Yukon looks to join provinces, cities outlawing the procedure

Ann Gillies speaking at a Campaign Life Coalition clergy luncheon in February warning that bans on conversion therapy threatens religious freedom and parental rights.

Ann Gillies speaking at a Campaign Life Coalition clergy luncheon in February warning that bans on conversion therapy threatens religious freedom and parental rights.

On March 6, Justice Minister David Lametti tabled a bill to make it a crime to outlaw conversion therapy for minors to help them overcome same-sex extraction or gender confusion.

If passed Bill C-8 will add five new crimes to the Criminal Code including causing a minor to undergo conversion therapy, removing a minor from Canada to undergo such treatment, to cause a person to have conversion therapy against his or her will, to profit from conversion therapy, or to advertise such services.

Bill C-8 defines “conversion therapy” 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.” It adds: “For greater certainty, this definition 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 penalties for advertising or profiting from such services is a maximum of two years in jail while those convicted of causing a child to undergo conversion therapy in Canada or abroad or forcing an adult to undergo such treatment carries a maximum of five years in prison.

In a press conference, Lametti said, “As to minors, we are criminalizing this across the board.” But he also said the additional measures would criminalize “coerced” conversion therapy and activities related to providing the therapy for adults, effectively banning it completely.

Lametti admitted the political nature of the bill, saying it provides a “balance between progressive policies and constitutional (rights).” He boasted that if Bill C-8 is passed, “Canada’s law will be the most progressive and comprehensive in the world.”

But the Justice Minister dismissed concerns about constitutional rights when a reporter asked about any infringement of Charter rights to freedom of expression and religion by saying that the government was more concerned about the “devastating effects” of conversion therapy.

Lametti called conversion therapy a “discredited practice” and “not based in science.” He also said conversion therapy “sends a demeaning and degrading message.” He was joined at the press conference by Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger and so-called survivors of conversion therapy.

Conservative Party MP and leadership hopeful Derek Sloan, one of two pro-life candidates on the leadership ballot supported by Campaign Life Coalition, called the Trudeau government’s C-8 “madness,” saying that if passed parents will go jail for trying to help their minor children. In an email to supporters, Sloan said: “The Liberals condemn the notion that parents should be able to help a child identify with the body they were born with. ‘Conversion therapy’ is what they call any professional treatment in this area. All the while, the Liberals celebrate giving a child hormones and irreversible plastic surgery as ‘gender affirmation’.” He added: “If that seems backwards to you, that’s because it is. In fact, for teenagers suffering from gender dysphoria, it can be a nightmare.”

Sloan said the Trudeau government is being “radically ideological – and completely out to lunch”  with their “biggest priority” being a bill outlawing conversion therapy  while Canadians  are grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.

Pro-family advocates, many who have been working to defeat a similar bill, S-202, in the Senate, are critical of the government’s bill, saying it will prevent Canadian youth from receiving treatment that they want. In 2019 Senator Serge Joyal (Liberal) introduced Bill S-260 which would ban the provision or advertisement of conversion therapy service. The bill died on the Senate floor when the election was called last year, but Joyal re-introduced it as Bill S-202 in December. Joyal said during second reading of Bill S-202 that the “purpose of this bill … is to make it an offence to advertise conversion therapy services for consideration and to obtain financial or other material benefit for the provision of conversion therapy to a person under the age of 18 – and I stress under the age of 18.”

Campaign Life Coalition director of political operations, Jack Fonseca, criticized both bills as a threat to religious freedom and the medical and spiritual care and support some confused youth are desperately seeking. “Any kind of clinical therapy or spiritual counseling to help a person overcome their gender identity confusion and to accept their bodily reality, including the pastoral support … will be defined as ‘conversion therapy,’ and thus, become illegal.”

Fonseca also said that the political push is a reaction to widespread misinformation. “At this very moment, dishonest media outlets and even more dishonest LGBT activists are running around the country, lying and claiming that gays and lesbians are being electroshocked, and forcibly confined, and tortured by churches and psychotherapists who practice ‘conversion’ therapy. And this is a lie.” Fonseca explained that conversion therapy is “loving, standard talk therapy” and “there is nothing forcible about it.”

Talking to a Campaign Life Coalition clergy luncheon in February about Senate Bill S-202, Ann Gillies, a psychotherapist and author of the 2017 book Closing the Floodgates, an analysis of propaganda promoting the sexual revolution, echoed this when warning: “The ultimate goal is to silence the Christian church in Canada. It is to silence us from talking. It’s totally totalitarian.” She noted that a leading advocate of banning conversion therapy is Kristopher Wells, Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta. A well-known LGBTQ activist, Wells has promoted a cartoon comparing Christians to Nazis. He also wrote a book urging municipalities to ban conversion therapy, and included among the types of activities he wanted to see prohibited were talk therapy, group therapy, spiritual prayer, exorcism, or medical or drug-induced therapy “which attempt to actively change someone’s sexual orientation.”

Many municipalities, especially in Alberta, have followed Wells’ advice. At least seven Alberta cities have banned or limited conversion therapy within their borders, including Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McMurray, and Medicine Hat.

Vancouver was the first Canadian city to outlaw conversion therapy – banning advertising for the therapy and refusing to license businesses that offer it – in June 2018.

Human rights tribunals and professional bodies have effectively outlawed conversion therapy in Quebec since 2012. Ontario passed the Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Act (Bill 77) in 2015, outlawing conversion therapy for minors and prohibiting it from being funded under the provincial health plan. The same year, Manitoba Health Minister Sharon Blady enacted measures to end the practice in her province, saying “it is the position of the Manitoba Government that conversion therapy can have no place in the province’s public health-care system.”

In 2018, Nova Scotia’s Liberal government banned conversion therapy with the unanimous support of the opposition parties for the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Protection Act, which is similar to the Ontario law. In 2019, the Progressive Conservative government in Prince Edward Island also passed unanimously legislation banning conversion therapy, the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Protection in Health Care Act.

Advocates are pushing for bans in Alberta and Saskatchewan. A legislative working group in Alberta that was developing a plan to ban conversion therapy and headed by Alberta NDP MLA Nicole Goehring, was disbanded by Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government last May.

A bill banning conversion therapy for minors under 19 years old was introduced by the Green Party of British Columbia last May, but has not yet proceeded in the legislature.

Last month, the Yukon government tabled legislation to ban the practice. Jeanie Dendys, the minister responsible for the Women’s Directorate, tabled Bill 9, the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Protection Act, on March 12. Alex Muszynski, the acting director of the Women’s Directorate, said Bill 9 is designed to prevent minors and adults who have someone appointed as a decision maker on their behalf, from accessing conversion therapy and to ensure it is not a funded service. “We’re planning to prohibit conversion therapy from being offered,” Muszynski said.

Bill 9 goes further than many provincial laws, defining conversion therapy as a service” including counselling, behaviour modification techniques or prescription of medications, provided to an individual with the goal of having the person change gender identities or sexual orientations. But it also states that it is not “a practice, treatment or service that provides acceptance, support or understanding of a person or that facilitates a person’s coping, social support or identity exploration or development,” or “gender-affirming surgery or any practice, treatment or service related to gender-affirming surgery.”

Muszynski said she was concerned the covid-19 pandemic could prevent the Yukon legislature from passing Bill 9 in the current sitting.