intention that the child undergo conversion therapy outside Canada;
(d) advertising an offer to provide conversion therapy; and
(e) receiving a financial or other material benefit from the provision of conversion therapy.
I want to talk briefly about the details of the legislation and something that I have been able to speak about with many colleagues on different sides of the House, and even my constituents back home in Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, as they have questions and comments about the legislation. I will use a specific quote. The bill says, “repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour” as part of the definition of conversion therapy.
I want to talk about the difficulty sometimes, in my opinion and my own life experiences, of trying to come up with a definition of conversion therapy that acknowledges how conversion therapy has changed in what it is over the years. Many people think of it as electroshock therapy, a terrible, horrible practice that I hope and believe is mostly eradicated in our country. I am not saying it is completely gone, but there has been an evolution over the years of what conversion therapy is, from that visual of electroshock therapy to what is more of a repression. It is some sort of therapy session to suppress feelings: It is okay to be gay but just do not act on it, or it is okay to have a different gender identity but just do not act on it. The suppression of that thought is equally as damaging as anything else.
When we talk about that, I want to acknowledge that the latest unfortunate trends and those who promote or offer conversation therapy are not so much the vision of something we saw decades ago, but something that is treated more as a therapy, when in fact it is anything but that.
As we move forward in the debate on this legislation and when the bill hopefully gets to second reading and into committee where the bill can be studied and discussed further, my Conservative team has noted that we will be proposing a reasonable amendment that will bring even more support to this legislation. I believe it to be fair, reasonable and bipartisan. I believe it should have the support of the government. That is because I believe we can simply add the words of its own news release earlier this year to confirm what the has said before.
As I am not a legal expert, the words the acknowledged in his comments could be put into the legislation for greater certainty, saying that private conversations are not subject to criminal prosecution. I will read the quote because I believe it. It is the intent of the legislation and I believe the legislation would be better off if the minister's words in the news release were put into the legislation. He stated:
These new offences would not criminalise private 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 affirming support to persons struggling with their sexual orientation, sexual feelings, or gender identity.
I believe that to be the intent of this legislation, in my own personal view. It would be reasonable and appropriate if we could work, as the minister said, in good faith, which he has from myself and members of my party, to bring that forward and get it included.
I am happy to see that Parliament is tackling the issue of banning conversion therapy. The sooner that we put a stop to it, the more lives we will save and the better quality of life and promising future we can give young members of the LGBTQ community.
I mentioned earlier that I talk a bit more often about my sexual orientation and being a proud gay man, but something I have talked less about is my faith. I know for many Canadians in every part of this country their faith guides them in the decisions they make and values they have.
As I reflect on my own personal faith, I will say this. My faith and the values my church taught me have not guided me away from this legislation, but the opposite. They have taught me to support it, to stand up for vulnerable neighbours and friends, to show empathy and compassion, to be there and stand up for those who cannot do it on their own. That is what my faith has taught me and where it has guided me. It is guiding me to be behind this legislation and seeing it enacted as we work together through committee, third reading and eventually on to the Senate.
I will end my comments today not with debate on the specific legislation, but with a message to young gay or trans children. It is okay to be gay. It is okay to be trans. It is right for them to live their lives as who they are and be who they are. Canadians know that subjecting anyone to conversion therapy is wrong and we must protect those who are vulnerable.
I am grateful for the time today to offer my support for ending conversion therapy, for working together here in second reading, in committee and in the Senate to make this happen and get the job done together. We need to do this for the young children I mentioned and for those who are tragically not with us anymore. We must act on their stories and struggles to do better. Let us continue this work and get it done for them.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to an important bill, Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code with regard to conversion therapy. In my opinion, this bill should be passed quickly to ensure that LGBTQ2 individuals receive all the respect they deserve.
Bill C-6 proposes to amend sections of the Criminal Code in order to create offences related to the practice of conversion therapy. It is identical to Bill , which was introduced in March 2020, before Parliament shut down. I hope it will pass unanimously in the House in this 43rd Parliament.
Historically, Quebec has been a leader in human rights protection. The Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms has recognized sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination since 1977, and same-sex marriage was legalized by the National Assembly of Quebec in 2002, under the PQ government of Mr. Landry, when it instituted civil unions. Equality between Quebeckers is a fundamental value and an inalienable right in Quebec. Practices that deny the existence of a person's core identity must be condemned.
What is conversion therapy? It is 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. That is appalling.
I want every member to put themselves in the shoes of a vulnerable person and imagine just how much this can violate their identity and how much distress it can cause. I find it inconceivable that this type of treatment is still being used today because of a lack of acceptance by parents or any organization.
In Quebec, respect for gender identity and sexual orientation is an incontrovertible value, and conversion therapy violates that value.
Who are we to judge what is good for a person and to attempt to convince them that they should be different, in a society that is so inclusive and respectful of human rights? Experts say that conversion therapies are pseudoscience. Not only are they dangerous and degrading, but many studies show that, obviously, they do not work.
According to the World Health Organization, these practices represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people. Furthermore, according to the Canadian Psychological Association, conversion or reparative therapy can result in negative outcomes such as distress, anxiety, depression, negative self-image, a feeling of personal failure, and even difficulty sustaining relationships and sexual dysfunction. That is very serious. Unfortunately, it is happening here, in the shadows. I personally was appalled to learn that these practices are still being used in 2020. I am ashamed.
Let us look to the example of the courageous Gabriel Nadeau, a former member of a Pentecostal Protestant community who spoke out publicly about his painful experience undergoing conversion therapy three times. I would respectfully like to share what happened to him. Describing his therapy sessions, Gabriel said:
Four people physically held me down while the “prophet” shouted into my ears for 30 minutes, calling for the demon to get out, and they made me drink “holy olive oil”.
In my community, it was believed that homosexuality was an evil spirit, a demon. That is what I was taught, and I believed it myself. I knew that exorcisms were performed.
Here is what he said about how this kind of therapy affected him:
I think that the hardest part for me, harder even than the exorcism, was the self-rejection that followed, the feeling of being completely disgusted by myself, wanting to change completely, and being so desperate every day.... It was truly awful.
This gives me shivers. It is terrifying. As a mother, it breaks my heart. This must change, and it needs to change as fast as possible. Fortunately, as distinct as they are, Quebec and Canadian societies have a lot in common, particularly in terms of values. We agree on a number of issues and adopt similar policies that translate into progress when it comes to rights.
As the Bloc Québécois critic for living together, I want to highlight the Quebec government's initiative in protecting human rights. We welcome Bill 70, which was introduced by the Quebec justice minister with the goal of outlawing conversion therapy.
In closing, here is what Gabriel said in an interview in July 2019:
I found self-acceptance, and I realized that I didn't always have to conform to what other people wanted or thought, when it came to my sexuality or anything else. It is wonderful, and I would never go back to that religious prison.
I want to tell Gabriel and everyone watching right now that, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation, they are seen, they are loved and they are beautiful.
I am happy to say that the Bloc Québécois has always been deeply committed to protecting and promoting the rights and freedoms of the people of Quebec. I am very proud to belong to a political party that shares my values and that has always been an ally in the fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender.
For all these reasons, the Bloc Québécois supports the Criminal Code amendments in Bill . The Bloc Québécois will support this bill.
Madam Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to speak to Bill on behalf of the Bloc Québécois and on behalf of my constituents in Berthier—Maskinongé.
Members will not be surprised to hear that Bloc Québécois members support this bill, if for no other reason than to show respect for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
I must say that I have some mixed feelings. I should be thrilled to see Parliament pass such a bill and finally address this issue. However, it is 2020, and it makes absolutely no sense that this has not yet been addressed. I urge my 337 colleagues to quickly pass this bill, as my colleague from said so well.
We have a duty to protect and advocate for rights and freedoms. We have a duty to protect the equality of all Quebeckers and Canadians. We must protect them from any form of discrimination, and in particular discrimination based on sexual orientation.
We must condemn such practices, which deny the very existence of the person and do not respect their core identity. Quebec has a charter of human rights and freedoms that has prohibited all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation since 1977. Quebec has allowed civil unions between same-sex partners since 2002. We are proud of that, but we need to go one step further and respect everyone's gender identity and sexual orientation.
If my colleagues in the House take the time to read up on this and read testimonials, some of which have already been referenced this morning, it quickly becomes apparent that all of these therapies are an appalling form of violence. As my colleagues already know, the Bloc Québécois denounces all forms of violence, without exception.
