Madam Speaker, I expect this will be even better the second time.
I want to begin by acknowledging that I am speaking from the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinabe, the Chippewa and the Haudenosaunee and Wyandot peoples, which is also now home to many diverse first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. I commit every day to honour the treaties by which we share this land, which is ultimately a gift to us from our Creator.
I rise today in the House for the third reading of this important bill, which brings forward amendments to the Criminal Code and moves us closer to seeing an end to the damaging practice of conversion therapy: a practice that continues to harm LGBTQ2 communities in Canada and around the world. These insidious and harmful practices must finally be put to a stop, and this bill would bring about an important change to the laws of Canada.
That is the formal way to start a speech in this place: We acknowledge the land we are on, name the bill we are speaking to, remind the House what its ramifications are and state clearly whether we support it and why.
However, I want to start again and simply say I am a gay man. This is a bill that makes amendments to the Criminal Code. It is a bill that is deeply personal and incredibly important to me. I acknowledge that out of 338 members in this place, there are only four out, self-identified and open LGBTQ2 members, a much smaller proportion than in the population of Canada. While I do not expect everyone to relate to this bill the way I do, I do expect every member in the House to truly wrestle with what it means for them to vote against this bill.
If members say they are voting against it as a matter of conscience, then they need to stare deeply into their conscience and ask themselves why they would want to perpetrate an injustice against another human being, friend, colleague, family member, neighbour, constituent or anyone who would be hurt by that action, perhaps to the point of death. Why would they not want to stand with the vulnerable, the oppressed and the stigmatized? These are the people who need their help the most.
I have heard or read the speeches against these amendments. For me, they are tired and worn-out arguments that come from an age I thought we had escaped decades ago. The political rhetoric is there, the members trying not to sound like they are still living in the stone age. They say they are not against conversion therapy, they are just against this bill. They claim the definition is too broad, or there are drafting errors in the bill, or they say the escape clauses for religious bodies, which help them avoid living up to God's command, are not clear or wide enough.
I say to them, as the prophet Micah did, “He has told you, oh mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” It is time for us to talk truth in this place. If someone is against this bill, they are against me and against people like me. They are saying ultimately that we are less than they are, that somehow God made a mistake when God created us and that we should change who we are or at least consider changing who we are.
I am here to say today I am not going to change, and no one should be told that they have to change or should change or even could change who God made them to be. Conversion therapy, at its core, implies that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer or two-spirited is wrong. This is not true, and it is time for the House to declare that by putting to bed the myth that conversion therapy can ever be right, in any circumstance or in any place at any time.
We already know very well that LGBTQ2 communities in Canada have faced, and continue to face, a set of social and economic disadvantages. These include disparities in health, safety, employment, income and housing. These disparities are linked to historic and systemic stigmatization and discrimination against LGBTQ2 communities.
According to a report by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health and based on a series of expert testimonies and submissions, a wide range of health disparities are noted. These include barriers to accessing health services, and issues persisting whereby LGBTQ2 individuals are still not able to discuss their sexual orientation with their physicians, or if they do, they have to be the ones to educate their own health professionals about their health needs.
The same report highlights disparities in employment, income and housing. Strikingly, of the 40,000 homeless youth in Canada, between 25% and 40% identify as being part of the LGBTQ2S community.
Just this week, retired Ontario Court of Appeal justice Gloria Epstein's long-awaited independent review found serious flaws in the way Toronto police handled the case of serial killer Bruce McArthur, whose killing spree from 2010-17 left at least eight gay men dead. Justice Epstein said that McArthur's victims were “marginalized and vulnerable in a variety of ways”, and their disappearances were often given less attention or priority than they deserved by the police. They were gay, and many of them were racialized or from communities that police simply did not care much about.
Underneath these findings is the stark truth that the lack of attention is not simply incompetence on the part of the Toronto police force, it is a deeply embedded homophobia. It is systemic homophobia. That kind of homophobia, which leads to people dying and being killed, is only furthered when society allows things like so-called conversion therapy to be practised. Conversion therapy, which undermines the value, the worth and the dignity of LGBTQ2S people aids and abets those who would discriminate against, hurt, damage or kill us.
It is true that, throughout all this, LGBTQ2 communities continue to demonstrate great resilience, resourcefulness, innovation and strength. However, dangerous attitudes and beliefs underpin and fuel all of this. Discrimination is real, stigma is real and harassment is real. Even though hurtful attitudes and beliefs about our community continue to exist, they need to be challenged and they need to be stopped. Thanks to the good work of the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, we in the House have a chance to do just that by supporting this bill.
It is not LGBTQ2 people and communities who need to be changed or converted. Harmful prejudice, homophobia, transphobia and all forms of discrimination need to be changed and converted into justice, compassion, understanding and respect. Ultimately, they need to be converted into love. That is what we will be able to do collectively as we support this bill and bring it into law to build a better Canada for everyone.
A vast breadth of sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions exists. That is nothing to fear. We must, as a society, reach a point where we all understand that each person's sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression are intrinsic parts of who we are. We need to embrace these in ourselves and in other people, even when we do not fully comprehend what they mean.
That is why this is such an important bill. Conversion therapy is based on misinformed assumptions and harmful beliefs. By moving forward with stopping the harmful practice of conversion therapy, we are not only moving to stamp out this practice and protect the lives of LGBTQ2 communities and people, we are also sending an important message. Our gender identities, our gender expressions and our sexual orientations are essential parts of who we are and they are not up for debate. They should be understood, appreciated and celebrated. Then we can have a truly inclusive, cohesive society.
It is obvious I was not born yesterday, which everyone can tell by my tired look. That simply means that I have seen tremendous advances in attitudes toward people like me. Just as I was beginning to understand my sexual orientation, the late prime minister Pierre Trudeau ensured that I would not be a criminal if I chose to act on my sexuality and love another man. I saw the emergence of human rights legislation and court decisions based on the charter that gave me a chance to marry my partner with whom I have shared almost 30 years. I have seen my government apologize to those hurt by systemic homophobia in the public service, the military and our national police force.
Now I am going to be in this virtual chamber when we take the next step to ban conversion therapy. We are not done yet. Old attitudes take a long time to die and a long time to bury, but this is our chance—