Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I continue with my comments from yesterday.
After listening to the debate yesterday, I wanted to highlight a couple of important points that were made. I believe the most important one is that people should feel free to be who they are. The consequences of societal pressures on people to conform to something they are not cause a great deal of stress and anxiety that leads to some very severe consequences. We heard about some of those consequences yesterday. The most extreme of these, of course, which is a sad reality, is that some people will ultimately commit suicide. This is not to mention the many other things that will take place as a result of society and attitudes that really need to change.
This is not to say we have not made progress. I am 58 years old, and in my generation there has been a great deal of change over the years. I am encouraged by that. Yesterday one of my colleagues said that we want to make Canada the safest place to fall in love, and that speaks of Canada's rich diversity. Diversity goes far beyond our wonderful ethnic diversity. It should incorporate all aspects of the human being and our society in general, and we should be very proud of it.
As I have indicated, I truly believe in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms and how important our standing in the world is regarding the degree to which we recognize the importance of freedom. I am therefore encouraged to see this legislation. What I found really encouraging yesterday, in listening to discussions on the issues of conversion therapy, is that it seems everyone inside the House opposes it and sees the type of harm it causes in society. A number of members have raised issues and wanted some clarification, but on principle, the House appears to be unanimous in its thinking regarding the dangers of conversion therapy. I hope we will see unanimous support for this legislation, because I believe it is worth being supported by all members of this chamber.
I will be specific with what the legislation would criminalize. We should all note this. It would criminalize causing a person under the age of 18, a minor, to undergo conversion therapy; removing a minor from Canada to undergo conversion therapy abroad; causing a person to undergo conversion therapy against their will; receiving financial or other material benefits from the provision of conversion therapy; and advertising an offer to provide conversion therapy. The essence of what this bill would do is protect minors from conversion therapy regardless of whether it is provided within or outside of Canada, protect adults who are vulnerable to being forced to undergo conversion therapy and protect Canadians from the commercialization of conversion therapy.
I see this as a positive step forward, and I want to reflect on some of the comments I made yesterday, and already this morning, on the degree to which things have changed.
I can recall my school days quite vividly, and I had no sense of what “gay” was. It was not even talked about in school. I had no sense, in terms of any type of behaviour, of what was being perceived or pushed on from the norms of society. It was not until the latter years of high school I started to get a sense there was a part of life that I was not privy to, or that was frowned upon.
When I went into the Canadian Forces, I really started to see discrimination against people who were gay, and the negative impacts of being gay. I suspect I do not need to cite specific examples for people to understand some of the things I am implying with that statement.
Once I entered the political realm in the mid-eighties, things were taking place that were actually fairly encouraging. For example, the Pride parade in Winnipeg was established in 1987. It was not meant to be a Pride parade, per se, but it was a gathering of people with respect to an action from the Manitoba legislature. The action would have included sexual orientation as part of the Manitoba Human Rights Code. Hundreds of people were gathering, either to protest the fact that it did not pass or to celebrate the fact it did pass. It turned into a parade. That was really significant back in the eighties.
Fast-forwarding 25 years, it is really encouraging to look at the Manitoba legislature. Located in downtown Winnipeg in a beautiful building, the chamber, with its horseshoe shape, is one of the finest debating chambers in Canada and possibly even North America. Huge Roman heritage pillars are at the very front of the building. It has a beautiful lawn. About 25 years after that first Pride parade, we saw a celebration and the different colours of the rainbow shining up the pillars. We recognized just how far we have come. It was part of a week of Pride celebrations.
We need to think of the impact that has on our community. It is very difficult for us to comprehend the pressures people are under when hiding their feelings. Because of my upbringing, it is very hard for someone like me to imagine that. I can only attempt to understand the difficulty of young people, in particular, dealing with a very difficult situation in their school, home or work lives. The least I can do is to encourage that freedom where I can. Bill is a good example. It sends a positive message, but the work is not done. We can still do so much more.
The other thing I am very proud of is the fact that Glen Murray was the first openly gay mayor of a major urban centre in Canada: my home city of Winnipeg.
I thank Glen Murray and Randy Boissonnault from the Liberal caucus, both people I have known over the years who have been such strong advocates, and my daughter to a certain degree, for making sure I am sensitive and have a better, more comprehensive understanding of an issue that is important to all of us.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
When the government said it was going to crack down on conversion therapy, the Bloc Québécois was very pleased, especially since the government had previously said it could do nothing following an April 2019 petition to ban the practice.
The Bloc Québécois views conversion therapy not as a medical procedure but as a barbaric practice designed to negate an individual's identity. Conversion therapy is pseudoscience. It is dangerous and degrading for those subjected to it, and it is totally ineffective to boot. People who provide sexual reorientation therapy are not health professionals. No self-respecting professional could provide this so-called service without realizing that it is essentially an affront to their profession.
This is 2020. It is about time we acknowledged that attraction to individuals of the same sex is a normal variation of human behaviour. It is therefore our duty to protect the victims of conversion therapy proponents, who tend to have very conservative religious views. We know the groups that promote conversion therapy are small and marginal, but we want to reaffirm that respecting beliefs goes hand in hand with respecting differences and ensuring the equality of all. Members of the LGBTQ2 community must get the respect they deserve as soon as possible.
Historically, Quebec has been a leader in human rights. The Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms has recognized sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination since 1977. It should also be noted that the gay and lesbian community has made significant gains since 1999. For example, in June 1999, the Government of Quebec passed Bill 32 to amend various legislative provisions concerning same-sex couples. Other bills followed. Bill C-23 passed on January 1, 2001, and Bill 84 passed in June 2002. The federal government passed Bill C-38 on June 28, 2005. Even public and parapublic sectors negotiated protections for the LGBTQ2 community into their collective agreements.
Just because certain rights were recognized, including the recognition of same-sex spouses, it does not mean that every barrier of discrimination against homosexuality will come down overnight. These were important gains, but members of that community might agree that despite these societal advances, there is still a lot of work to do to eliminate the discrimination they endure. For gay youth and adults, the path to equality is strewn with many obstacles including ignorance and prejudice, labelling and discrimination, harassment and aggression.
Not so long ago, epidemiologist Travis Salway found that suicide is the leading cause of death among gay and bisexual men in Canada and he tried to understand why. He believes this is related to what is known as minority stress, which often leads to persistent negative thoughts and a feeling of despair. What is more, Mr. Salway has officially spoken out against sexual reorientation therapy.
In Canada, 47,000 sexual minority men have undergone conversion therapy. We do not have the figures for women, but that is a significant number of men. In Quebec, Gabriel Nadeau, a former member of a Pentecostal Protestant community who went through conversion therapy not once, not twice, but three times, has been speaking out on behalf of people who are being asked to be heterosexual despite being strongly attracted to someone of the other sex. His testimony is chilling:
In my community, it was believed that homosexuality was an evil spirit...I knew that exorcisms were performed.
That sounds like a movie.
Mr. Nadeau now accepts himself for who he is. He says that he would never return to his religious prison. I commend him for his strength and resilience, and I wish him all the best.
Not all stories end well, however. Conversion therapy can leave deep scars, as explained by the Canadian Psychological Association. It notes that such practices can result in negative outcomes such as distress, anxiety, depression, negative self-image, social isolation, a feeling of personal failure, difficulty sustaining relationships and sexual dysfunction.
The members of the Bloc Québécois are unanimously opposed to conversion therapy, because we believe that 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. We are pleased to see what is happening here, in the House of Commons.
In Quebec, respect for gender identity and sexual orientation is a value, and conversion therapy violates that value. That is why we will be supporting Bill , which amends the Criminal Code to criminalize the following: causing a person to undergo conversion therapy against the person's will; causing a child to undergo conversion therapy; doing anything for the purpose of removing a child from Canada with the intention that the child undergo conversion therapy outside Canada; advertising an offer to provide conversion therapy; and receiving a financial or other material benefit from the provision of conversion therapy.
The Bloc Québécois has always been deeply committed to protecting and promoting the rights and freedoms of citizens. We have always been quick to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation. In fact, Quebec is following suit, as it is also looking at legislation. The Bloc Québécois is certainly very pleased that both parliaments are recognizing that, in a democracy, there is good reason to affirm collective values and regulate religious practices that go contrary to those values under the law.
I will end on a somewhat more personal note. I have always believed that what parents want first and foremost is for their children to be happy and for there to be no obstacles to this happiness. When my son told me he was gay, I felt sad. I was not sad because he was homosexual, but because I knew that he would face discrimination and have to endure insults. Like many others, he has been the victim of homophobia.
By passing Bill , I believe that we will help create a society where the LGBTQ2 community will be better protected. I also believe that it is our duty to work with this community to help them to overcome the prejudices they experience.
Madam Speaker, I am very proud to rise today to speak to Bill , which amends the Criminal Code with regard to conversion therapy. I already had the opportunity to speak to this subject some time ago in response to the , and that, too, was an honour for me.
My speech today will focus on three things. First, I will talk about the importance of this bill for the LGBTQ+ community. Second, I will show how Quebec is once again at the forefront on this issue. Third, I will conclude with what I hope to see in the post-pandemic era for the LGBTQ+ community, which has been hard hit by COVID-19.
We are debating this bill today because the government has finally decided to not only ban but also criminalize the practice of conversion therapy. According to several witnesses, some of these practices are more like torture than genuine therapy. Conversion therapy has also been described as being like witchcraft or something out of a bad dream. It is hard to believe this is still happening today, in 2020.
I think that we can all agree that this practice, which is promoted and supported primarily by religious groups, is based on the idea that homosexuality is unnatural and wrong, that it is one of the most serious sins and that it could lead a person straight to hell.
Unfortunately, homophobia still exists in 2020. Expressions of it can be seen practically every day. It is frankly unacceptable that religious groups continue to stigmatize homosexuality. People in this community should not have to live in fear any longer. Human beings should not be subjected to goodness knows what kind of therapeutic process to become someone they simply are not.
Many of us know people in our circles who have admitted how hard it still is to come out of the closet and affirm their identity. This bill does not solve all the problems of the LGBTQ+ community, but it is clearly an important step in advancing the debate.
Let's get back to the issue before us today, namely conversion therapy. The media has already shared the story of a boy from Quebec who underwent one of these so-called conversion therapies, and my colleague has referenced this case, too. Anyone who takes the time to really pay attention to his story cannot help but feel empathy for him. No one could condone inflicting such anguish on someone, or imagine that a child could feel such deep self-hatred.
As the aunt of a niece and two nephews who I want to see grow up happy, I find it hard to believe that this boy's family did not have good intentions. However, his religion and his intense desire to not disappoint his loved ones or his God pushed him to use his own money to pay for so-called reparative therapy that would make him “normal”. He even went so far as to describe conversion therapy as social support for self-rejection. I have mentioned that powerful, sad turn of phrase before.
What is even sadder is that this story echoes that of many children and adolescents who just want to be loved and fit in. I appreciate this government bill for trying to prevent this type of situation from happening again.
The government can obviously count on my support and that of all my colleagues, including our leader. At a press conference I attended with him, he said that members of the LGBTQ+ community must get the full respect they deserve as soon as possible, just like anyone else.
Many countries have led the way in criminalizing conversion therapy. Quebec recently started the process too, when our Minister of Justice, Simon Jolin-Barrette, introduced Bill 70 in the National Assembly. Bill 70 is called “An Act to protect persons from conversion therapy provided to change their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression”.
I also want to mention that in 2018, Theresa May, the then prime minister of Great Britain, described conversion therapy intended to change an individual's sexual orientation as an “abhorrent practice”.
The awful thing is that the vast majority of gay individuals ended up estranged from their families. They went off to live their lives and tried to deny who they were. Some even went through conversion therapy against their will before finally deciding to be who they really are.
It is very hard to put ourselves in their shoes and imagine what it is like to go through conversion therapy. Eventually, people realize that they need to stop bowing to all the pressure and acknowledge that it is not working. Conversion therapy does not transform people. Instead, people realize that it does not reflect who they really are.
Many have spent decades trying to fight against themselves with therapy, fighting their true nature, and asking themselves a lot of questions, asking themselves why. Some even wonder why they were born in their body, why they feel as they do, why they have a given gender. They wonder who they really are. They end up hating or despising themselves. We do not want anyone to get to that point.
People who have gone through this kind of therapy are survivors. Now we can use Bill , the conversion therapy bill, to send them a clear social and political message and take those first steps. My hope for every member of the LGBTQ+ community is not just to survive, but to be able to live in a way that is true to who they are, how they feel and who they love.
It seems that members of this community experience greater negative psychological impacts as a result of the pandemic than the rest of the population. Robert-Paul Juster, IUSMM researcher and professor of psychiatry at the University of Montreal explained:
There is a consensus that the LGBT community is at a greater risk of experiencing problems in the context of the COVID crisis simply because they do not have access to the same resources as heterosexual or cisgender people...Yes, there is a greater vulnerability due to their minority status, but there is also a greater potential for resilience.
Resilience is what I wish for them.
I would like to add one last thing. Pope Francis's statement in favour of the civil union of same-sex couples is perceived as a great demonstration of openness by experts and groups that advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. The head of the Catholic Church defended the right of gay couples, the “children of God”, to live in a civil union that protects them legally, as we can hear in the documentary Francesco, which is about the Pope and was shown last Wednesday for the first time at the Rome Film Fest. He stated that homosexual people “have a right to a family. What we need is to legislate civil unions, as they have a right to be legally covered. I defended this.” The Conseil québécois LGBTQ considers this to be a significant step for the church, which needs to adapt to our societies.
As the Bloc's critic for seniors, I want to point out that LGBTQ+ seniors, who faced prejudice and were confined during the pandemic without any resources, experienced a form of sexual mistreatment. We need to be there for them as we move forward, and this bill is an important step. We are sending a message so that the community can assert itself. Psychologists do not recognize that conversion therapy works. We must take action to prevent more suicides and to protect their rights.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I would like to start by acknowledging that I am speaking from the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.
I am proud to speak today in favour of Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code in regard to conversion therapy. The bill would amend the Criminal Code to criminalize conversion therapy related conduct. The proposed amendments would protect minors from conversion therapy both within and outside of Canada, adults who are vulnerable to being forced to undergo conversion therapy and Canadians from the commercialization of conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy refers to alleged treatments that seek to change the sexual orientation of bisexual, gay and lesbian individuals to heterosexual, a person's gender identity to cisgender and to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or non-conforming sexual behaviour. This outdated and much maligned practice comes in many forms including counselling, behaviour modification and talk therapy.
In our 2019 platform, the government made a commitment to protect the dignity and equality of LGBTQ2 Canadians by ending the dehumanizing practice of conversion therapy. The bill supports that promise and builds on other related measures, including those from the last Parliament when we strengthened protections for transgender people in the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act, through the former Bill .
I had the pleasure of joining the health committee in the last Parliament for the study on the health of LGBTQ2 Canadians. A number of witnesses spoke about the negative impact that so-called conversion therapy has. I always hesitate to use the word “therapy” because therapy to me implies something positive while there is nothing at all positive about this discriminatory practice.
While many witnesses spoke about this issue, I want quote Dr. Travis Salway, post-doctoral research fellow at the school of population and public health at the University of B.C. who testified at committee. He said:
Conversion therapy is an umbrella term for practices that intend to change an individual's sexual orientation and gender identity. It is among the most extreme forms of psychological abuse and violence, leaving those exposed to manage the stress associated with a severe form of withholding for many years. ...conversion therapy has been unequivocally denounced by the Canadian Psychological Association and multiple other professional bodies.
Despite those denouncements, in a recent Canadian survey, 4% of sexual minority men reported having attended conversion therapy. On this basis, as many as 20,000 sexual minority men and countless more sexual minority women and transgender people have been exposed. Exposure to conversion therapy was associated with numerous health problems in the study we conducted. Most notably, one-third of those who had completed conversion therapy programs attempted suicide.
Sexual minority youth are especially vulnerable to being enrolled in conversion programs against their will, yet in Canada we lack federal policies to protect our youth from these harmful practices. Many, if not most, conversion programs are practised outside health care providers' offices. Thus, the current situation in which some provinces ban conversion practices by a subset of providers is insufficient and inequitable....
Suicide attempts, suicide ideation, treatment for anxiety or depression and illicit drug use were all higher in those who had attended conversion therapy. The health consequences are quite large. That suggests to me that as an infringement, as an assault, putting someone into conversion therapy, especially youths who aren't able to choose for themselves, is quite a serious offence....
Dr. Salway's testimony was echoed by other witnesses, which led the health committee to recommend, “That the Government of Canada work with the provinces and territories to eliminate the practice of conversion therapy in Canada and consider making further modifications to the Criminal Code.” The bill we are debating today fulfills this recommendation, as well as the calls from advocates and the medical profession and our own commitment to end the abhorrent practice of conversion therapy.
Yesterday, the member for spoke eloquently and passionately about the bill. He quite accurately described a number of red herrings that are circulating to discredit the bill and create confusion in the public. The bill would in no way criminalize affirming support to those struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity, given by friends, family members, teachers, social workers or religious leaders.
I have seen a flyer circulated by Campaign Life Coalition claiming that the bill would “deny spiritual guidance and pastoral care for people who identify as LGBT even if they ask for it”, and that “Many Canadians have seen their lives turned around by turning to clinical therapy, prayer and spiritual counselling to overcome unwanted same sex attraction”.
There were more absurd and troubling claims made, but I am not going to justify them by repeating them here in the House of Commons. I am deeply disturbed by these claims, which are fundamentally based on the belief that sexual orientation and gender identity are a choice that an individual makes. They ignore the very real harms of conversion therapy: self-hatred, depression, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.
These claims and the practice of conversion therapy as a whole also perpetuate harmful myths and stereotypes about LGBTQ2 people, in particular, that sexual orientation other than heterosexual and gender identities other than cisgender can and should be changed. This type of discriminatory messaging stigmatizes LGBTQ2 persons, undermines their dignity and goes against our shared goal of equality.
Given conversion therapy's proven harms and its impact on the most marginalized among us, this bill would define conversion therapy for Criminal Code purposes 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.”
Secondly, this legislation will 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.
Our government's approach will protect all minors from conversion therapy because we know that minors are disproportionately impacted by this harmful practice. The offences I listed above, taken together, fill a gap in the criminal law by specifically addressing conversion therapy conduct. They respond to the evidence and, together with existing offences that address aspects of conversion therapy such as assault and forcible confinement, create a comprehensive criminal law response to the harms that conversion therapy is known to cause.
The proposed offences in the bill would not include legitimate therapies, primarily because gender-affirming practices, treatments and services do not aim to change a patient's sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender, nor are they aimed at repressing or reducing non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour. For greater clarity, the legislation also states that these types of practices are not captured by the definition of conversion therapy.
I want to emphasize that this legislation does not seek to, nor would it, ban open-ended conversations between an individual and a parent, another family member, faith leader or anyone else about their sexuality. Despite the claims of the and organizations like Campaign Life, this legislation would not ban talking, but it would criminalize a heinous practice that inflicts very real and documented harms to LGBTQ2 Canadians.
We want a country that respects the differences between us. In Canada, everyone must not only feel safe to be who they are, but actually be safe. Bill would assist in ensuring that everyone feels considered, accepted, respected, valued and safe. I urge all members of this House to support this important bill.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise in debate on Bill , which seeks to ban conversion therapy in this country. Let us make no mistake; the proposed legislation is revolutionary. It would make Canada’s laws on conversion therapy the most progressive and comprehensive in the world.
Conversion therapy is a degrading practice that targets LGBTQ2 Canadians to try to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, and can lead to lifelong trauma. There is widespread consensus in the medical community that conversion therapy is extremely harmful.
A recent study in the United States found almost 30% of LGBTQ2 youth who had experienced conversion therapy had attempted suicide. Let us think about that for a moment. Let us think about our duty as legislators, our responsibility to prohibit practices that endanger the very lives of the people we aim to protect and serve.
As with other pieces of legislation, in favour of which I have spoken, Bill , for me, is also about freedom: the freedom for everyone to be who they are, the freedom to express one's gender, the freedom to express one's sexual orientation, the freedom from being forced to change and the freedom from being enticed to change by others. It is the freedom to be ourselves and only we know who that is. This is the freedom we should want for all Canadians.