Conversion therapy is one of them. They are based on a dangerous, demeaning and ineffective pseudoscience promoted by minority groups—I would even say splinter groups—related to some form of religious belief.
I am sure my colleagues would agree that we must respect people's beliefs, but that respect must be reciprocated through respect for individual freedom. As such, there are lines that cannot be crossed.
I applaud the action that the House of Commons is about to take. I also applaud the action of the Government of Quebec, which is preparing to pass similar legislation. I am pleased that the Government of Canada is recognizing, through its bill, that in a democracy, there is reason to affirm collective values and regulate religious practices that go contrary to those values under the law.
This bill seeks to prohibit forcing a person to undergo conversion therapy against their will. We also want to prohibit subjecting a child to conversion therapy or doing anything to remove children from Canada to have the them undergo conversion therapy outside the country. We want to prohibit advertising related to conversion therapy and prohibit anyone from receiving material or other benefit from providing conversion therapy.
My colleagues will have noticed that two of those points refer to children. We want to protect children and prevent them from having to endure this torture. That is the duty of any society that claims to be civilized.
Before I became a member of the House of Commons, I was a high school teacher. As such, I am very much aware of how feeling accepted, listened to and supported contributes to personal development. For 25 years, I have witnessed first-hand the upheaval of adolescence, which we all know is not always easy. Some think that it is an impossible challenge, but I have always thrived on challenge.
My thoughts go out to all the young people who are currently questioning their core identity and sexual orientation. We too, all of us, questioned ourselves in that regard when we were their age. These young people are afraid. They are full of doubt and a desire to be “normal”. They want to be popular and accepted by others. When it comes to acceptance, we also need to think about how traumatizing it must be for someone to not be accepted by their own parents and the terrible harm that would cause.
The teen years are extremely important for self-esteem. Teens may be susceptible to depression, they are exposed to tremendous social pressure and they experience a lot of frustration. Most individuals, at some point in their teen years, feel alone in the world and misunderstood by everyone.
We all question ourselves and we all, at some point, feel defiant. Parents who sometimes disapprove of their teen's behaviour should realize that it is actually a positive sign for mental health. These young people are normal, they are challenging things. That is a good thing.
As everyone knows, it is a difficult time in a person's life. Just imagine the trauma of conversion therapy, which scars people. They feel judged by their parents, they may become depressed or suicidal, and so on. The pseudo-science of transformation may appear to be successful, but just imagine how dismal it must be to not express one's true identity, to not live life to the fullest.
Let me say this to the House: it is a loss for that person and a loss for society as a whole. We must live and let live.
I will conclude by talking about my experience as a teacher. I have had the pleasure of seeing people's attitudes and judgments change over the past 25 years. I have seen homosexual relationships being formed and not subjected to the crushing judgment of others. It has been wonderful to see. Today, I am asking that we take one more step forward. Let us guarantee individual freedom.
Earlier, we heard about a young man, Gabriel Nadeau. He said that four people held him while a prophet yelled in his ears and they made him drink holy olive oil. Other accounts describe people who say the Holy Spirit dwells in them and that, in the name of Jesus, they will release the wicked devil. That is ridiculous.
Our civil society must protect youth while respecting general religious beliefs. That is our duty. How can we not be shocked or outraged by such accounts? It is utterly absurd. It is our duty to protect our children from these charlatans. That is our responsibility. Today, I appeal to the dignity of elected members.
It is our responsibility to protect young people regardless of their orientation. Let us be worthy and overwhelmingly support this bill. Statistics show that more than 47,000 men have been subjected to this type of therapy. Many organizations offer this type of therapy for a fee that can run as high as $12,000.
The World Health Organization recognizes these practices as a health threat. The Canadian Psychological Association identified the very serious adverse effects of this practice. I named them earlier: stress, anxiety, depression, and the list goes on. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights described these practices as abusive. Almost every organization around the world agrees that these practices are unacceptable. The report of the Alliance Arc-en-ciel de Québec speaks volumes and shares several accounts of confinement, assault, physical and emotional abuse, parents who failed to protect their child from bodily and mental harm by leaving them with a third party who would torture them. In fact, that is what we are talking about. Let's call a spade a spade. This is torture.
Of course Quebec society and Canadian society are distinct societies. That is a theme that comes up a lot in our speeches. However, these societies also have the privilege of sharing several common values such as the protection of individual rights, protection of the integrity of individuals, and the protection of diversity.
Today I am pleased to see that Quebec's legislative assembly and Canadian Parliament see eye to eye for once. That feels good.
Let's tell the world that being yourself whether you are gay, lesbian, transgender or any other identification is fine; it is normal. This should not even be up for debate in a parliament. Everyone—
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill today. As always, I look forward to the day that we can all be back in the chamber instead of speaking to pinhole cameras, though I am mindful of the fact that any inconveniences or challenges we face as MPs pale in significance to the impact of COVID on ordinary Canadians who have lost loved ones, lost livelihoods or who are still working on the front lines in this pandemic. These impacts have been even more strongly felt by the most marginalized among us, and especially the community I come from.
I speak today as the NDP spokesperson on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, or SOGIE for short, but I also speak as an out gay man, someone who has been out in public life for nearly three decades. I wish we had a more representative Parliament today when it comes to topics affecting my community, like conversion therapy. Unfortunately, many of those voices we should be hearing from are absent. In the House, we have only four out gay MPs, and we have no out lesbians and no transgender or non-binary MPs. We are short about 30 MPs from my community.
Some jurisdictions have done better. In fact, New Zealand just elected what has been described as the gayest Parliament in the world, at 10% representation. While it is great to celebrate this as a milestone, I might suggest a more accurate headline that goes something like “New Zealand finally elects a Parliament that nears fair representation of the SOGIE community”. Then the story would have to go on to say that the total does not include any trans or non-binary MPs, despite New Zealand having elected the first trans MP in the world, Georgina Beyer, who served from 1999 to 2007.
I also want to give a quick shout-out today to British Columbia, which has just re-elected six SOGIE MLAs. It looks like the number will still be six when the dust settles, but that is about 7% of the legislature again and ties the U.K. This is compared to a mere 1% in the House. That is a hint to both SOGIE individuals and parties when it comes to nominations for the next election, and as someone who is always recruiting, as the gay stereotype goes, I know this remains a challenge.
Why is there a long preamble on representation? I firmly believe that the most diverse parliaments make the best legislation. It is not only that diverse parliaments are likely to have more MPs with lived experience on the topics at hand, although that is true, but that, perhaps more importantly, they will have the networks in the communities they represent and in Canada as a whole to bring those diverse experiences and voices to bear on the matters at hand. Besides, it is also important to remember, as one wag once said, “If you're not at the table, you're much more likely to be on the menu.” Clearly, in this Parliament we have more work to do to make sure diverse voices are heard on the topic of conversion therapy.
When it comes to Bill , which seeks to end the practice of conversion therapy in Canada, I want to start by saying three things, at least two of which should be obvious to all but clearly are not.
The first is that no one in the SOGIE community needs to be fixed because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The prevalence of homophobia and transphobia makes it hard enough for many of us to live authentic lives as who we are, at home, at work and everywhere else in our daily lives. The very idea that we can or need to be fixed, which is fundamental to the concept of conversion therapy, only serves to reinforce homophobia and transphobia. The idea that one’s sexual orientation or gender identity could possibly be changed is especially problematic for those who, early in their lives, are still working their way toward figuring out exactly who they are. For queer youth, the idea they need to be fixed can and does contribute to both self-hate and fear of rejection by family and friends, both very damaging to mental health.
The second thing that should be obvious, which I think is to most people, is that certain sexual orientations and gender identities and expressions are not better than others. It is certainly not appropriate for governments to prefer some sexual orientations and gender identities over others. Nor is it appropriate to disadvantage or fail to protect some of our citizens because of their gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation. All of us are equally deserving of equal protection under the law, and that is the essence of the issues raised in Bill .
Finally, the third thing I want to raise at the outset of this debate is apparently less well understood, though it is a clearly established fact. It is impossible to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and as a result, conversion therapy is harmful to those who are subjected to it.
As for the outcomes of these practices, whether they are called conversion therapy, reparative therapy, aversion therapy or gender affirming therapy, those names do not really matter: The results are always the same. There is no change, and those who are subjected to therapy suffer from outcomes that include guilt and shame, depression, social isolation and often self-harm or even death by suicide.
