Thank you, Madam Chair.
Dear colleagues, I'm in Ottawa and am accordingly taking part in this meeting on traditional Algonquin territory.
I am pleased to be speaking with you today about the criminal law reforms in Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy).
The nearly unanimous support that led to the referral of Bill C-6 to this committee reflects its vital importance. I would like to thank everyone who spoke courageously about their own experiences of discrimination. These are the realities of LGBTQ2 people that give us a better understanding of why Bill C-6 is so essential to the protection of their dignity and equality.
More specifically, Bill C-6 and the five new criminal offences it is proposing target a practice that is discriminatory against LGBTQ2 people because, this practice claims that LGBTQ2 individuals can and must change a fundamental part of their identity, namely their sexual orientation or gender identity. This practice has its roots in the erroneous and discriminatory idea that non-heterosexual orientations and non-cisgender identities are illnesses that can be "corrected".
In short, it's origins betray the discriminatory points of view on which the practice is based. These points of view are completely out of sync with modern science. It's not surprising to find that conversion therapy is seen as ineffective, and harmful to those subjected to it.
I will focus on the bill's definition of conversion therapy, because there appears to be some persisting confusion about its scope.
Bill C-6 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”. The definition, therefore, has two elements: first, that the conduct at issue amounts to a practice, treatment or service; and second, that the practice, treatment or service is designed to achieve one of the prohibited objectives.
The terms “treatment”, “service” and “practice” are used in the Criminal Code and various other federal and provincial statutes, including in provincial conversation therapy-related statutes' definitions of conversion therapy. For example, P.E.I.'s legislation refers specifically to a “practice, treatment or service”.
Notably, in none of these contexts are these terms defined, largely because the terms have a clear, literal meaning. In Bill C-6's conversion therapy definition, the term “treatment” means a “therapy or procedure used to treat a medical condition”, according to Merriam-Webster. That is how the term is also used and understood in the Criminal Code's mental disorder provisions, for example section 672.59.
The term “service” in this context means “labor that does not produce a tangible commodity”—again, in Merriam-Webster. The term is also used in this way in the human trafficking provisions, whereby traffickers extract a “labour or service” from their victims, as in section 279.04 of the Criminal Code. The term is also found in the Cannabis Act, to refer to using the “services” of youth in the commission of cannabis-related offences, or to services related to cannabis in the context of commercial activity.
The term “practice” means “a repeated or customary action”, again in Merriam-Webster. The term is also used in this way in the Criminal Code's illegal betting provisions, section 203, and the animal cruelty provisions, section 445.2.
All of these terms imply an established or formalized intervention, one that is generally offered to the public or a segment of the public. A mere conversation cannot, therefore, be considered a practice, service or treatment, unless it forms part of a formalized intervention, such as a talk therapy session.
The second part of the definition reduces its scope still more. The practices, services and treatments need to be specifically designed to achieve clearly defined objectives. That's why the definition uses the terms "heterosexual," "cisgender," and "non-heterosexual". More precisely, to be covered by the definition, the intervention must be designed to change a person's sexual orientation to heterosexual, or their gender identity to cisgender, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour.
This means that the practices, services or treatments designed to achieve other objectives, such as abstinence from all sexual activity, combatting sexual dependency or criminal sexual behaviour—such as child sexual assault—are not clearly covered by the definition. Legitimate medical or therapeutic practices cannot enter into the definition either, such as interventions designed to support a person's gender transition, careful observation of young people whose gender identity does not match the sex assigned to them at birth, or detransition for those who choose.