I hope the House will stand firm and vote unanimously to support the bill, which will send a clear message to the LGBTQ2 community, to our young people and to the entire world.
I would like to take a moment to pay tribute to the many community organizations that have fought for the rights of transgender people and the entire LGBTQ2 community and continue to do so.
Back home in Mile-End, I have had the privilege of speaking with people from Fraîchement Jeudi, a community radio program that gives a voice to Montreal's LGBTQ2 community. I am also thinking of the Centre de solidarité lesbienne, located in my riding, which provides support to lesbians who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, grief, difficulty coming out or any other difficulties related to their well-being.
Montreal is home to many other organizations. Here are just a few: the Fondation Émergence, which combats homophobia and transphobia; RÉZO, which offers psychological support to LGBTQ2 men; and the Groupe de recherche et d'intervention sociale, or GRIS-Montréal, which works to raise awareness, especially in schools. We often think about Montreal's pride parade, which, under normal circumstances, draws millions of Montrealers. These organizations work day in and day out to ensure the inclusion of everyone in our society, no matter who they love.
Our laws and especially our Criminal Code are tools we can use to protect the most vulnerable and to prevent and remedy injustices. The bill before us is progressive and comprehensive. It bans so-called conversion therapy. It goes without saying that such therapy is not based on science. This harmful and unacceptable practice rooted in homophobia, biphobia and transphobia has no place in our society.
Bill would add five offences to the Criminal Code: causing a child to undergo conversion therapy; removing a child from Canada with the intention that the child undergo conversion therapy; causing a person to undergo conversion therapy against the person's will; advertising an offer to provide conversion therapy; and receiving a financial benefit from the provision of conversion therapy.
Before I move to the details of this important bill, I would also like to recognize the incredible advocacy of a member of my community in Outremont. Dr. Kimberley Manning is an associate professor of political science at Concordia University. She is also a fierce advocate for transgender rights and one of the directing minds behind the website GenderCreativeKids.ca, as well as a not-for-profit organization serving the parents of gender non-conforming children. We owe a debt of gratitude to her and to all parents who have advocated tirelessly for the rights of their children and for minors everywhere.
The bill before us proposes five new Criminal Code offences related to conversion therapy, including, first and foremost, causing a minor to undergo conversion therapy. It would also ban the removal of a minor from Canada to undergo conversion therapy abroad, make it an offence to cause a person to undergo conversion therapy against their will, make it illegal to profit from providing conversion therapy, as well as ban any advertising for conversion therapy and authorize courts to order the seizure of conversion therapy publicity or their removal from the Internet.
Conversion therapy can come in many different forms. It may last an hour, a week, months or years, and it is always incredibly damaging. Conversion therapy is designed to convince a person that they are living a lie and to renounce their homosexual or bisexual orientation, or gender identity, in the case of a trans or non-binary person.
I want to talk about the extent and impact of this practice. The statistics speak volumes. In February 2020, the Community-Based Research Centre, a Vancouver organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ men's health released interim findings of its Sex Now Survey. The findings of this survey of 7,200 people show the extent of this practice in 2020.
In Canada, nearly 20% of sexual minority men report having every experienced sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression change efforts. Of them, nearly 40% have experienced conversion therapy in Canada. Younger men, and two-spirit, trans and non-binary respondents are more likely to be targeted by coercion.
These therapies have many repercussions. Undergoing conversion therapy is associated with various psychosocial outcomes such as depression, anxiety, social isolation and delay in coming out. These are serious impacts.
A person who has undergone conversion therapy, especially a young person, will have experienced trauma and will live with the consequences their entire life, at the expense of their mental health. That person will feel that they are not authentic, that they should be ashamed of their identity, that they must live a lie or even that they do not deserve to live.
Many adults who survived this injustice in their youth have described how they are still unable to establish a relationship of trust with their family, peers and colleagues. In some cases, they even find it difficult to pursue their studies or get a job. They often say that they even find it difficult to have a healthy intimate relationship or live their gender identity to the fullest.
Even worse, we know that these practices can lead our children, brothers, sisters, friends and colleagues in the LGBTQ+ community to have suicidal ideation and even act on it. How can we tolerate this in Canada in 2020?
The practice of conversion therapy, indeed, cannot be tolerated. On the one hand, it causes such psychological trauma as to lead individuals, statistically, to much higher rates of depression and suicide. On the other hand, the underlying rationale for conversion therapy runs antithetical to our values as a country: our values of freedom and liberty, the premise that every Canadian should be free to love whomever they choose and to express their individuality however they choose. This is yet one more step in our visceral drive as human beings to express ourselves and our most fundamental identity the way that we decide.
“You know, nothing makes God happier than when two people, any two people, come together in love. Friends, family, we're gathered here today to join Carol and Susan in holy matrimony.”
Twenty-six years ago now, 14-year-old me watched Ross Geller walk his ex-wife down the aisle to be married to her lesbian partner. At the time, it was quite the thing, one of the first mainstream television portrayals of a non-straight wedding. This episode of Friends was censored in parts of the U.S. and was aired nearly 10 years before same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada.
For 40-year-old me to be standing here debating this bill, it makes me ask why, but it is necessary. I cannot believe that we need to debate the bill, yet here we are. Even though our society has made progress in removing barriers to equality of opportunity for the LGBTQ+ community, which I will refer to as “the community” throughout my speech, these Canadians still face significant discrimination and marginalization. The topic of the bill is one facet that reflects and contributes to this marginalization.
Today I want to describe what the bill would do, why it is important and why it should be supported, and clarify confusion on some issues that have arisen around its form and structure.
First, I want to discuss what so-called conversion therapy is. In the words of my dear friend and brother from a different mother, Brian Hearn, “it isn't therapy, it's abuse, it's torture.” Brian is right. It is abuse and it is a violation of basic human rights.
According to the Canadian Psychological Association, conversion therapy refers to “any formal therapeutic attempt to change the sexual orientation of bisexual, gay and lesbian individuals to heterosexual.” This definition has generally been updated to include methods that aim to change the gender identity or gender expression of an individual. This practice is rooted in the false and outdated assumption that homosexuality and other forms of gender and sexual diversity are mental disorders that can be “cured”. This is a position that medical practitioners around the world have rejected for some years.
Many leaders from conversion therapy organizations, sometimes called the ex-gay movement, have since denounced the practice as clearly harmful and many of their leaders have even come out as LGBTQ+ themselves.
There is no scientific evidence that these practices have medical merit. In fact, it is the opposite. The Canadian Psychiatric Association, for example, has called the practices “pseudoscientific.” While some people's understanding of their own sexual identity might change over time, there is no evidence that their sexual orientation, who they are sexually attracted to, changed.
The scientific and medical communities have confirmed what every member of the community already knows; that we are born loving who we are, loving who we love and that there is nothing to fix. That is where the bill comes in.
The bill would make illegal, via amendment to the Criminal Code, the following: forcing someone to undergo conversion therapy against his or her will; causing a child to undergo conversion therapy; doing anything to remove a child from Canada with the intent that the child would undergo conversion therapy outside of Canada; advertising an offer to provide conversion therapy; and receiving financial or other material benefit for from provision of conversion therapy.
Some may ask why the bill is necessary. First, there is overwhelming consensus by scientific and medical practitioners and organizations in Canada and around the world that conversion therapy is unequivocally harmful. From one Canadian survey of survivors of conversion therapy, 30% had attempted suicide following their intervention. All survivors who responded experienced harmful psychological effects, “ranging from mild distress to severe anxiety, self-hatred, and suicide attempts.”
The Canadian Psychological Association also notes distress, depression, a feeling of personal failure, difficulty sustaining relationships and sexual dysfunction as consequences of conversion therapy. Many survivors noted that recovering from this trauma was akin to recovering from any other trauma. It took years, to a whole lifetime, to deal with the pain and suffering caused by so-called conversion therapy.
Some so-called conversion therapy advocates, especially those in the United States, have claimed that conversion therapy might have positive effects for a small minority of participants. This is also categorically false.
In 2009, the American Psychological Association said of such so-called research, “nonexperimental studies often find positive effects that do not hold up under the rigor of experimentation.” It is important to note this, because these false beliefs are often held up as a reason for why the bill is not necessary.
For those who think it does not happen in Canada, think again.
Estimates range between 20,000 and 47,000 Canadians having been exposed to this vile practice. With a 30% suicide rate, think of how many Canadians have attempted to take their life because of this torture. On top of this, the systemic marginalization LGBTQ2 Canadians already face in general makes it even worse. They are more likely to experience poverty, homelessness and physical violence.
With respect to mental health, the stigma and discrimination against the community's youth produces what many researchers call minority stress, which leaves LGBTQ2 people at a higher risk of health issues.
For example, youth from the community face 14 times the risk of suicide and substance abuse than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. They also face double the risk of PTSD than their heterosexual or cisgender counterparts. A 2013 study of trans people in Ontario 15 and older found that 77% had seriously considered suicide before and 43% had attempted suicide. Among the most vulnerable to suicide were trans youth, aged 16 to 24. Importantly, the study found that suicide risk for trans individuals decreased with social, societal and parental support.
We must also discuss the economic marginalization of members of the community. Among 40,000 young Canadians who are homeless each year, studies estimate between 25% and 40% are LGBTQ2. That is between 10,000 and 16,000 homeless people in Canada. One Ontario study also found that half of all trans Ontarians lived on less than $15,000 a year.
Then there are the overt acts of violence and discrimination against the community. Between 2014 and 2018, hundreds of hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation were reported to police, constituting 10% of all hate crimes during this period. We do not even know about hate crimes on the basis of gender identity and expression during this period because there was no category for it. As such, we do not even have statistics to describe the extent of violence against trans Canadians, which we know is large, given anecdotal reports. However, other reports paint a troubling picture. A 2011 Egale Canada reported that 74% of trans students faced verbal harassment and 37% experienced physical harassment.
The Canadian Mental Health Association has shown that positive mental health and well-being for members of the community more broadly is associated with family and friend support, supportive work environments, low levels of internalized homophobia and positive responses to coming out, which is why the bill is important.
