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Updates to bill banning conversion therapy

18 December 2020

Recently proposed updates to Bill C-6, which will outlaw conversion therapy, make the bill’s problematic definition worse.

Quick recap

Bill C-6 was introduced in the House of Commons on October 1, 2020. It was sent to the Justice Committee to be studied after it passed its second reading vote.

The Justice Committee held meetings over four days in early December and heard testimony from 28 witnesses on the bill. It received 277 written briefs on the bill, as well, including from the EFC.

The EFC’s brief expressed concern that the definition of conversion therapy in Bill C-6 was so broadly stated and lacking in clarity that it could limit freedom of expression and religious instruction. The EFC asked for the definition to be clarified, and for exceptions to be added to make it clear that the bill would not affect expression or religious freedom.

Further expanded scope

The Justice Committee report on Bill C-6 was presented to the House of Commons on Dec. 11.

Rather than adding clarification as the EFC and others requested, the Committee report changes the bill to further expand its scope in concerning ways. The Committee voted against changes proposed by some of its members to narrow the scope of the bill or make clear what activities it captures.

Gender expression added

The Committee has recommended adding “gender expression” in the preamble and in the definition of conversion therapy.

With the Committee’s recommendations, which are likely to be accepted by the House of Commons, the new definition of conversion therapy becomes:

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. [recommended new text in red]

Gender expression refers to how a person publicly presents their gender, and can include a person’s behaviour and outward appearance, such as clothing, hair and makeup. Gender expression is referenced in the Canadian Human Rights Act and other parts of the Criminal Code, but the term is not defined in federal legislation. Including this term in Bill C-6 makes the provisions even more ambiguous and broad-ranging.

As the Committee debated the recommendations to include in its report, Bloc Quebecois MP Rhéal Fortin tried to work through the possible impact on parents if gender expression were included in the ban:

The example that I have in mind is an 8-year-old boy that one morning decides before going to school that today he will wear a dress. Maybe the mother will say “Sure,” maybe she’ll say “No.” But if we keep this definition, [and she says] “No, I don’t want you to wear a dress; you wear pants today,” it will be a criminal act. It will be an offense. I have a problem with that.

Department of Justice officials responded to Mr. Fortin that the bill was intended for more formalized interventions.

Exception narrowed

Bill C-6 had an exception to clarify what was not included in the definition. It said the definition did not include a practice, treatment or service “that relates: a) to a person’s gender transition; or b) to a person’s exploration of their identity or to its development.”

The Committee report recommends replacing these exceptions with 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 original exceptions were vague and ambiguous as to whether they would only allow for transition in one direction. The new exception specifies that no particular sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression should be favoured. The new exception could allow the possibility of criminal sanction for counselling that expresses a preference for a particular gender identity or expression. 

Other changes

The Committee changed the wording of the forced conversion therapy offence from “causing a person to undergo conversion therapy against their will,” to causing a person to undergo conversion therapy “without the person’s consent.”

The final change made by the Committee was to broaden the ban on advertising conversion therapy to include promoting conversion therapy, even when it is not a financial transaction, as advertising implies.

What you can do

The Justice Committee’s recommended changes increase our concerns about the possible overreach of Bill C-6.

The House of Commons is currently on break and scheduled to return on January 25. This is a key time to contact your local MP and express your concerns about Bill C-6’s possible overreach.

If you have written or emailed your MP about this bill, you could send a follow-up message. More effective still, call your MP’s office to speak to staff and reiterate the messaging from your letter or email. Ask to meet with your MP on a video call with others who are concerned about the bill. Tell other members of your community about the bill’s overreach if you think they may share your concerns.

The EFC’s website has a sample letter and talking points you can use when speaking with your MP, at TheEFC.ca/C6.

For more info on how a bill becomes law – and what you can do, and how to communicate with government officials – see TheEFC.ca/CivicEngagement.

Please be careful to speak respectfully and graciously about this bill. Remember that we are Christ’s witnesses and He calls us to love our neighbour.