Madam Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to rise in the House today and speak to a very difficult issue. It is difficult because it is a very personal issue, one that is close to the hearts and minds of so many Canadians, and I understand why it would be.
Throughout Canada's young history, many LGBTQ individuals have been seriously and irreversibly harmed by the effects of conversion therapy. Many have fallen victim to a practice that is now widely understood to be horrific in nature and rooted in many false and prejudiced views against LGBTQ Canadians.
I am grateful to the constituents of my riding who have respectfully engaged with me on this issue and shared their support for the banning of conversion therapy. To my constituents and to all Canadians, I assure them that I stand with them. Conversion therapy is wrong, and it must be banned.
However, the concern I have with Bill C-6, and the concerns I have heard from literally hundreds of individuals who have reached out to me over the past few months, is that the bill would do much more than just ban conversion therapy. One of the fundamental flaws of the bill, and what is becoming a signature move of this government, is that it does not properly define what type of practices and services the government is specifically trying to ban. As a result, its overbroad definition, one that would criminalize important support services, would, ironically, end up hurting the very individuals we are trying most to protect. Let me explain.
One of the critical supports the bill would ban is the open access to counselling to manage sexual behaviour. Unlike every professional or medical institution in North America, the bill includes in its definition of conversion therapy “a practice, treatment or service designed to...repress or reduce non-heterosexual...behaviour”.
We looked at 152 definitions of conversion therapy around the world, including those of the United Nations and all the governments that have passed a law or bylaw on this issue, and not a single one has used the definition of conversion therapy that is in the legislation before us. None of them included in their definition a ban on sexual behaviour counselling, independent of orientation change. I want to reiterate this because this is important: Not one medical body or government in the world defines conversion therapy this way. None of them include in their definition a ban on sexual behaviour counselling.
This is highly concerning, as the reality is that Canadians may want counselling to help reduce or change all kinds of behaviours, including sexual behaviour, yet the government's definition is written in such a way that it would negatively impact equal access to counselling for LGBTQ individuals, as no counsellor would be allowed to help repress or reduce non-heterosexual behaviour.
For example, an individual struggling with a heterosexual porn addiction and the compulsive desire to have extramarital, heterosexual affairs can go and get counselling to help manage their sex addictions. However, a homosexual individual wanting counselling to manage the same behaviours would not be able to access that support. I think we can all agree that this is discrimination. No individual should be prevented from getting the mental and/or behavioural supports they want.
In fact, most Canadians agree. A Nanos poll conducted earlier this year reported that 91% of Canadians support the right of Canadians to get the counselling of their choice, regardless of sexual orientation. That is 91% of Canadians who do not think that anyone should be discriminated against for getting the help they want. Canadians are raising their voices out of concern on this.
The justice committee heard numerous testimonies and received dozens of expert briefs explaining what they called a “chill effect” where, regardless of any assurances from the federal government, no counsellor would want to help LGBTQ individuals manage their behaviours for fear of breaking the law and sacrificing their careers. They also said that, even if a counsellor was willing to discretely provide such services to the LGBTQ community, these professionals would be difficult to find, given that the bill would also make a criminal of anyone “who knowingly promotes or advertises an offer to provide conversion therapy”. By definition, promotes or advertises would include a word-of-mouth referral by a parent or pastor to a counsellor who provides these services.
This reality of a chill effect on counselling has already caused serious concern to a young man who wrote to my office. In his correspondence, he writes of being happily married to an amazing woman, the love of his life, and of being the father to two beautiful children, with another on the way. He is also attracted to men.
In order to find the most fulfillment in his married life, he decided, with the support of his wife, to get counselling to help him manage his same-sex attractions. He describes that this has been a huge benefit to him and his family. His concern with Bill C-6 is that its scope is so large that it would criminalize the conversations that he freely sought out. He asks why he should be prevented from accessing the help he needs to pursue the sexual identity and the relationships he chooses.
It is critical that the definition in the legislation gets in line with all other medical bodies in North America. It is the role of the government to ban bad practices, but not to decide what identity or behaviours an individual should realize. That freedom should be left to the individual.