To put this more bluntly, rejection from parents, family members, religious communities, workplaces and more that members of the community face present a clear and direct threat to their equality and dignity. People end up on the street if their families reject them for being gay or trans. They end up selling their bodies if they are on the streets with no option. They end up facing violence if people hate who they are. All this is to say that banning conversion therapy will not suddenly end homophobia and transphobia in Canada, but it can make things better and it can stop stigma. This bill is a very good step in the right direction.
Now I will clarify some confusion on certain issues with regard to the bill.
Some have expressed concerns that the bill could prevent a trans person from “detransitioning”.
First, this is a phenomenon that rarely happens. A U.S.-based survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that only 0.4% of respondents detransitioned after realizing transitioning was not what they wanted. The rest who reported detransitioning, 7.6% of the 28,000 people surveyed, reported the reason for that as another reason, most often because of pressure from parents.
Second, this argument is predicated on the belief that it is easy to transition. This is patently false and painfully laughable for the many trans Canadians who are in the midst of transition today.
Wait times for gender-affirming interventions are long processes with many required medical steps and interventions. It takes time for assessments, time for referrals and time on the waiting list. The idea that trans persons are able to medically transition without any time to reflect and, as a result, they might be coerced into it is patently bunk, as is the assumption that medical transition can happen without medical supervision.
I also want to be clear that not every trans person wishes to undergo a medical transition. However, for those who do, medical transition can involve multiple courses of actions that are discussed and guided by medical professionals. These include hormone therapy, genital or chest surgeries or other gender confirming surgeries.
If we take the case of genital surgery in Ontario, a person needs two assessments recommending surgery from a doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner, social worker or psychologist and both of these assessments must confirm persistent gender dysphoria, not transitional gender dysphoria. Therefore, it must be clear that this has been happening over a period of time and the person must have taken 12 months of hormone therapy already. This just does not happen overnight or on a lark.
My friend Hannah Hodson, here in Ontario, wanted me to share her experience. She first started speaking to a therapist, then met with many doctors and it took her over a year to first get her first hormone prescription. At the time, she was a 32-year-old adult living in the easiest province in Canada to do it, because Ontario operates on informed consent for adults. That is not the case in many other parts of our country.
The assertion that it is easy for a child to transition in Canada or that medical transition happens without rigorous oversight is also bunk. For children in Canada, they and their parents would first have to start by speaking to a medical professional and likely a gender therapist. For children transitioning, changes are usually 100% social; that is, how they act, how they dress. It is only under the strict oversight of medical professionals that someone could access even reversible interventions like puberty blockers. In terms of gender-affirming surgeries, by way of medical practice standards in Canada, they do not really happen before age 18 anyway.
These assumptions are also rooted in the basis of an overly simplified and scientifically rejected perception of gender as solely relating to sex or genitals. The concept of gender identity is about relating to the world, not just genitalia. Many trans people choose to live without those surgeries and it does not make them any less than who they are. However, for many people, that gender-affirming care is what they need to live as a fully functioning member of society.
Back to my friend Hannah, she said, “I always joke that there is no way I would willingly do this if it wasn’t who I am. I was living as a straight presenting white man, I had won the jackpot.” The decision to transition is not made on a lark because an out trans person still faces enormous challenges even in Canada. Trans people face incredible rates of abuse and harassment. According to a 2011 Egale survey, 74% of trans students report verbal harassment and 37% report physical harassment.
Hannah can maybe now go to 35 countries safely, maybe. In Ontario, even today, people send her threats or call her a freak when she is walking down the street, and she lives in one of the most accepting cities in Canada. If anyone ever does this to Hannah, she should tell them to come talk to me.
Another recent study showed that 45% of trans people in a survey sampled have committed suicide. However, there is hope. With strong family support, that rate drops by 93%. Therefore, to fully refute the notion that somehow the bill hurts trans persons in any way, it is the opposite. It will reduce the stigma they face and stop a form of violence against them.
It has also been suggested that the bill may criminalize private conversations, particularly between a parent and a child or a religious leader and a parishioner. I believe this to be false after reading the bill.
First, uncoerced conversations, including those with minors, are already protected by freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The bill would further protect this right by defining conversion therapy directly in the bill 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.”
Upon reading the bill, I believe that the phrasing “designed to” makes it crystal clear that the bill does not criminalize formal conversations between faith leaders or family members. If there are concerns regarding freedom of expression, people should rejoice. The bill would protect the values of freedom of expression, the right to expression of self and truth as it pertains to sexual orientation and gender identity, which are necessary given all the evidence of discrimination against the community that I have already presented.
It also has been suggested that the bill has the potential to criminalize prayer or religious belief. I also believe this to be a false assertion. Freedom of religious expression is an underpinning of Canada’s pluralism, which I strongly support. There is, however, a clear difference between a religious belief and a sustained effort made by somebody in a coercive setting to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In the same way, there is a difference between a general prayer and this practice as well. I believe the bill already clearly outlines these differences, for the following reason.
Most members seem to agree that banning conversion therapy is a pressing and substantive objective. Protecting the health and well-being of LGBTQ2 Canadians from clear harm is of urgent concern. As such, this bill is proportional to any potential burdens on, for example, religious freedom claims.
This bill proposes limits that are rationally connected to the goal of protecting LGBTQ2 Canadians, but it does not arbitrarily infringe on religious freedom. It does not, for example, infringe on holding anti-LGBTQ2 beliefs, which I, for the record, do not have, and I do not believe anyone should have. It only prevents them from acting on them. In my view, the spirit and value of religious freedoms is to protect individuals so they may practise their faith. Many existing provisions in our Criminal Code, however, already limit what actions might be taken in the name of that. Religious freedom does not extend to harming others.
To be clear, this does not mean that Bill somehow infringes on parents' rights to talk to their children about sex and sexuality. It does not infringe on parents' rights to hold the belief that homosexuality is wrong, which is, again, a belief I fully reject. It does not infringe on those parents' rights to express that belief either. It does, as has been stated over and over, prevent any practice, treatment, or service, designed to change someone’s sexuality or gender identity. Bill draws the line at turning that belief into a practice designed to change fundamentally who someone is, and in so doing, prevents harm to their person.
Banning conversion therapy mitigates one fraction of the violence and marginalization directed at the community, but it does not stop hate crimes, bullying and harassment. Also, it does not fix all of the other issues that I outlined before.
For those who are worried that this could somehow be a slippery slope, I would also point members to the fact that many other jurisdictions and municipalities have also, within the tools available to them within their jurisdictional responsibilities, implemented similar measures. Churches are still operating, as are mosques and gurdwaras. Society is going on, but I feel those types of regulations have sent a message to the LGBTQ2 community that society is working on some of the systemic discriminations I outlined already.
I have spent a lot of time discussing my view as a legislator today, but I would like to take a minute and explain my view on this as a human being, so I will go back to my smart and effervescent friend Hannah. She wanted me to tell the House this on her behalf: “LGBTQ people are who they are. You can’t turn or fix us. There is nothing to fix. But you can choose to love and support us instead.”
That is really what I hope we can do as a country. No amount of legislation can change hearts and minds. Only an individual commitment to compassion, understanding and kindness will do that.
I remember standing on a windy patio in Banff in July 2019. In Alberta, members of Parliament can legally perform wedding ceremonies, and on that day I had the privilege of uniting two beautiful humans in marriage. They were surrounded by loving and excited friends and family members, and there was not a dry eye in the place, including mine, because their love for each other was so infectious we could not help but revel in it. For Spencer and Jeff Seabrook, that day was not about their sexual orientation. It was about a joyous celebration of their love for one another.
That is how I think it should be. In the same way, I have five people who I consider to be my family. The love they give me every day, and I mean every day, is not about the fact they are gay. It is about the fact they are amazing human beings who I deeply love in return. I do not want to fix them because they are already perfect.
Most days, it is more about them trying to improve me. They stood with me in my wedding party when I got married. They even bristled when former Prime Minister Harper tried to give them pointers on how to walk down the wedding runway, although Matt and I must admit he had a point. When two of those amazing people told me they were engaged, we celebrated with joy. I say to Dustin Franks, Miguel Arturo Possamai, Craig Sklenar, Craig Volkerink, Brian Hearn, Matt MacDonald and Garrett Ayers that this one is for them.
This morning Matt texted me and said, “Back when we were born, LGBTQ people were facing accusations that they were converting straight people gay. How ironic is it that 40 years later, you’re giving a speech in the House of Commons to prevent people from violating human rights and forcibly attempt to convert gays the other way. Get it together, people!” He has got a point.
Madam Speaker, I am proud to rise to speak in favour of Bill . This bill represents an important step forward toward building a more supportive and inclusive Canada for all, specifically for the LGBTQ2 community.
Debate on this legislation has been very respectful and quite different from what we would have heard only a few years ago. I am heartened to hear most MPs stand up and say uncategorically that conversion therapy on minors is abhorrent and must be stopped.
We have heard stories about how damaging conversion therapy can be on young people who are struggling with their sexuality. However, it is important to remember that it is not just the person undergoing conversion therapy who is impacted by this form of torture, which I truly believe is torture. Family members and friends are impacted as well.
Many truly believe that if this therapy is available and advertised, it must be acceptable, but it is anything but. I realize this legislation falls short of a total ban on conversion therapy, but it is a start. The measures contained in this bill are the most progressive and comprehensive legislative response to conversion therapy in the world.
Some members of the official opposition are worried that the bill lacks clarity. They claim the passage of this bill risks criminalizing conversations between young Canadians discovering who they are and the individuals they may seek out for advice, such as parents, teachers, faith leaders and coaches. However, the language is quite clear. Nothing in this bill criminalizes these types of conversations. What this criminalizes is exactly what the claims he supports: criminalizing forcing a young person to undergo conversion therapy against their will or removing them from the country to do so. We are criminalizing a discredited and deeply traumatic practice. We are also ensuring that individuals profiting off of conversion therapy or the advertisements to provide it can no longer do so.
Under this legislation, the following definition of conversion therapy is provided:
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 non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour. For greater certainty, this definition does not include a practice, treatment or service that relates
(a) to a person’s gender transition; or
(b) to a person’s exploration of their identity or to its development.
In other words, these amendments would not criminalize those who provide affirming support to persons struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity, such as friends, family members, teachers, social workers, religious leaders and so on; nor would the amendment criminalize private conversations between consenting adults.
