Madam Speaker, conversion therapy has been found by all experts to be fraudulent and harmful. It is not sanctioned by any professional organization and many Canadians are surprised this practice still goes on in Canada. However, we heard powerful testimony at the justice committee, documenting the fact that conversion therapy still took place in both what I would call its traditional form, focusing on sexual orientation, and in a new form that argues that those who are transgender, non-binary or gender diverse ought to be talked out of their personal identity.
The New Democrats and almost all members of the SOGI community have long been calling for a complete ban on conversion therapy in all its forms. What we have before us, after amendments at the committee, is a bill that comes close to a complete ban, as close as possible without actually being one.
The Minister of Justice has repeatedly said that the reason for not going ahead with a complete ban is his fear that it would not survive a charter challenge on the basis that it would restrict the rights of consenting adults to freely choose to subject themselves to conversion therapy.
There is an alternative argument that says a complete ban would indeed likely survive a charter challenge because there are strong legal precedents that argue that no one can actually consent to being defrauded or injured. The clearest parallel in the Criminal Code is the case of fight clubs, which remain illegal, as one cannot consent, no matter how freely, to being physically injured. Therefore, if the evidence is undeniable that conversion therapy is inherently fraudulent and harmful, the same legal principles should apply.
What is banned in Bill C-7? The strongest provision in the bill is a complete ban for minors, including the offence of transporting a minor outside the country to undergo conversion therapy, which is a much more common practice than most Canadians would assume.
Growing up in a society that remains heteronormative and intolerant of any challenges to the binary cisgender norms is challenging enough for queer youth without ending up being pressured into therapy whose goal is to get them to deny who they actually are.
Though Bill C-6 does not institute a complete ban on conversion therapy, it will establish an effective ban on the practice as it prohibits generally what might be called the business practices around conversion therapy. This means there will be a ban on charging for, or profiting from conversion therapy and a ban on paid or unpaid advertising of conversion therapy.
Working together at committee, we did strengthen Bill C-6, although the Conservatives are acting like no amendments actually took place at committee. One of the most important improvements was to alter the original language in Bill C-6, which proposed banning conversion therapy “against a person's will”. This was vague language with no parallel elsewhere in the Criminal Code of which I know. My amendment was adopted to change this language to a ban on conversion therapy “without consent”.
Using the language of without consent clearly situates the ban on conversion therapy within the well-understood and well-developed Canadian jurisprudence on what does and does not constitute consent. I was disappointed that a second amendment, which sought to spell out the specific limitations on consent that would apply in the case of conversion therapy, was defeated. The testimony we heard from survivors about the kinds of duress they were almost universally under to subject themselves to conversion therapy would clearly obviate any claim of consent.
The second important improvement made at the justice committee was to expand the scope of the definition of conversion therapy to include gender identity and gender expression. This makes the language in Bill C-6 consistent with our existing human rights legislation and the hate crimes section of the Criminal Code as amended by Bill C-16. This is important as the new forms of conversion therapy I mentioned are directed at transgender and gender diverse individuals and at the attempt to get them to deny their gender identity under the guise of helping individuals “adjust”.
A third change to Bill C-6 made at committee was to add to the definition of what was in effect a for greater certainty clause stating what was not covered in the ban, something the Conservatives say they wanted and something they are certainly ignoring as it is now in the bill.
Bill C-6 now makes clear that it does not ban good faith counselling. Let me cite the specific definition again, as I did in my question earlier, as it could not be more clear. This definition “does not include 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.” That is specifically in the bill.
Opponents of Bill C-6 continue to insist that the bill will somehow prevent conversations between parents and children or pastors and their faithful on the topics of sexual orientation or gender identity. There is no truth to this claim. The only way these conversations could be captured is if, in fact, they were part of a sustained effort to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity that constitutes a practice or service under the bill. It would be a giant stretch to characterize efforts of parents or pastors to “try to talk their kids out of it” as a practice, service or therapy.
The vehemence of the debate on Bill C-6 around gender identity certainly reflects the fact that trans and gender-diverse Canadians face the highest levels of discrimination of any group in Canada. That discrimination results in high levels of unemployment, difficulties in accessing housing and high levels of violence, including the murder of two transgender Canadians in the last year alone, just for being trans.
During hearings in committee there was a wave of hatred expressed toward me as an individual on social media, which showed me the level of hostility generally toward trans and gender-diverse people in our country. The insults thrown at me ranged from interfering with parental rights to supporting mutilation of children and, most absurdly, being in the pay of big pharma, apparently because transitioning involves hormones. That is a particularly ill-informed charge against someone who has fought all my time in public life for reducing the power of pharmaceutical companies through shorter patents, expanded use of generics, bulk-buying to bring down costs and, ultimately, the establishment of universal pharmacare.
Those insults also included direct threats of violence directed at me, but, again, I remind myself that the hatred I saw, and will inevitably see again after this speech today, provided only a small glimpse into what transgender and gender-diverse Canadians face every day of their lives.
Many of those objecting to the bill have used what I call a “false detransitioning narrative”. To be clear, I am not rejecting the validity of the stories of individuals who may have chosen to detransition, but opponents of Bill C-6 have adopted those stories to construct a false narrative about the number who choose to detransition and their reasons for doing so. Professional, peer-reviewed studies from the U.K. and Scandinavia tell us that very few transgender people actually later detransition. Both major studies cite a number of fewer than five in 1,000 who detransition, and, even more interesting, both studies report that most of them say they detransitioned not because it was not right for them, but because they did not get support from family, friends and the community they live and work in.
The implication by critics seems to be that there is something in this bill that would prevent counselling concerning detransition, when this is absolutely not the case. Using the detransition narrative to detract Bill C-6 is false, in that I am pretty sure this argument often actually has nothing to do with the ban on conversion therapy being proposed; it is an argument about the very validity of transgender Canadians.
Let me say that I find these arguments against the bill, and being at my most charitable, are at a minimum parallel, if not identical, to those that continue to cause harm to trans and gender-diverse Canadians, and they indicate why we need this ban. At some point, some might ask why have a bill at all, when CT is universally condemned as fraudulent and harmful. Again, as many members have pointed out, studies show that literally tens of thousands of Canadians have been subjected to this practice.
It is important to listen to the voices of survivors of conversion therapy; only then can we understand the need for this bill. Once again, I want to extend personal thanks to two survivors, Erika Muse and Matt Ashcroft, who spent a lot of time with me trying to give me a better understanding of the horrors they faced and their own challenging roads to recovery.
On a personal note, let me say again that I have seen progress in my lifetime for some in the sexual orientation and gender identity community, but we have a much longer road to follow when it comes to those who are transgender and gender-diverse. What a ban of conversion therapy really says is this: we know it is impossible to change someone's sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and trying to change or repress one's identity is harmful. Let's stop literally torturing young Canadians for being who they are. Let's put an end—