I fully support a ban that focuses on harmful medical practices, but not on one that attacks Canadians' freedom to choose their outcomes and goals.
I also want to speak to the very real concern that the bill would cast a dark shadow on free and open conversations between parents, teachers and clergy with their dependents. I know first-hand that children reaching adolescence often have many questions regarding sexuality and gender, but BIll C-6 would basically allow big brother into the home, church, synagogue or mosque, and it would bar parents and spiritual leaders from providing the guidance and direction that children and teens need, especially when they are in such a vulnerable and malleable stage in life.
Parents in particular have rights and responsibilities toward their children, which includes the right to guide and direct them in accordance with their own world-view. We would be entering dangerous territory with the legislation, where the government would be telling parents what they may or may not say to their children. While we need to work toward an even-handed approach that protects the rights of the LGBTQ community and protects children from potential abusive therapies, we also need to protect the rights of all Canadians to hold their own perspectives on sexuality and raise their children in accordance with these views.
Again, the justice committee received hundreds of briefs from different faith communities, all expressing this concern. However, I have to wonder if the justice minister has even read a single one of those briefs, because the justice committee sure did not. I was extremely disappointed that instead of taking the time to carefully consider the record number of public submissions, the government decided to rush the legislation through committee study before those briefs could even be translated for consideration. The government did not even bother to go over or elaborate on the evidence received by the committee or the testimonies of the witnesses. Instead, the report suggested a small handful of minor edits that in no way addressed the concerns of those who were opposed to the legislation.
That is why I am grateful to speak today and bring to light the concerns of Canadians that the government refuses to address. That is why we, as Conservatives, put forward an amendment to the legislation that would protect these private conversations. Our amendment even used language pulled directly from the government's own website, but still the Liberals refused to support it.
I have to ask the Minister of Justice this. If he was willing to acknowledge this concern on his website and provide clarification, why was he not willing to do the same on the actual legislation?
He and I both know that an explanatory note on a government website will not convince the courts when this issue gets challenged. Judges do not refer to a website when making a ruling; they are going to look at and use the terms that have been laid out in the legislation we are debating today.
Therefore, before I can support the bill, it needs to make very clear that good faith conversations, where personal views on sexual orientation, sexual feelings, sexual behaviour or gender identity are expressed, such as where teachers, school counsellors, pastoral counsellors, faith leaders, doctors, mental health professionals, friends or family members respectfully provide support to persons with respect to sexual orientation, sexual feelings or gender identity, are protected.
Finally, in my time remaining, I want to touch on what is perhaps the most damaging in this bill, and that is its conflation of gender identity and sexual orientation. These are two very different issues and treating them as the same in this legislation will undoubtedly have many harmful effects on Canadians. While identifying as gay or lesbian at a young age may not have any biological consequence, choosing to identify as transgender does and irreversibly so if chemical and surgical transition follow.
Few young children have the cognitive capacity to state with certainty that they are transgender, yet Bill C-6 makes no distinction between 17 year olds and seven year olds. Any move on the part of parents or counsellors to simply encourage children to be comfortable in their own bodies or to practise watchful waiting could be a criminal offence under this bill.
Is something not out of place here, where parental consent is required to allow children to join a field trip or to get a tattoo, but when it comes to changing their gender, the child has full authority?
I have three wonderful children. They are bright kids, but I can assure members that nine times out of 10 they do not know what is best for themselves. Simply put, that is why my wife and I are their guardians until they are adults and until they have reached an age where they have the cognitive capacity to make permanent and life-altering decisions, such as having a surgical procedure or having certain treatments done that would have a permanent and long-lasting effect on their lives. Therefore, why then would we pass legislation that would allow children as young as five years old to make these irreversible decisions on their own?
It is becoming increasingly clear that the majority of children with questions about their gender identity eventually grow comfortable with their biological gender and their dysphoria desists after some time. That is why watchful waiting has been used by some health professionals and experts as a way to see if what they are experiencing is a temporary phase in the child's life or if the dysphoria persists over a period of time. Watchful waiting allows parents and professionals to understand the particular circumstances of children experiencing gender dysphoria and to give them the opportunity to naturally desist or see if their gender dysphoria persists.
Why encourage watchful waiting? If children want to transition, why stop or delay their ability to do so? The reality is that should children's dysphoria desist and down the road they identify with their biological gender, the path back is not so easy. Many transition therapies have long and irreversible consequences.
Dr. Debra Soh, a neuroscientist and sex researcher, who earned her PhD from York University, wrote the following in an article for Quillette back in 2018. She said:
Therapy that seeks to help gender dysphoric children grow comfortable in their birth sex (known in the research literature as the “therapeutic approach”) has been conflated with conversion therapy, but this is inaccurate. All of the available research following gender dysphoric children longitudinally shows that the majority desist; they outgrow their feelings of dysphoria by puberty and grow up to be gay in adulthood, not transgender.
Children will say they “are” the opposite sex because that’s the only language they have to express to adults that they want to do things the opposite sex does. Cross-sex behavior has also been shown to be a strong predictor of homosexuality in men. Previous research tells us that even children who are severe in their feelings of dysphoria will desist.
However, Bill C-6 as written treats the likelihood of gender-dysphoric children desisting as an impossibility or as somehow wrong.
Ms. Lisa Bildy, a lawyer from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, warned the justice committee that the bill as written would force a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with gender-dysphoric children, rushing to affirm a child's purported gender identity. As she testified, cautious measured approaches are not the danger. Rather, she said:
A free society that supports individual rights, as Canada is supposed to be, would allow parents, children and health professionals to find the best path for each unique child, not have the state preordain that transition is the only permissible option.
If members do not want to hear it from the experts, let us listen to what Canadians think.
The same Nanos poll I referenced earlier found that 72% of Canadians supported a wait-and-see approach for counselling young people who were thinking about changing their bodies with drug treatment. That is a vast majority of Canadians who support a therapeutic approach that this bill would ban.
It is clear to me that most Canadians understand that the push for the immediate affirmation and transition of all gender-dysphoric children is dangerous. If we encourage all children struggling with their gender identity to transition, we run the risk of them eventually undergoing medical procedures that are irreversible without a sober second thought, because such thought would have been criminalized with Bill C-6.
We would do well to learn from the mistakes being made by those countries leading in the progressive charge.
Just last December, the British High Court ruled that children under 16 did not have the capacity to consent to life-changing transition surgeries. This case was the result of a growing number of law suits from transitioners who had come to regret their decision to transition at a young age and were now arguing that the government did not properly protect their vulnerability.
In the ruling, the High Court argued that children under 16 did not have the ability to understand the long-term consequences of receiving puberty-blocking drugs and banned them from receiving such treatment. Other European countries are now moving in that direction as well.
In contrast, in Canada, Bill C-6 would effectively prevent young people from receiving help to accept their biological gender, even if they wanted it.
To be clear, the ban in this legislation would allow for any minor to get counselling and support to transition away from their biological sex, but they would not be allowed to get counselling that would help them identify with their biological sex, even if they wanted that help.
We are going down a dangerous path here. It is a path that other countries have already gone down and have come to regret. We need to stand up for all children and all their specific needs. That is what I am seeking to do here in standing up to speak to the one-directional or one-size-fits-all approach of the legislation.
I want to end my speech where I started, by reiterating that I support a conversion therapy ban, however, I do not support the ban as written in this legislation. It is far too broad and will end up hurting the very people we are trying to protect. Everyone has the right to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect, but it is precisely because of this right that we should not criminalize legitimate therapies designed to help patients explore their sexual identity and/or gender identity.
While the government's intentions with this bill may be pure, its attempt to eliminate an evil is fundamentally flawed and will have far-reaching negative consequences. For these reasons, I cannot support the bill as written. I urge the government to go back to the drawing board and get the legislation right for the sake of the LGBTQ community and for all Canadians.