Madam Speaker, I rise today not to debate a ban on coercive conversion therapy, but instead to debate the means by which we ban this harmful, damaging practice. I want to make one thing very clear from the outset: I am against forcibly attempting to change an individual’s sexual orientation. I condemn that practice in the strongest possible terms. There is simply no place for this in Canada.
However, there is a place in Canada for compassion. At the justice committee, of which I am a member, we heard testimony from a variety of stakeholders on this bill, including survivors of coercive conversion therapy, members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, indigenous leaders, academics, doctors, lawyers and faith leaders. I thank all the witnesses for their contributions, especially those who had the strength and courage to share their very personal experiences. I know it could not have been easy.
It is evident to me from having heard these witnesses, read countless briefs and spoken to dozens of constituents that there is a widespread support for banning coercive conversion therapy practices, and there should be. However, as with all legislation, the language must be clear. We need to ensure that judges can interpret and apply the law as it is written, and that Canadians know what the law prohibits and what it does not: in other words, whom it protects and whom it does not. On this point, I have heard repeatedly that the bill’s definition of conversion therapy is unclear and overbroad, as my colleague just said, and may have unintended consequences.
For earlier Liberal speakers to say that those with any concerns are against the communities we are trying to help, and speak from fear, is a harmful, wrong-minded statement. The Minister of Justice has said that the bill would not affect good-faith conversations, which I understand to mean caring, non-coercive discussions with doctors, parents, counsellors, faith leaders or others to whom Canadians, young and old, may turn for support. However, the bill, as drafted, does not say that. Why not? As we all know, what matters is not what the minister says the bill will do, but what the bill actually says. That is the law. That is what judges will apply, from Victoria to St. John’s.
Several witnesses appearing before the committee called for amendments to the bill to clarify its definition, to make it clear that it does not criminalize these good-faith conversations. Coercive conversion therapy should be banned, but we should leave politicization out and remember that we are dealing with real people with real vulnerabilities trying to make their way and needing help at a vulnerable time. We need to clarify, then proceed. The government should welcome the broadest possible support among Canadians for this legislation: nothing more, nothing less.
In fact, when the committee first heard from the Minister of Justice on this bill, the minister admitted, “I will focus on the bill's definition of conversion therapy, because there appears to be some persisting confusion about its scope.” I agree with the minister. There is persisting confusion, and the confusion is about its scope, confusion that we, as parliamentarians, have a duty to rectify.
André Schutten, legal counsel and director of law and policy at the Association for Reformed Political Action Canada, or ARPA, told the committee the definition is ambiguous, unclear and overbroad, and that it “captures helpful counselling and psychological support for children, teens, and adults”.
Colette Aikema explained to the committee that the counselling she received to help her cope with past traumas, including abuse and rape, would be criminalized by this definition of conversion therapy. Ms. Aikema told the committee that her voluntary therapy from a University of Lethbridge counsellor and a faith-based sex addiction group helped save both her marriage and her life. This was powerful testimony that should not be ignored.
We also heard from Timothy Keslick, a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, who fears that without further clarification, the therapy he relies on to help him navigate his same-sex relationships would be barred by the bill’s ban on treatment that “repress[es] or reduce[s] non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviours”.
Others also expressed the need to clarify the definition of conversion therapy in the bill—