“It’s shameful that Canada has relied on a patchwork of provincial legislation for so long with nothing in place at the federal level. NUPGE applauds the Prime Minister for finally moving forward on this issue to protect LGBTQI2S citizens.” ― Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (16 Dec. 2019) ― In a mandate letter to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, David Lametti, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has instructed the minister to, “amend the Criminal Code to ban the practice of conversion therapy and take other steps required with the provinces and territories to end conversion therapy in Canada.”
Larry Brown, President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) also sent a letter to Lametti on the topic on November 22, echoing the growing call to ban so-called reparative or conversion therapy in Canada.
What is reparative or conversion therapy?
Reparative or conversion therapy is designed to change the sexual orientation of persons who are not heterosexual or the gender identity of persons who aren’t cisgender. To be clear, reparative or conversion therapy refers specifically to practices designed to “fix” an individual and claims the practitioner can change a person’s sexuality or gender identity.
Gender affirming or sexuality affirming therapy that affirms a person’s identity and does not try to fix, repair, or change a person’s identity is a completely different practice.
The International Psychology Network for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Issues (IPsyNet) of which the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) is a member, released a statement called IPsyNet Statement on LGBTIQ+ Concerns in which they assert, “Given that conversion therapies actively stigmatize same-sex orientations and transgender identities, as well as have the potential for harm, we support affirmative approaches to therapy for LGBTQ+ people and reject therapies that aim to cause harm to LGBTIQ+ people.”
NUPGE wholeheartedly rejects the discriminatory stance that individuals who are not heterosexual or cisgender are abnormal or need to be “fixed.” Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and has the right to define their own identity.
Reparative or conversion therapy in Canada
It’s difficult to get a clear picture on where and how prevalent the issue of reparative or conversion therapy is in Canada. Practitioners don’t openly advertise their services and disguise the sessions as “counselling” hours. According to a CBC News story, at least half the participants at a gathering of over 100 LGBTQI2S high school students had, “experienced attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity by a doctor.”
So-called therapies have no basis in science
The practice of reparative or conversion therapy has been rejected by mainstream medical and mental health organizations for having no basis in science and for being deeply harmful to the individual undergoing therapy.
In 2012, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) issued a statement saying reparative or conversion therapy represents, "a serious threat to the health and well-being—even the lives—of affected people," and cite many testimonies that illustrate how, “repression of sexual orientation has been associated with feelings of guilt and shame, depression, anxiety, and even suicide.” At the end of the statement PAHO/WHO provided a list of recommendations for governments and other institutions on how to end the practice.
The Canadian Psychological Association issued their own policy statement on reparative or conversion therapy which states, “Scientific research does not support the efficacy of conversion or reparative therapy. Conversion or reparative therapy can result in negative outcomes such as distress, anxiety, depression, negative self-image, a feeling of personal failure, difficulty sustaining relationships, and sexual dysfunction.”
Bans at the provincial level not sufficient
Some provinces have regulations against reparative or conversion therapy. Ontario was the first province to prohibit the practice for anyone under 18 and prohibit any billing for the practice through public health insurance. Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have similar bans in place, and Manitoba issued an edict with similar restraints.
In British Columbia the Green Party introduced a bill to ban the practice in the province in 2019, but it died when the legislature session ended. In Alberta the previous NDP government had established a conversion therapy working group to begin drafting a ban, but the working group was disbanded by the Kenney UCP government shortly after they won the election.
NUPGE applauds the provinces who have taken action on banning the practice and is eager to see how the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada progresses on amending the Criminal Code. Until a ban is in place at the federal level, LGBTQI2S Canadians are still at risk.
Federal government received petition to ban conversion therapy
In March 2019 the federal government rejected a petition with more than 18,000 signatures gathered by Alberta activist, Devon Hargreaves and submitted by NDP MP for Saskatchewan West, Sheri Benson. As reported by CBC News, the government, while recognizing that, “conversion therapies are immoral, painful, and do not reflect the values of our government or those of Canadians” deemed the issue a provincial problem as it falls under the jurisdiction of healthcare.
There is however, room to address reparative or conversion therapy in the Criminal Code. An amendment could be made that speaks to specific aspects – such as forcible confinement or assault – that occur during reparative or conversion therapy. Indeed, Bill S-260 sought to, “make it an offence to advertise conversion therapy services for consideration and to obtain a financial or other material benefit for the provision of conversion therapy to a person under the age of 18.” Bill S-260 made it to a second reading in the Senate in May 2019, but did not become law.
“NUPGE will continue to watch how the federal government plans to move forward on amending the Criminal Code,” said Larry Brown, NUPGE President. “It’s shameful that Canada has relied on a patchwork of provincial legislation for so long with nothing in place at the federal level. NUPGE applauds the Prime Minister for finally moving forward on this issue to protect LGBTQI2S citizens.”
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE