Madam Speaker, I will begin my contribution to this sober discussion of Bill C-6 and the need to protect Canadians from conversion therapy with experiences in my own life where individuals have been harmed by being directed unknowingly or forced into inappropriate treatments against their will.
My first experience was in the medical field, when I was employed at Souris Valley Mental Health Hospital. From its beginnings in 1921, it was considered on the cutting edge of experimental treatments for people with mental illness. The facility had a reputation of leading the way in therapeutic programming. Early techniques included insulin shock therapy, hydrotherapy, electroshock and lobotomy.
A lobotomy is a form of psychosurgery, a neurosurgical treatment of a mental disorder that involves severing most connections in the brain's prefrontal cortex. It was used for mental disorders, usually defined by a combination of how a person behaves, feels, perceives, and thinks, and occasionally other conditions as a mainstream procedure in some western countries for more than two decades, despite general recognition of frequent and serious side effects. While some people experienced symptomatic improvement with the operation, the improvements were achieved at the cost of creating other impairments. The procedure was controversial from its initial use, in part due to the balance between benefits and risks.
One of the patients in my care was Annie, one of the few remaining lobotomy patients at that time in Canada. Today, lobotomy has become a disparaged procedure, a byword for medical barbarism and an exemplary instance of the medical trampling of patients' rights.
What is remarkable to me is that the originator of the procedure shared the 1949 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for the “discovery of the therapeutic value of lobotomy in certain psychoses”. Clearly, what we know now would have made this award reprehensible.
Another personal experience with a method of conversion therapy was 30 years ago, when a family dear to me was navigating a behavioural problem. At a young age, a child was suffering anger and rebellion issues, and the treatment recommended to the parents was participation in a wilderness camp experience that taught discipline and built peer relationships. The parents’ grief was overwhelming, learning their young teen was coerced into submission with no compassionate support or counselling and had attempted suicide. Upon extraction from that place and hospitalization near home, they later learned that at an innocent age their child had been traumatized by sexual abuse.
In both of these scenarios, what was considered to be cutting-edge, state-of-the-art or appropriate treatment at the time was clearly abusive and wrong.
Today, in this bill and in the scientific and medical realms, conversion therapy is defined and only applied to the LGBTQ2 community. I support a conversion therapy ban, but not this conversion therapy ban, because this bans more than just conversion therapy. Bill C-6 clearly violates the fundamental Charter of Rights and Freedoms for LGBTQ2 and other Canadians.
The definition of conversion therapy conflates orientation with behaviour. The Bill C-6 definition states:
...conversion therapy means a practice, treatment or service designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual, to change a person's gender identity or gender expression to cisgender or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour or non-cisgender gender expression. For greater certainty, this definition does not include a practice, treatment or service that relates to the exploration and development of an integrated personal identity without favouring any particular sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
The definition actually defines conversion therapy to include providing counselling for someone to reduce their unwanted sexual behaviour. This means that if counselling is about reducing porn use or sexual addiction but is not seeking to change someone’s orientation, it would still be a criminal act if it is non-heterosexual behaviour.
There are legitimate reasons why people of any orientation may want to reduce their behaviour. This definition, though, would allow only straight Canadians to get that support but not LGBTQ2 Canadians. This would directly violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms' equality provisions. It would criminalize any conversation including conversations initiated by LGBTQ2 individuals seeking answers to sexuality questions they wish to explore with family members, friends or faith leaders.
No medical body or professional counselling body in North America uses this definition created by the government for Bill C-6. The Canadian Psychological Association actually defines a psychologist as someone who helps clients change their behaviour, stating, “A psychologist studies how we think, feel and behave from a scientific viewpoint and applies this knowledge to help people understand, explain and change their behaviour.”
In addition to no medical or professional counselling body in North America using this definition, the bill’s definition contradicts itself. The government says that LGBTQ2 Canadians can still explore their sexuality, but exploration cannot happen if they cannot also choose to reduce behaviours that every other Canadian could get help with.
There are many reasons why someone would want to reduce unwanted behaviour without changing their orientation, but the bill would prevent any directional support that would reduce non-heterosexual behaviours. No one suspects that straight persons seeking to reduce sexual behaviour such as pornography use or sex addiction are attempting to change their sexual orientation. LGBTQ2 persons seeking the same kind of professional help could also just be wanting to reduce that behaviour without changing their orientation. Under this bill, however, they would not be able to get help because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. An exploration clause would not protect this treatment.
The language applies to conversations between and with parents, with trusted friends, discussions between individuals and faith leaders, as well as sensitive interactions with guidance counsellors. It also contains no exceptions for the right to conversations between parents and their children. Counsel from these individuals, people who are appropriately looked to for wisdom and support, would effectively be criminalized to the same degree as the damaging and unacceptable practices that all members of the House seek to prohibit. Currently, any course of counselling whereby individuals are seeking to reduce their sexual activities could be considered conversion therapy and therefore subject to legal intervention. This could be corrected.
In Bill C-6, the exploration clause itself directs patients’ counselling outcomes. Even professional counsellors seek not to do that for their patients, so why is the government directing outcomes with this bill? Professional counsellors are like a GPS: They only give directions, but the client decides the destination.
The government’s definition of conversion therapy is not used by governments around the world. No conversion therapy ban in the world bans counselling for unwanted non-heterosexual behaviour. I have reviewed and would be pleased to provide a research document listing 152 definitions of conversion therapy used around the world, including by all the governments that have passed a law or bylaw that are listed on Wikipedia, the United Nations, the United Church of Canada and LGBTQ2 activists like Kris Wells. None of them include sexual behaviour counselling independent of orientation change.
Bill C-6 is much too expansive, based on the fact that Canada's ban actually bans two kinds of counselling: sexual orientation change counselling and reduction of sexual behaviour counselling independent of orientation change. This is why the ban is so dangerous. No medical body or government in the world defines conversion therapy that way.
The UN definition, as follows, would better reflect what the definition of conversion therapy should be in Bill C-6:
“Conversion therapy” is an umbrella term used to describe interventions of a wide-ranging nature, all of which have in common the belief that a person's sexual orientation or gender identity can and should be changed. Such practices aim (or claim to aim) at changing people from gay, lesbian or bisexual to heterosexual and from trans or gender diverse to cisgender.
That is a good definition that this bill should reflect.
As a direct consequence of the flawed definition of conversion therapy, this bill would restrict freedom of choice and expression for LGBTQ2 Canadians. While the bill would allow for measures to change a child’s gender, including surgery and counselling, there is no such liberty afforded for those who wish to transition back to their birth gender. It would restrict intimate conversations intended to limit sexual behaviour, as well as individuals’ attempts to detransition.
This all-encompassing bill would not only criminalize people who listen or speak to those transitioning or having transitioned, but also those who have gone through the process of transitioning, have detransitioned, and are now sharing their stories with others. A simple search of the Internet will expose members to a wide range of thought, opinion, and the personal stories of those who have struggled with gender dysphoria. Not only would these individuals be criminalized by Bill C-6, but they would also be silenced by the implementation of Bill C-10, because of their communications on social media.
Many of those stories include decisions taken at a young age to begin the use of hormone treatment or to surgically alter one's body. For many, these decisions did not satiate feelings of gender dysphoria and, in many cases, worsened feelings of self-image and self-identity.
I will share a handful of these testimonies to have on record today.
In the case of one YouTuber, she, Elle Palmer, started taking testosterone at the age of 16. She had struggled for years with issues of self-hatred and, in her words, began the process of transitioning not in order to look more masculine but in order to hide elements of her body. In her opinion, transitioning was the ultimate form of self-harm. She wanted to change everything about herself and did not see a future in which she could be happy in her own body. At the time, she did not realize that it was possible not to hate her own body.
In another piece of personal testimony, Max explicitly states that gender transition was not the solution to her severe depression. In her words, she feels that she needed a transition in her life, but not from female to male.
Cari's advice to others is that, from her own experience and from her conversations with other detransitioned and reidentified women, “transition is not the only way, or even necessarily the best way, to treat gender dysphoria”. She speaks to her own experience, where she was prescribed hormones after four sessions of therapy. She notes that no attempts were made at these therapy sessions to process personal issues that she raised. She notes that no one in the medical or psychological field ever tried to dissuade her from her gender transition or to offer other options, other than to perhaps wait until age 18. She says, “I detransitioned because I knew I could not continue running from myself...because acknowledging my reality as a woman is vital to my mental health.”
Lee spoke to her experience: “There were all these red flags and I honestly wish that somebody had pointed them out to me and then I might not have transitioned in the first place. If I had realized that somebody with a history of an eating disorder, a history of childhood sexual abuse, a history of neglect and bullying for being a gender non-conforming female, a person with internalized homophobia and misogyny should not have been encouraged to transition.... I wish that somebody had sort of tried to stop me...transition...did not work for me.”
There is another story, which I transcribed from a post on YouTube from July 2019, which has now been made private, so I am going to respect the author's anonymity while sharing her thoughts. She said the following, and I am quoting her.
“I was transgender since I was 15. I’m 21 now.
“I don’t want to be a life-long medical patient. I don’t want to be psychologically dependent on hormones that are made in a lab and injected into me.