Fortunately, I was never subjected to conversion therapy, though some in my own family were anything but accepting. I recognize now, ironically, that attempts to beat the gay out of me may have been actually less harmful in the long run than being subjected to conversion therapy. That is because the overt violence allowed me to focus the resulting anger and hostility outward rather than inward on myself.
Frankly, it is hard to imagine that some of the torture that was carried out in the past, under the name of therapy, ever actually took place. Far too many Canadians were subjected to barbaric practices, such as electroshock therapy, chemical castration and even exorcism, as we heard today. It is equally hard for me to accept the idea that conversion therapy should still be going on in Canada to this day, no less harmful in its results, even if somewhat less brutal sometimes in its means.
The fact that conversion therapy is harmful to those subjected to it is the reason this pernicious practice has been condemned internationally and domestically by health professionals. More than eight years ago, on May 17, 2012, on the 22nd anniversary of the removal of homosexuality from the list of recognized mental disorders, the World Health Organization issued a statement labelling conversion therapy to be “a serious threat to the health and well-being—even the lives—of affected people.”
Eight years ago, the World Health Organization called for action at the national level to ban and place sanctions on conversion therapy. No organization of health professionals in Canada currently approves of or allows the practice of conversion therapy. No provincial health plans allow for the practice of conversion therapy as part of the public health care system.
Conversion therapy is no longer supposed to be taking place within the formal health care system in this country, yet we know that it still goes on in the shadows. Not only is it taking place in Canada, but some Canadians are still being sent for conversion therapy in the United States. A report on conversion therapy in Canada was published in February of this year. It surveyed over 7,200 gay, bisexual and two-spirit men. More than 20% reported being subjected to some form of conversion therapy. When it comes to transgender and non-binary Canadians, the numbers approach 50%.
It is one thing to know from formal studies that this is still taking place, but it is quite another to hear the brave survivors who have come forward to tell their stories of the harm they suffered as a result. I encourage all MPs to listen carefully to those stories.
When it comes to Bill , let me say again, as we did last March and when the bill was reintroduced recently, the New Democrats will be supporting Bill C-6 at second reading. What the bill does can briefly be summarized as follows. It specifically criminalizes subjecting minors to conversion therapy and transporting minors out of Canada for the purpose of conversion therapy. It criminalizes subjecting adults to conversion therapy against their will, and it criminalizes what we call the business of conversion therapy.
The main strength of Bill is its focus on youth, for it is young people who conversion therapy is almost always directed against. It is young people who suffer the greatest harm from the attempts to force them to be someone they are not.
Its second strength is the suite of comprehensive measures to ban the practice or promotion of the business of conversion therapy, which would help ensure the practice is actually shut down by making it illegal to charge for, to profit from or to advertise conversion therapy for both minors and adults. The bill contains significant power to seek court orders to remove offending materials from online platforms.
Let me stop here for a moment to address the reddest of red herrings concerning this bill. This is the “what about” argument: “What about the rights of others?” and in particular, “What about the rights of others whose religious freedoms might be infringed by this bill?” For me, it is always a red flag when I hear arguments that start with “what about”. The resort to what about-ism is rarely about promoting real dialogue, and is instead usually a diversionary tactic to take the argument onto grounds that what about-ers think will make it easier for them to win the argument. What I am saying is that arguments that start with “what about” are most often exercises in distraction rather than attempts to confront the real issues before us.
Clause 5 of Bill says clearly that the definition of “conversion therapy” in the bill does not refer to “a person’s exploration of their identity or to its development.” This means that there is nothing in the bill that prevents parents from talking to their children about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Nothing in the bill prevents spiritual leaders from discussing these topics with their followers. Nothing in the bill prohibits anyone from holding bigoted and outdated ideas about sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. What it does prevent is taking those beliefs and ideas and turning them into hateful and harmful practices disguised as “therapy”. How the bill is an appropriate bill for a free vote is a question that I will continue to have for my Conservative colleagues.
Returning to the NDP position on the bill, again, as I have said, we will support it at second reading. However, we do believe the bill can and should be improved. What are those improvements we are looking for?