I have another definition for my colleagues. “Therapy”, according to Merriam-Webster, is the “medical treatment of impairment, injury, disease or disorder”. It means to fix or to heal something that is impaired, disordered or broken.
Conversion therapy assumes something is wrong with LGBTQ2 Canadians. Let us take note that the Canadian Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of disorders in 1982. Telling young people they are abnormal and need to be fixed, or trying to fix them, is the problem and why this bill is necessary.
I encourage all members, in their deliberations on this bill, to read first-hand accounts of what the survivors of conversion therapy go through. In Garrard Conley's memoir, Boy Erased, inspiration for a film of the same name, he writes about his experiences surviving in a conversion therapy camp. The sort of counselling they offered was to tell him, “Your thoughts are harmful to God. They're disgusting, unnatural. An abomination.” They are an abomination. I say that word again because it is not a descriptor that should be used for anyone. Can members imagine how traumatizing it would be for anyone, let alone people in a vulnerable state who are looking for love and support, to be told they are unnatural? That is not therapy. It is torture.
Canada is an accepting country, and we have come a long way in the 50 years since homosexuality was decriminalized, in the 38 years since it stopped being seen as a mental disorder and even in the 15 years since same-sex marriage was legalized. However, we still have so much further to go.
I represent the riding of London West, and our city has had its own history of denying the LGBTQ2 community its voice. In 1995, organizers of the gay pride march asked the mayor of the day to issue a city proclamation in support of the pride march. She refused. The decision led to a three-year legal battle that ended with the Ontario Human Rights Commission fining the mayor and the city $10,000. It ordered the city to make the proclamation.
Today, the gay pride parade is one of the best celebrations in London, bringing together people of all ages, ethnic origins and sexual orientations. It was one of the big disappointments this year that as a result of the pandemic, we could not have the usual parade. We can only hope that next year's pride parade will be able to move ahead as usual, because we need to remind the community how important it is to have a voice and for young people to know they are not alone.
We do not have to go too far back in our own history in this chamber to remember how far we have come. As we know, section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the equality rights, protects sexuality and sexual orientation from discrimination. However, we must remind ourselves that sexuality was not explicitly stated in the original document. The joint committee of Parliament established to review the charter rejected explicitly including sexuality by a vote of 15 to two. The committee heard from organizations representing LGBT Canadians as to why they thought sexuality should be included in the charter. The meeting was held just down the hall from this chamber, and the questions hon. members asked at that time make for discouraging reading.
I will share them with my colleagues, because I want to demonstrate how dated some of the language and arguments around this issue were. One member actually stormed out of the proceedings after denouncing the gay and lesbian witnesses for peddling what he called an unacceptable lifestyle and one that would corrupt children. Another member shared this view and told LGBT Canadians that they really should not complain about the persecution he acknowledged they experienced. To him, they deserved it.
Thankfully, these abhorrent comments are in the minority, and I know that Canadians recognize the need to value and love everyone, even those who are different from us. Thankfully, today, we can see that Canada has openly LGBTQ2 legislators, mayors, actors, musicians and athletes. Their mere presence shakes the barriers that the community continues to face and slowly and surely helps bring them down. Their voices help us realize how we have failed them in the past and where we must do better.
We know that despite the recognition of equality under the law, the out and proud role models and, most importantly, the growing support of LGBTQ2 Canadians, fear of being different remains. That fear is not unfounded. Unconscious biases still exist, as do attitudes that are not accepting and supportive. Some avoid coming out because they believe it may negatively affect their careers or wonder how their friends and family might view them. Some who have come out deal with the trauma of being rejected by friends, families and communities. Far too many LGBTQ2 youth, from Nova Scotia to London to Alberta to British Columbia, still do not find the love and support they need. It is heartbreaking to know that around 40,000 young Canadians are homeless right now. Up to 40% of them are homeless because of their LGBTQ2 identity. It is hard to come out, and it can be hard for a person to have someone they love come out to them.
Organizations like PFLAG London in my community are there to help individuals who come out and help their families and friends as well. There are countless other organizations, including many religious ones, that help persons who struggle with issues of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. These real supports will not be negatively impacted by this law. Supports that treat people with respect, love and dignity are very small asks. This is how all human beings should be treated. It is how we can have those difficult conversations with the ones we love.
Conversion therapy assumes that something is broken and needs to be fixed, but it has not fit the definition of therapy in Canada for almost 40 years. This bill is long overdue, and I am proud to support it because it is another step in the right direction. We cannot continue to pretend that the abusive, sickening practice of conversion therapy is okay in any way, shape or form for our communities.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code to ban conversion therapy, a truly horrific practice. Bill C-6 specifically criminalizes transporting a minor out of Canada for the purpose of conversion therapy, subjecting adults to conversion therapy against their will and the “business of conversion therapy”: charging for, profiting from or advertising conversion therapy for both minors and adults.
We must be clear. Homophobia and transphobia kill. They are a side of the fascist and hateful coin that demonizes and attacks us all. As parliamentarians we must be clear: There is nothing wrong, or that requires fixing, with anyone in the LGBTQ2IA communities. Conversion therapy is a horrific practice that should never have happened. The fact that it did, has and does is shameful. Our families, doctors and communities should be sources of comfort and respite for everyone, not harm.
The first responsibility of members of Parliament is to stand up for the rights and dignity of their constituents. The bill is an opportunity to show that. It is an opportunity to say no to homophobia and transphobia, because homophobia and transphobia kill. Let us send a clear message to the bullies, the bigots and those who would harm the LGBTQ2IA communities that their harmful behaviour, their hate and demonization are unacceptable and unwanted. Let our voice of love drown out the hate. We must speak out against homophobic and transphobic jokes, because they are not jokes. It is hate. Every one of those hateful jokes does the same type of damage we are talking about here. It comes from the same type of hate we are trying to stamp out. If we see it, we must say something. We must make it clear which side we stand on.
The phrase “conversion therapy” does not really reflect the horror of the practice, so let us be clear about what we are talking about: electroshock therapy, forced vomiting, forced ingestion of psychotropic drugs such as ketamine, and exorcisms and beatings. Simply put, it is abuse. Trying to force people to be something they are not will never work. We should not try, because there is nothing wrong with who they are.
A recent study showed that roughly 20% of gay, bi or two-spirited men experienced some form of conversion therapy. Another said that 42% of survivors age 13-24 attempt suicide. Homophobia and transphobia kill. It is no surprise when people are told that they are lesser and they do not matter, when they are told they need “fixing.” To anyone listening who needs to hear it, let me be clear. They do not need fixing. They are fine just the way they are. It is the folks attacking them who need fixing, not them. It may not feel like it, but many people believe in them, want them to succeed and cannot wait to meet them.
This hateful message often comes from those closest to us: parents, neighbours and in some cases even elected officials. It is truly unacceptable. We must put an end to it. We must put an end to homophobia and transphobia because they kill. It is impossible to change someone's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression through conversion therapy, nor would it be desirable even if it worked. All we would be doing is contributing to further harm, sometimes leading to depression and social isolation and often to self-harm or death by suicide. This is true of traditional conversion therapy and so-called body affirming therapy. We must ban conversion therapy. We must say no to homophobia and transphobia because they kill.
As we get to this moment, I would like to recognize the work of those who got us here. In so many of these struggles, we do not always get to bear witness to the hard work of community members and survivors who lay the groundwork. I want to recognize the LGBTQ2IA advocacy groups, labour unions, members of the medical community and the movement builders. I think of trailblazers across the country like my friend, Cheri DiNovo; my colleague, the MP for ; trailblazers like Svend Robinson and Bill Siksay, former members of Parliament for the NDP; and my provincial colleagues, like Janis Irwin, who speak out and have spoken out against homophobia and transphobia at any chance they had.
I think of every survivor who has shared their story, every person who has spoken out and every community member who has endured, and I think of those who did not. Not one more person should be murdered by homophobia or transphobia. We owe it to those who are not here to make sure it never happens again.
I am happy to see some really inspiring and amazing work happening at the municipal, provincial and territorial levels across the country to protect queer youth. No provincial health plans allow for conversion therapy as part of the public health care insurance system. No reputable health care provider should perform the practice, yet we know that it happens. That is why this legislation is so critical.
Only my home province of Manitoba has a formal and complete ban on health professionals offering conversion therapy. It was the first province to ban the practice. Today, nearly 80 per cent of Alberta is covered by conversion therapy bans, but the provincial government refuses to act. Its lack of leadership puts children in danger.
Ontario, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. have made it illegal for health professionals to practise conversion therapy on minors. Yukon Territory is moving forward with legislation to ban conversion therapy as well.
However, there has been a lack of federal leadership until this point. In 2019, my former colleague Sheri Benson brought forward a petition by the Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group, signed by survivors and allies, calling on the government to ban the practice. They shared their stories and their collective voice called on us as parliamentarians to stand with them.
At the time, the Liberal government used the tired argument of obstructionists to human dignity everywhere: state rights. After countless survivors and activists continued to raise their voices, the government relented. The government was wrong then, but I am glad it is moving now, because homophobia and transphobia kill.
Let us be clear on the Liberals' pink-washed record on LGBTQ rights more broadly. A government that believes in queer rights does not prop up the Saudi Arabian government: one of the worst abusers of LGBTQ rights in the world. It does not continuously deny the right of men who have sex with men to give blood, despite saying otherwise.
In 2020, being an ally must mean more than doing the bare minimum. It must mean more than attending Pride parades. It must mean giving communities the tools to live in dignity and in health, and to lead their own fights in their own way.
New Democrats support this legislation, but we believe it must go further. We must make sure we are not leaving trans people behind. We must make sure that when we talk about banning conversion therapy for sexual orientation, we also include the same harmful practice when it comes to gender identity and expression because, and it bears repeating, homophobia and transphobia kill.
We know that legislation alone is not going to keep LGBTQ2IA people safe, nor will it repair the damage brought. The government must ensure that adequate funding exists for community-led solutions. It is the only way. Whether it is speaking out against hate or against practices that are harmful to the LGBTQ2IA communities in Canada, or in Canada's foreign policy, we must be clear on our values of love and respect, and condemn the bullies and bigots.
When I was writing my speech, I read stories of survivors of conversion therapy. Many were living through their pain, and their voices must be heard. I want to share a few of those stories.