“What I want, and what I’ve always wanted, is peace with myself. Not surgically altered self, but my own self. I want to feel an organic love for my body. This body that I was born into, that I was lucky to be born into and inhabit.
“I wanted to find ways of dealing with my gender issues that aren’t medically transitioning, and those ways were not presented to me. Now is my time to make peace with femaleness. With womanhood.
“Even though I’m not good at being a woman, in the sense that I get gender dysphoria, a woman is still what I am. A dysfunctional, wonky, weird, gay, autistic, and completely authentic woman.
“I think I was possessed by some-thing. By an ideology. I can’t understate the role social media has played in all this.
“It’s glaringly obvious to me now that which part of the internet you inhabit for large chunks of time has serious effects on your brain, and your view of the world.
“When it feels right, I’ll tell my parents. And I know they’ll be happy to hear it, because the concerns they had about my 16-year-old self are the ones that I’m just starting to understand as a 21-year-old. I suppose wisdom really does come with age, doesn’t it.
“But, um, yeah, you try telling that to an isolated, self-loathing, gender non-conforming 16-year-old who wants to transition. I mean, you’re going to run into some issues.
“It’s just gender dysphoria that I deal with in my own way now, and I don’t want to go through all the things that I was kind of being, I guess, pressured by these online spaces to go and do.
“I know there are lots of people who are just like me, really, who are going through this same thing, and I have a funny feeling that there will be lots—lots more of us in the next few years as more people who are sort of teenagers, and non-binary and trans at the moment get into their early 20s.
“So, if I can make this resource that maybe people can relate to, because we are, we are, people like us, sort of um, masculine girls and butch lesbians, who were born between sort of the years 1995 and 2000 that have really been the guinea pigs for this.
“For this, whatever this is, going on in the trans community at the moment. We’ve been the guinea pigs and I’m at the other side now, and I really hope that some more people who are struggling with this can get out to the other side. Cuz it’s nice.”
These are not my fabrications. They are the personal, emotional testimonies of those who found that gender transition was not a permanent solution to their gender dysphoria and who found worth in their own process of detransition. These individuals have made their stories of detransitioning, or deciding not to surgically or hormonally transition, public and they stress that they are in no way being disrespectful toward the personal choices of others. This is important. They have friends and, as it stands, Bill C-6 would criminalize people like them. We cannot restrict the free, respectful and exploratory speech of those with valuable lived experience. The overreach of this legislation will harm those who seek to detransition as well as those who, of their own free will, seek support and counselling to change behaviour as LGBTQ2 individuals.
This ban censors conversations. It is not the definition of conversion therapy in Bill C-6 that would censor conversations about sexuality and gender, but the clause on advertising. At the justice committee, the government added the word “promotion” of conversion therapy as a criminal act. This means that free advertising, including verbal advertising, would be banned as criminal as well.
The original wording of the advertising ban states, “Everyone who knowingly advertises an offer to provide conversion therapy is”, and the updated clause states, “Everyone who knowingly promotes or advertises an offer to”. Because the bill defines conversion therapy as merely getting support to reduce behaviour, verbal promotion of a religious event that encourages people to remain celibate, a column that supports detransitioning or any kind of verbal advertising for a counselling session to reduce non-heterosexual behaviour would be made criminal.
Free to Question is an alliance of detransitioners, medical experts, parents, LGBTQ2 people and feminists who want to protect the right of health care professionals to offer ethical and agenda-free psychotherapy services and assessments to gender-dysphoric youth. I think it would be helpful to repeat the list of those participating in this alliance: detransitioners, medical experts, parents, LGBTQ2 people and feminists. They call for an addition to the bill to ensure health care professionals are able to support youth effectively. They wanted this in the bill:
For greater certainty, this definition does not apply to any advice or therapy provided by a social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, medical practitioner, nurse practitioner or other health care professional as to the timing or appropriateness of social or medical transition to another gender, including discussion of the risks and benefits and offering alternative or additional diagnoses or courses of treatment.
Every one of us in the House has a responsibility to balance individual rights and freedoms within a diverse society. While the charter protects a pluralistic society, this bill creates a zero-sum game of winners and losers and puts pluralism at risk because the definition of conversion therapy being used causes more harm than good.
Bill C-6, like so many other bills and regulations the Liberal government has brought forward, intentionally seeks to control outcomes based on ideological indoctrination. It goes far beyond the agreed need to ban conversion therapy to controlling thought, speech and behaviour, and stifling democratic freedoms through overreaching legislation.
I support a conversion therapy ban, but not this conversion therapy ban, because this bans more than just conversion therapy. Therefore, I cannot support Bill C-6. Let us do better.