First, we would like to see the government respond positively to the demand from the SOGIE community for a full ban on conversion therapy, a ban for adults as well as for children.
The has made the argument previously that his goal here is to have a bill that is charter challenge proof. His solution has been to design Bill to avoid possible charter challenges by focusing on non-consenting adults, minors and the “business” of conversion therapy. It sets aside the question of so-called “consenting adults.”
This is a good argument in that I do believe the bill would survive a charter challenge as the provisions around the business of conversion therapy included will result in an effective ban on the practice for consenting adults, at least when it comes to paid services. However, a total ban would also survive a charter challenge. I would very much like to see any legal opinions that the government might have saying that it would not.
In brief, my argument here is that there is an equally compelling charter argument that it is a reasonable limit on fundamental rights to prohibit anyone from giving consent to a practice that is clearly harmful to those subjected to it. Without going too far down the legal rabbit hole here, there is parallel jurisprudence that has upheld restrictions on things like fight clubs, which leads me to conclude that a full ban would also be found charter compliant.
The second and perhaps more significant area in which the bill can be improved is in the language used to define what conversion therapy is. The language in Bill is actually pretty good when it comes to the traditional conversion therapy practice directed at sexual orientation. I am also glad that there is language in the bill attempting to ensure it covers banning conversion therapy directed at trans and non-binary Canadians.
This kind of practice is often styled as “gender-affirming therapy” or “transition treatment” or other such positive-sounding names. However, this is where the language in the bill is not so good. The committee will need to have a close look at this clause of the bill to ensure it is as comprehensive and up to date with current practice as possible when it comes to so-called therapies aimed at transgender and non-binary Canadians.
Now let me address a bit of revisionist history that has crept into the discussion of the bill. I want to take a moment to remind the House how we got here to second reading on a bill to ban conversion therapy. Of course elected officials have played a role, but not everyone who is on side now was always there.
Former Saskatoon West NDP MP Sheri Benson, the only out lesbian in the previous Parliament, sponsored petition e-1833 in the last Parliament, which called on the government to ban conversion therapy. That petition received nearly 20,000 signatures. When the petition was presented to the government in March of 2019, the Liberal government said it would take no action as it argued conversion therapy was a provincial responsibility.
In his 2019 Pride message, the NDP Leader, the member for , called for a ban as part of the NDP Platform. The Liberals still refused to budge. Then on September 29, in the midst of the election campaign just over a year ago, the suddenly changed course and promised a federal ban on conversion therapy. His December 2019 mandate letter for the included instructions to bring forward legislation to ban conversion therapy. I thank the minister for doing so and I welcome this conversion. I have no doubt also in the sincerity of his intentions to get a bill through this Parliament, which will end this practice.
However, let me stress today as always that no progress on SOGIE rights has ever taken place that has not been fought for by courageous members of our community and no place has that role been more important than in the case of brave conversion therapy survivors who have stepped up to tell their stories. Without them, the rest of us might have gone on blithely assuming that formal professional condemnation of conversion therapy was enough and had actually stopped this practice.
I cannot name all those who have spoken up, but let me quickly point to two who have helped deepen my understanding of how harmful this practice can be and how it continues to go on. I thank Erika Muse and Matt Ashcroft for speaking boldly and publicly.
There are days when the younger me is still surprised that I can stand in the House of Commons and speak as an openly gay man, and even more surprised that I do so as an official party spokesperson on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. However, there are also days when I am discouraged about the long distance we still have to go to reach full equality and acceptance, especially for transgender and non-binary Canadians. There are also days when I am hopeful that we will soon see more MPs from my community, including trans and non-binary representatives. We need those diverse voices in the House and young Canadians need to see those role models.
It is time to act and in fact long past the time to bring an end to this harmful practice. As welcome as new laws banning the practice are, new laws alone will not be sufficient to repair the past damage from conversion therapy nor combat the hate that underlies these practices. The government will need to fund capacity building within the SOGIE community so these challenges can be addressed by our community ourselves. Unfortunately, for some from our community it is far too late and they will never be able to be brought back to us.
I look forward to the speedy passage of the bill so we can get on with the important work of healing. I look forward to the day when we can say that all forms of conversion therapy have been banned from Canada and are no longer practised. I look forward to the day we can fully celebrate the full range of sexual and gender diversity in our country.