Prime Minister Trudeau wrote a letter on December 13, 2019, to Canada’s attorney general requesting that the Criminal Code of Canada be amended to include conversion therapy, making it illegal in Canada. This is the first concrete step taken by the Liberal government to adhere to their promise made during the 2019 election that they would ban this practice if re-elected.
Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, has the goal of changing a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual or changing the gender identity of a person who is not cisgender (the gender they were assigned at birth). It is known to have been practiced for over a century through both spiritual and psychological interventions. Since the practice is widely considered unethical and unprofessional, it is difficult to find a medical practitioner in Canada who will openly offer it.
However, this has just resulted in the practice moving underground in religious communities, making it more dangerous and also harder to track. This therapy has been proven by reputable organizations such as the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to be ineffective and harmful for those subjected to it. According to the CPA, repression of one’s sexual or gender identity leads to negative outcomes such as “distress, anxiety, depression, negative self-image, a feeling of personal failure, difficulty sustaining relationships, and sexual dysfunction”.
As of 2015, conversion therapy has been banned in several provinces, including Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba.
The Senate is currently working on making further progress on this issue. This week Bill S-202 was tabled in the Senate, which seeks to make it illegal to benefit materially or financially from conversion therapy, while also banning the advertisement of it to those under 18.
However, this bill has been criticized for being too small in scope to have a successful impact, as it only targets minors.
This is the second time such a bill has been tabled, having been initially introduced by the same senator in the spring of 2019, but the House deferred the issue to the provinces, stating that healthcare issues are provincial jurisdiction.