Conversion therapy is not therapy. It is just torture, abuse, and people still need to be educated.
These are the words of a survivor who was forced to take a cocktail of psychedelic drugs and told to smell his feces any time he felt attracted to another man. His story helped convince the City of Vancouver to ban the practice. There are other horrific stories, but out of these stories we know change has already taken place. Folks in the LGBTQ community deserve more. Their human rights matter, like everyone else's.
Today, let us support Bill , but let us go further in ensuring respect and realization of rights for LGBTQ people across our country and around the world.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join second reading debate on Bill , which proposes to criminalize conduct pertaining to conversion therapy, a cruel exercise that stigmatizes and discriminates against Canada's LGBTQ2+ communities.
Bill proposes the same amendments as a previous bill, Bill . We are committed to ending conversion therapy in Canada and we continue to advocate for that. Conversion therapy is a destructive and discriminatory practice that serves to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, the fundamental part of who they are.
Relevant evidence shows individuals have experienced a range of harms. Children are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of conversion therapies and transgender, indigenous, racial minority and lower-income individuals are disproportionately exposed. This bill promotes the equality rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirited Canadians by targeting the conduct of the hazardous practices that sends a message that they can and should change who they are, which is wrong.
Canadians value diversity, equality and human dignity. This bill reflects and reiterates those fundamental values. We must move ahead and eradicate this discriminatory practice that is out of step with Canadian values. Many studies have catalogued the harms experienced by people who have been subjected to conversion therapy. In 2009, the American Psychological Association noted that conversion therapy originated in a time when homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder in the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic and statistical manual.
More recent research shows a wider variety of interventions, including gender role reconditioning, support groups and psychotherapy, as well wide varieties of providers, including both licensed and unlicensed mental health providers in various disciplines, pastoral counsellors and laypersons. Not surprisingly, the science shows that conversion therapy is incapable of achieving this discriminatory end. A person can no more change their sexual orientation or gender identity than they can their ethnicity or other characteristics that define who they are.
As with any bias against individuals based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, it negatively affects mental health and causes a wide range of serious harms, including decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, confusion, depression, guilt, hopelessness, helplessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidal ideation, increased substance abuse, feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, loss of faith and sexual dysfunction.
Conversion therapy has also been discredited and denounced by many professional associations as a harmful practice, particularly to children. For example, in 2014, the Canadian Psychiatric Association expressed its opposition to the use of conversion therapy, stating that the practice assumes 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 also indicated the practice is 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. I would like to emphasize that conversion therapy is a very harmful practice to our children, and it is our duty to protect them against such harmful practices.
To be clear, the evidence tells us the persons exposed to conversion therapy have experienced its harmful impacts regardless of whether they were compelled to undergo the practices or sought it out themselves.
Both groups experienced the very same harms, because conversion therapy is aimed at changing a person and not exploring the harmful impacts of stigma and stereotype on a person's self-conduct, which is the foundation for legitimate interventions. Conversion therapy can take many forms, including counselling, behavioural modification and thought therapy and may be offered by professionals, religious officials or laypersons.
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.” To be clear, this definition does not capture practices, treatments or services designed for other purposes, such as those aimed at supporting individuals without trying to change them. Furthermore, the legislation clarifies that gender-affirming therapies and treatments are not captured by the definition.
Conversion therapy is predicated on lies and falsehood, such that being homosexual, lesbian, bisexual or trans is somehow wrong and needs fixing. Not only is this belief false, it signals a demeaning and degrading message, which undermines the dignity of individuals and the entire LGBTQ community. In contrast to what others may say, there is no right or wrong when it comes to who one is or who one loves. As mentioned earlier, conversion therapy has been discredited and denounced by professionals and health care associations in Canada, the United States and all around the world. It has no scientific basis or grounding in health care practices.
Bill proposes to create five new Criminal Code offences targeting conversion therapy. These proposed offences would prohibit: first, causing a minor to undergo conversion therapy; second, removing a minor from Canada to undergo conversion therapy abroad; third, causing a person to undergo conversion therapy against their will; fourth, profiting from providing conversion therapy; and fifth, advertising the provision of conversion therapy. If passed, this bill would make Canada's laws on conversion therapy the most progressive and comprehensive in the world.
Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, has said that this bill could provide a new international model for dealing with such practices and that this type of more encompassing disposition is probably the very best when it comes to the practices that he has seen around the world.
I implore my colleagues across all party lines today to ensure that we are clear: There is a clear difference between asking someone who they are and telling someone that who they are is wrong and needs fixing.
Supportive teachers, school counsellors, pastoral counsellors, faith leaders, doctors, mental health professionals, friends and family members do not need to fear engaging in the important discussion about someone's identity. These discussions are often critical to personal development. However, what is being targeted here are those who are actively working and providing services designed to change someone's identity based on preconceived notions of who someone ought to be or how someone ought to behave. This bill represents important progress toward ending conversion therapy in Canada and reflects a harmony between progressive policy and constitutional consideration. We must stand together in support to curtail this unscientific and dangerous practice.
In closing, Canada is a country where everyone, regardless of their gender, their gender identity or their sexual orientation can live in equality and freedom. As parliamentarians, this is exactly the legacy we should leave for all of our children, grandchildren and so on. I sincerely hope that all parliamentarians will support this important piece of legislation.
Mr. Speaker, today I rise to speak to Bill .
It is my belief that harmful conversion therapy practices are wrong and have no place in Canadian society. No person should be forced or coerced to change their sexual orientation or their gender identity. As we consider this legislation, it is incumbent upon us to examine the actual text of Bill . We must review what is in it or, in this case, what is not in the legislation, because at the end of the day laws will be interpreted and applied based on their written text and not on an expressed intent. It is for that reason that I have serious reservations about the bill.
The legislation lacks a clear definition of conversion therapy. Its definition is so general that it leaves room to be applied broadly. There is very reasonable concern that the legislation could criminalize voluntary conversations and efforts to seek support. It also leaves the door open to infringe on religious expression and parental rights.
As we know, the bill has been reintroduced after it was cleared from the legislative table when the Liberal government unnecessarily prorogued Parliament. It was originally introduced in the first session of this Parliament as Bill . Concerns about the broad definition were raised with the original introduction of the bill. With the clearing of the legislative slate, the Liberal had the opportunity to fix the definition. It is disheartening that this legislation was reintroduced without addressing these serious concerns.
The was fully aware of these concerns and made the decision to ignore them. In fact, after the first introduction of the legislation, the Department of Justice put the following disclaimer on its website. It read:
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 who provide support to persons struggling with their sexual orientation, sexual feelings, or gender identity.
That statement would not have been offered if there were no need for it. By providing that clarification, there is an implied acknowledgement that the legislation is not clear. Unfortunately, a disclaimer on the department's website is not the same as legislation. That statement takes a position that is not explicitly stated in the bill before us.
There is nothing in Bill that clearly states that private conversations in which a person expresses their views on sexual orientation, sexual feelings or gender identity would not be criminalized. When a person is struggling or wrestling with life's issues, regardless of what that might be, it is very common to voluntarily turn to a trusted person for support. In fact, we would probably all encourage a person to reach out for help and not go through it and struggle alone. For each person, a trusted person is different. It could be a counsellor, a faith leader, a parent, a teacher, a friend or any person with whom they may feel comfortable.
To have the space for open, honest and real conversation, there cannot be a cloud of legal uncertainty around that conversation. There should not be fear of repercussions for expressing a certain viewpoint, offering counsel or even just having an informal conversation. That does not serve the individual seeking support or the individual offering it. There must be freedom to openly talk to those whom we trust. We must be cautious not to undermine support networks.
In introducing this legislation, the Liberal government has spoken about protecting LGBTQ rights, and it is so important that their rights are protected. I would agree that we should stand up to protect those who have been degraded or dehumanized by harmful conversion therapy practices. That is why, as legislators, we should be committed to getting this bill right and, in that effort, we also have the responsibility to be mindful of the rights of all Canadians.
Without a clear definition, it leaves room for the infringement of other held rights. Parental rights in the guidance of children must be part of this debate, just as freedom of religion and freedom of belief are also a part of this debate. Parents not only have the right but the responsibility of raising their children. That responsibility includes providing food, shelter and clothing for them.
However, parenting goes well beyond providing material needs for a child. Parental guidance is key to a child's development. Moms, dads and guardians help protect the physical and psychological well-being of a child. They also help a child understand and unpack the world around them. We often hear parents of infants and toddlers talk about reliving the world through their child's eyes. A child learns about the world around them and a parent is there to help guide and navigate them.
As a mom, I know first-hand that kids from a very young age will ask their parents an abundance of questions and sometimes they never stop. It does not matter if it is the most basic of questions or something incredibly thought-provoking. Parents are there to offer response and insight.
It is healthy for parents and their children to have open and honest dialogue, and for parents to help children in their understanding of their own emotions. A loving and open relationship between parents and children helps foster self-worth and self-esteem. It is important for children to feel comfortable in coming to their parents when they have questions, struggles or want to talk through or about their feelings.
In a world where we live more and more of our lives online, where kids are exposed to so many outside influences, where kids can be inundated with oversexualized content from a very young age and have access to so much information, whether it is credible or not, we need to have more real conversations between children and their parents, not fewer.
The other concern with the broad definition of conversion therapy in this legislation is its relationship to religious expression. A code of conduct around ethics, morality and sexuality is common among major religions. These are often strongly held beliefs that are studied, instructed and practised by all persons of faith. Faith groups have expressed their worry about how this legislation will be applied to them. Will they remain free to teach and encourage members of their faith community to practise their faith in accordance with their religious teachings, or will this legislation and its application go well beyond criminalizing involuntary, harmful and discriminatory conversion therapy practices?
As I have said, it is my belief that the practice of involuntary conversion therapy is harmful and should be banned, but we cannot ban or police thought and expression. We cannot infringe on religious freedoms and we must respect parents. In an effort to ban the practice of conversion therapy, we cannot needlessly criminalize normal and healthy conversations.
As it is written in the current legislation, the definition of conversion therapy is overreaching, in my view, and it is flawed. It does not strike the right balance between protecting people of the LGBTQ community, parental rights and freedom of religion. By providing a clear definition of conversion therapy, we can provide needed clarity on the scope and intent of the legislation.
