Madam Speaker, it is an honour to speak to Bill C-6, an act to amend the Criminal Code to ban conversion therapy.
Let me say at the outset that conversion therapy is absurd. It is wrong, and it is harmful. Conversion therapy should be banned. Individuals who perpetrate such harmful acts and seek to coercively change someone's sexual orientation or sexual identity should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law under the penalty of the Criminal Code. I unequivocally support the purported objective of this legislation, which is why I voted for Bill C-6 at second reading.
I did so notwithstanding the fact that I did have some concerns with the manner in which the bill was drafted. In particular, I had concerns that the definition of conversion therapy was vague and overly broad, and that it could capture not only those circumstances that involve coercive, abusive or otherwise harmful efforts to change someone's sexual orientation or identity, but could also more broadly encapsulate such things as good-faith conversations.
Nonetheless, because I unequivocally support the purported objective of the bill, I was hopeful, as a member of the justice committee, that we could come together at committee to study the bill in detail, hear from a wide range of witnesses and bring forward appropriate amendments where necessary to get the definition right.
It goes without saying that if we are to carve out any law in the Criminal Code to ban conversion therapy, it is absolutely imperative that we get the definition right. At committee, many of the concerns I had with the way in which the bill had been drafted were expressed by a wide range of witnesses, including members of the LGBTQ community, lawyers, medical professionals and members of the clergy.
More specifically, with respect to the definition and some of the issues that arise therefrom, I would first of all note that in the bill, conversion therapy is defined as any “practice, treatment or service”. These terms are not defined anywhere in the Criminal Code, and it should be noted that nowhere in the bill are these terms qualified in order to provide the context in which the practice, treatment or service would apply. Although these terms are found in parts of the Criminal Code, they are not stand-alone terms as they are in Bill C-6.
It is true that the term “treatment” connotes a therapeutic context. However, “practice” or “service” could, without qualification, involve just about any activity. For example, a “practice” could involve a good-faith conversation, and “service” could involve a voluntary counselling session or a religious sermon.
I was concerned that witnesses were expressing concern about the lack of clarity with respect to those terms, but in addition to that, the definition, as provided in Bill C-6, provides that it would ban any practice, treatment or service designed to reduce sexual attraction or sexual behaviour.
The definition is clearly expansive. It goes beyond a clear and targeted definition. Without any qualification, it could arguably include counselling sessions or other supports provided on a voluntary basis by medical professionals and other professionals. It could, arguably, capture good-faith conversations between persons struggling with their sexual identity and medical professionals, parents and other family members, religious leaders and others.
It is important to note that this definition of conversion therapy is not used by any professional body. It is not used by the Canadian Psychiatric Association, the Canadian Psychological Association or their American counterparts. In the face of that ambiguity, which was supported by witness testimony, Conservatives sought to bring forward amendments to get the definition right.
Now, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth and other members of the government have repeatedly said that the bill before us would not target voluntary, good-faith conversations. I do not doubt their sincerity when they say that is what they believe. Consistent with that, the website of the Department of Justice states the same.
However, what matters not is the minister's interpretation of the bill. What matters not is what is on the website of the Department of Justice. What matters is, in fact, what is in the bill, which is why Conservatives brought forward an amendment to simply incorporate into the bill the very language that was provided on the website of the Department of Justice. Such language would have provided certainty. It would have provided clarity that good-faith and voluntary conversations would not be the subject of the imposition of criminal charges laid against persons.
Let me be clear that it is a fundamental requirement of the rule of law that a person should be able to know and predict whether a particular act constitutes a crime. Here we have a definition that is vague and overly broad, and therefore is at risk of contravening fundamental justice. It could be deemed contrary to section 7 of the charter as a result.
In closing, the government's intention is a good one, and the intent of the bill is a good one, but it is important that we get the definition right. I am concerned that we have not achieved that in the bill before us.