On March 9, the Federal Government introduced amendments to the Criminal Code to ban conversion therapy. In Bill C-8, conversation therapy is defined broadly as
a practice, treatment or service designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour.
The legislation says conversion therapy does 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 bill creates five new Criminal Code offences relating to conversion therapy. These are:
- Causing a person to undergo conversion therapy against the person’s will;
- Causing a minor to undergo conversion therapy;
- Doing anything for the purpose of removing a minor from Canada with the intention that the minor undergo conversion therapy outside Canada;
- Advertising an offer to provide conversion therapy; and
- Receiving a financial or other material benefit from the provision of conversion therapy.
A key concern is that the definition of conversion therapy includes efforts to repress or reduce sexual behaviour. In accompanying documents, the Justice Department said the legislation would not criminalize
private conversations in which personal views on sexual orientation, sexual feelings or gender identity are expressed such as where teachers, school counsellors, pastoral counsellors, faith leaders, doctors, mental health professionals, friends or family members provide support to persons struggling with their sexual orientation, sexual feelings, or gender identity [emphasis added].
In a media Q and A, Justice Minister Lametti was asked if it would be legal for religious leaders to speak about homosexuality. He replied that if it’s an open-ended and exploratory conversation, it is not prohibited for religious leaders, parents or others. He went on to say: “What is covered by this legislation are practices that attempt to change one’s orientation towards a predefined goal.”
These qualifiers (private, personal, open-ended, exploratory) are not included in the legislation itself, and also raise serious questions about whether a sermon series or a youth Bible study or other programs on sexual ethics offered to those wanting to order their sexual lives in accordance with their religious conscience would be construed to fit the definition of a practice, treatment or service. And since the definition of conversion therapy includes reducing sexual behaviour, programs offered in a church or ministry setting that consider sexual behaviour could be considered as being toward a “predefined goal.”
The legislation also criminalizes advertising conversion therapy programs or receiving remuneration for conversion therapy. In its definition of conversion therapy, the bill also introduces the term “cisgender” into the Criminal Code.
Coercive or involuntary efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity have no place in our communities. However, we have serious concerns with the legislation as worded.
The EFC is seeking assurances that religious instruction, parental guidance and supportive services for individuals wishing to order their sexual lives in accordance with their religious conscience, faith identity and personal convictions will not be captured.
The EFC is preparing an analysis of the bill and will post recommendations for changes and talking points for communication with MPs.