I will personally be supporting the bill at the second reading stage so that it can be sent to committee where amendments can be put forward in good faith to improve and fix the current legislation's shortfalls. It is my sincere hope that the Liberal government will be open to amendments so that we can get this right for all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, today we are once again talking about the hate that the 2SLGBTQQIA community continues to be subjected to. It is important that I state it that way because that is the truth about what continues to happen in Canada even with the progress we have made. Without adequate protections and legal provisions, Canadians do experience hate, with the pain and suffering that comes along with it.
I cannot wait for the day when everyone in the country will be free to be themselves, celebrated fully, without shame, without fear for who they are, and feel confident that they will be loved and represented in all corners of our society.
Someone once said that if we cannot love ourselves, how are we expected to love somebody else? I have no doubt that our charter supports that intent.
With that in mind, I am honoured to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code to include provisions that will limit the negative impacts of conversion therapy in Canada, though it does not go far enough to actually eliminate it.
Last week, I had the privilege of discussing how the rights of 2SLGBTQQIA Canadians were fought for, confirmed and celebrated in recent decades in a response to the ministerial address the day Bill was tabled. My Green Party colleagues and I will certainly be voting for the bill and when we do, I will be thinking of the people I have met along the way who have suffered conversion therapy and the shame and self-loathing they have had to overcome as a direct result.
Many Canadians, and many members in the House, have seen the biographical drama Boy Erased, describing the journey of a young man from Arkansas who travelled to Tennessee to participate in a conversion therapy program. It is easy for us to hear that story and clearly denote that conversion therapy is wrong. It is easy to tell ourselves that it does not happen here. The truth is that it does; it just flies under the radar. It is more insidious.
I have a constituent, a brave man, who spoke with a CBC journalist a couple years ago to share his story in the hope of helping others. He grew up in a rural New Brunswick community. Outed as a teenager by his browser history, my constituent was sent to a religious counselling service in a nearby town. He was told that he needed to pray for God’s help to change, that what he was feeling was simply a sinful choice.
The counsellor suggested my constituent mentally put his gay feelings in a box and ask God to help keep that box closed. She offered tips to avoid future temptation, tips like “avoid flamboyant situations”. I am so glad he ignored that ridiculous advice. This constituent of mine is a leader in our community and an inspiration for young people today to celebrate who they are. The damage done by his experience with conversion therapy left him to fight feelings of shame through his adolescence and young adulthood.
The truth is that in church basements and family homes across our country children, youth and adults are being taught to hide who they are because it is something to be ashamed of. The real shame here is the damage we are doing to these young minds and hearts. We are limiting their capabilities by stunting their personal growth. We are dimming their light.
The harm that this process causes to people is immeasurable. It reinforces stigma, myths and lies. It has a profound impact on the ability of people to love themselves and to have self-confidence.
There is a recognition worldwide of the destructive nature of this practice and an acknowledgement that criminal law is an appropriate way to address that harm. We are not criminalizing conversations as we have so callously heard in the House. There should be no doubt about what conversion therapy is and our responsibility to stop it from happening.
Yesterday during his intervention, the said that the purpose of the bill was to criminalize conduct related to conversion therapy. He said that putting an end to conversion therapy would be a reflection of the government’s commitment to eradicating a discriminatory practice that was out of step with Canadian values. He reminded us that multiple professional associations recognized that conversion therapy could lead to various negative impacts on mental and physical health, contributing in some cases to death by suicide. I could not agree more with the minister. We must put an end to conversion therapy.
I cannot help but wonder why we are not going all the way with the bill. Instead, we are leaving the door open for a dangerous loophole.
Bill would ban the practice of conversion therapy for minors but not for adults. The specific phrasing that one cannot cause a person to undergo conversion therapy against his or her will falls short of providing meaningful protection for the exact Canadians most likely to face pressure from their loved ones to undergo the therapy. Leaving the door open to conversion therapy through the notion that one might choose to engage in this abusive practice means forcing Canadians to make an impossible choice: undergo the experience or lose the love and support of their families.
The bill does take the clear and unequivocal step of precluding someone from profiting from conversion therapy. It makes it impossible to advertise the service, regardless of whether it is provided to minors or adults. If it is wrong, then it is wrong. We know conversion therapy is abusive and cruel. The minister correctly has affirmed that it is a discriminatory practice that is out of step with Canadian values. As parliamentarians, should we not be aiming to uphold the rights of all Canadians to protect their safety and security? When something causes harm, it is a legitimate decision of government to criminalize the practice.
I will actually go a step further. Leaving queer Canadians across the country with the burden of navigating these conversations with their families and expecting them to stand firm against coercion, without the backing of a law that truly denounces the practice, amounts to cowardice. We are leaving these Canadians to confront an issue that we are not bold enough to take on ourselves in the public sphere.
I think of a constituent I mentioned early. I mourn the time he has lost overcoming shame he should never have been made to feel. Together we can make the bill into what it needs to be for all Canadians so no one goes through what he has experienced.
I am looking forward to voting for the bill and I will be tabling amendments to strengthen it at committee stage.
If I can be clear today about one thing, let it be this. Whatever people's identity, be it two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersexual, asexual or otherwise, they belong. Their right to security of the person is as valid as for any heterosexual cisgender Canadian. They are an integral part of our communities across Canada and we are here today to fight with them and for future generations to feel the respect and love they deserve.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to conversion therapy.
Let me say at the outset and in unequivocal terms that conversion therapy is wrong and it ought to be banned. I am hopeful that all Canadians of goodwill would agree that coercive, forced or otherwise abusive practices targeted toward changing a person's sexual orientation or identity are not only wrong but cause harm. They cause harm to real people, and the effects of such harm are real and profound. Such harm can be life-changing and life-lasting and, in the most extreme cases, can even contribute to suicide. It is on that basis that I believe it is appropriate to clarify in the Criminal Code that such repugnant acts violate the law and that individuals who perpetrate such acts are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law, punishable by the Criminal Code.
That said, while I support the purported objective of Bill , I do have issues with the manner in which the bill in its present form has been drafted, starting with the definition of conversion therapy.
Obviously, when we speak of legislation with the objective to ban conversion therapy, it is important that we get the definition of conversion therapy right. The criminal law is a blunt tool, and it is therefore imperative that any Criminal Code prohibition be targeted toward supported and demonstrated harms arising from conversion therapy. Unfortunately, the bill as presently drafted, based upon the current definition, misses the mark.
In that regard, the definition provided in Bill is overly broad. Let me quote what the definition in the bill provides. It criminalizes:
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 nonheterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour.
Based upon that definition, it is clear that the bill is not targeted toward the kinds of forced, coercive, violent or otherwise abusive practices that constitute conversion therapy, all the while potentially capturing a whole lot of other activities, including private conversations that might be had with a parent, child or faith leader. It could potentially criminalize what are otherwise legitimate counselling supports or other psychological supports. When we talk about a definition that criminalizes any treatment or service that reduces or seeks to reduce sexual attraction or sexual behaviour, that is very broad.
Now, the government says that there is no need to worry, that the bill does not target parents, faith leaders or medical professionals who might be having private conversations or who might be otherwise acting in good faith to counsel or assist someone who is going through difficulty with their sexual identity or sexual orientation. In that regard, the Department of Justice website provides a reassurance. Let me read that reassurance into the record. It states:
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.
The has provided similar reassurances.
Now, while such reassurances from the Department of Justice website and the minister are welcome, what matters in a court of law is not an opinion provided by the Department of Justice with respect to its interpretation of the bill, nor that of the minister. What matters is what is in the bill and what is completely missing from the bill. Completely absent from the bill are any exceptions to protect parents, health professionals, faith leaders and, indeed, any of the groups of people the government, in its own public statements, states that the legislation does not seek to target.
Yesterday in the House, the hung his hat on an exception provided in the bill. Let me read that exception. It states:
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.
That is better than nothing, but I say it is ambiguous, vague, subject to interpretation and insufficient in having regard for the very serious penalties that could arise from breaching this legislation if it is passed, one of which is up to five years behind bars. I hope that when this bill goes to committee, the government will be open to amendments to clarify, in clear and unambiguous terms, that the groups the government says are not targeted will not be targeted and that it is clear in the legislation.
I also suggest that amendments may need to be brought with respect to the definition of “practice, treatment or service”. Those terms are not defined. “Treatment” certainly connotes a therapeutic context, but “practice”, for example, could involve just about any sort of activity.
In conclusion, it is important that for an issue this important we get things right. We must protect vulnerable persons from being subjected to coercion, violence or other sorts of activities that seek to change their gender identity or orientation, while at the same time protecting the parent-child relationship and the doctor-patient relationship, by ensuring that all charter rights are upheld, including freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. We also must guard against legislation that in its current form is arguably overly broad and vague.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today to discuss our government's progress on our campaign promise to protect Canadians from conversion therapy.
The and the have introduced Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code related to conversion therapy. It is an important piece of legislation, which would ban the shameful practice of so-called conversion therapy in Canada.
In the summer of 2015, the Ontario government passed Bill 77, effectively banning conversion therapy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children, and preventing medical practitioners from billing for it. One year later, I met in my office with Rita O'Link, a proud and prominent transgender advocate in my riding of Sudbury, who had led the charge for those changes in Ontario. Rita wondered why the federal government could not do for Canadians what Ontario had done for Ontarians and maybe expand upon it so that all Canadians could enjoy the same protections that Ontarians do.
Since then, I have worked with Rita and others at TG Innerselves in Sudbury to advocate for the rights of the LGBTQ2 community to make clear that, when we say that Canadians deserve to live their lives freely, that means freedom from judgment and persecution. Rita fought tirelessly for free expression for all Canadians and made clear that conversion therapy is a devastating practice that is extremely harmful to those individuals who are subject to it. It is an honour to reference Rita in my remarks today.
Contrary to what some might say, there is no right or wrong when it comes to who one loves or who one is. Conversion therapy has been discredited and denounced by professional and health associations in Canada, the United States and around the world.
Conversion therapy has no scientific basis in health care, and people subject to this practice will experience its devastating effects forever.
Research shows that young people are at higher risk for depression and suicide as a result of efforts to alter their sexual orientation or gender identity. Conversion therapy is based on a lie that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans is wrong and that we need to fix it. Not only is this wrong, but it sends a degrading message that undermines the dignity of people of the LGBTQ2 community. Minors, in particular, are adversely affected, and the repercussions of this often continue into adulthood.
In 2020, many believe that this practice is a relic of the past and something that could no longer happen in our communities.
Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Even today, there are groups operating across the country, providing services in an effort to correct or fix those they deem out of step with their own narrow views of how one should be or how one should act. The community-based sex now survey, conducted in 2019-20, indicates that as many as 20% of respondents had been exposed to this vile practice, so we know that this harmful practice is currently happening in Canada.
Our government has introduced this legislation to ensure that no one will have to endure this heinous practice.
I am proud of what the , the and our entire government are doing to put an end to conversion therapy in Canada.
Our government has introduced the bill, which proposes creating five new Criminal Code offences targeting conversion therapy. These proposed offences would prohibit, first, causing a minor to undergo conversion therapy; second, removing a minor from Canada to undergo conversion therapy abroad; third, causing a person to undergo conversion therapy against their will; fourth, profiting from providing conversion therapy; and fifth, advertising the provision of conversion therapy. It will also define 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.”
If passed, the bill would make Canada's laws on conversion therapy the most progressive and comprehensive in the world, something I think we could all be proud of.
It is important to be very clear, however.
There is a difference between asking someone who they are and discussing it, and telling someone that who they are is wrong and in need of fixing. I can reassure the official opposition and Canadians that supportive teachers, school counsellors, pastoral counsellors, faith leaders, doctors, mental health professionals, friends and family members need not fear engaging in important discussions about someone's identity, discussions that are often critical to personal development. That is actually mentioned, exactly, in the bill as it is written.
What is being targeted here are those who are actively working and providing services designed to change someone's identity based on preconceived notions of how someone ought to be or ought to behave. Criminal law is an important tool to target behaviour that is reprehensible and harmful to others. It creates consequences for those who would continue this work in spite of the clear data that shows how devastating the practice truly is.
This bill is a step forward in eliminating conversion therapy in Canada, and it strikes a balance between progressive policy and constitutional considerations.
I want to emphasize that this is about people. It is about ensuring that every individual can be who they truly are. This is another step toward building the truly inclusive Canada we all talk about. It is clear the legislation is needed, because it is clear not all Canadians can be who they are because of practices like this. That is why it is so important it be banned federally, alongside provincial and municipal bans. Several provinces, such as Ontario, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island, have already banned health professionals from offering conversion therapy to minors, and Yukon also has such an act.
The Government of Quebec also introduced a similar bill last week.
A growing number of municipalities in Alberta and across the country have also taken steps to end conversion therapy. I congratulate them on their leadership and I thank them for their efforts.
We will continue to work closely with affected provinces, territories, municipalities and communities so that we can learn from each other and come together to eliminate this harmful practice across our jurisdictions. I hope all my colleagues can look to a national consensus that this abhorrent practice needs to be prohibited and support this legislation.
We will continue working with each other and all members to ensure their voices are heard and our government continues to respond. Canada is a country where everyone, regardless of their gender expression, gender identity or sexual orientation, can live in equality and freedom. That is the kind of Canada we should want to leave for all of our children and grandchildren, the most welcoming country in the world.
A country for everyone.
That is the kind of Canada that four years ago Rita O'Link came to ask me to help her fight for in Ottawa. I am proud to stand today, here in the House of Commons, on behalf of Rita, the courageous Sudburians at TG Innerselves and the thousands of Canadians from coast to coast who work tirelessly to protect the rights of all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand in the House and speak on the important issue of conversion therapy, and why this practice should be banned in Canada.
Across the country, we have seen many provinces and municipalities take appropriate measures to address this issue, as well as the steps taken by the federal government to introduce this into the Criminal Code.
I have had the honour to participate in multiple conversations with members of the LGBTQ+ community from coast to coast. I have participated in round tables, lectures and, of course, pride parades. Some of my encounters left a huge mark on me personally. Those encounters are what will live with me and have made me an ally of the LGBTQ2+ community.
One of the places I think about from my visits, and that I have spoken about multiple times, is the OK2BME program in Kitchener, Ontario. I was fortunate enough to visit this group, where all the youth are under the age of 19 and come from an area within an hour and a half of that region. They go there to talk about who they were, who they are and how they see their futures. Many go there for a safe place to have a conversation: to talk to people in similar situations to theirs and to rely on people. It is so important we have these types of organizations, opportunities and programs to allow youth to talk to people who are in the same situations they are. Many of them are going through times where they are not expressing who they are to their friends, families or teachers because they are not sure and have a lot of self-doubt. Open places like the OK2BME program are something I will continue to advocate for.
Like the deputy House leader for Parliament, who I see across the way, I grew up in different times. I think of growing up in the eighties and the number of friends I have now who have come out and said they are gay or lesbian. Back in the eighties, I did not know one of my best friends was a lesbian. When I think about it today, does it matter? I love her to the depths of who she is. She is one of the greatest women I know in this world. It does not matter who she loves, because at the end of the day, I love her for who she is. I look at the way her parents embraced her, and they love her for who she is.
However, I know when she goes out in the general public there is that fear of feeling shame. There is that fear of telling people. As I said, I grew up in the eighties, when one did not share that type of information with people. It was expected for girls to like boys. Things have changed, and we have become much more aware that we do not all have to fit in that little box and all be the same.
I also think of the great work being done by PFLAG. A couple of years ago, I went to Richmond Hill and sat down with the PFLAG organization. There were children in the process of transitioning, and children who had just come out to their parents had come to PFLAG with them to have these discussions. We sat down together, ate pizza and celebrated somebody's birthday. It was such an incredible place, where everybody felt safe and that they were part of something.
It made me ask myself whether there was ever a time I felt I was not included. I have been very fortunate, because I am able to go into places and say, “I am Karen,” and that is all good with me. However, a lot of people have self-doubt, which is caused by not being supported for who they are. I think of those people who have to walk alone in the world, and how we can do better. For me, it is important to make sure those safe spaces are available: places like PFLAG, where people can talk in groups and where parents can talk with their children. It is not a mediation, just a place someone can go to listen, talk and hear the stories of other families and the challenges they have gone through.
As a government, it is important we look at continuing to support those types of programs. If we are looking at more actions we need to do after the conversion therapy ban is passed, we need to look at what the next steps are in order to make sure we can get this work done. I say this because we need to look at the mental health component of this issue.
Mental Health Awareness Month is going on right now, and we have to understand the correlation between mental health and the LGBTQ community. I looked at some of the statistics, and I sat back and thought about how that was not me. According to statistics, one in four members of the LGBTQ community who are students has been physically harassed, and six in 10 have been verbally abused. That means over half of the people have been victimized at some time just because of their sexuality. There is no place for that.
We have to look at the fact that people in this community have been body shamed. They feel isolated. Discrimination and bullying occur. There is a lack of support from some families. We know that not every family is 100% on board, and that comes with time as well. I am very hopeful. I am that Pollyanna who believes that we can do better and that we can have hope, so I believe in helping families go through these challenging times together. We have to be realistic: these things happen. We also have to look at the predisposition toward mental health challenges as well. I think that, if people are already uncomfortable with who they are, it is just adding onto it regarding their sexuality. There is a double prong here that is attacking them.
I also think of a couple of friends I sat down with about a month ago. We were talking about sexuality. My two friends are partners, Rick and Lee, and they do not know I am talking about them today. Rick and Lee and I have these really open discussions, and it is great, because we are in the same generation. I love to talk to them about music and cooking and everything, but after a really broad discussion I asked them how it was, growing up in the eighties. My one friend, Rick, said that he would not be here if he had come out in the eighties. He would not have been able to survive. He stated he would have taken his own life.
I think about where we are in 2020. How can people feel that they would have to take their own lives because of being members of the LGBTQ community? How could someone feel so lost and isolated that life was not worth living, just because of their sexuality? This has to be moved out of that frame. That is, not for me, a place that we can be in. This is where we have to understand that love is love, and I will continue to advocate on that.
I look at Lee, who is Rick's partner. They have been married for a number of years, and he said to me that he dated lots of girls, but as soon as he was done high school he went on and actually was himself. I think we have to understand, especially if we are looking at our teens, that when people are in high school, they are in a fish bowl. I went to a school of about 800 students in St. Thomas, Ontario, and everybody knew everybody's business. Once people are able to get into the real world, where there are not 800 people walking by and seeing what their business is, it may be a bit easier for them to live their lives with freedom, but we know, especially in those teenage years, that it is really difficult.
It is such a hard time to fit in, as it is. Everybody is on Twitter. Everybody is on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. I have watched it a couple of times, but everybody is on there. Life is cycling so quickly now for our youth, and there are already so many mental health challenges that they are coming across, so adding sexual orientation is something that should not have to be part of that conversation any longer. They should be accepted, and they should be loved for who they are.
Do I have two minutes? I could talk for 20. It is really bad when my friends on their side are trying to quiet me up, because they think I talk so much. Regardless, I think that is what makes me a good advocate: if one is willing to talk and have these conversations, that is what it is.
I think when we talk about conversion therapy, there has been a lot of discussion on what that actually is. For myself, talk therapy is what I do. I talk things out. Some people may say that talking is conversion therapy, or that it is something else. For me the ability to talk and work through my problems with the people I love and respect the most is important, regardless of how difficult those topics are. As a parent, I have had multiple difficult situations brought upon me or that I have had to discuss, and we all need that person and that support group around us. Being able to talk is really important.
I see that many members, and I have heard members of the government also, indicate there is that concern about religion. I will be honest: I was mad at my husband about six years ago, and the first person I turned to was my pastor. Members would not see me as a really strong religious person, but the pastor was the person who knew me. He knew me and my family sitting in the benches, where we sat as a family all the time, and I was able to speak to him as a confidant. I think sometimes that is where the confusion will come from, in this discussion. He was not trying to convert me: he was a confidant because he knew who I was. He has seen me actively participate in the church, youth groups and a variety of things like that, so I am proud to speak on this. I think we should all have this really important discussion, because at the end of the day, every life matters, especially those of the LGBTQ community.