Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Outremont.
I would like to start by acknowledging that I am speaking from the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.
I am proud to speak today in favour of Bill C-6, an act to amend the Criminal Code in regard to conversion therapy. The bill would amend the Criminal Code to criminalize conversion therapy related conduct. The proposed amendments would protect minors from conversion therapy both within and outside of Canada, adults who are vulnerable to being forced to undergo conversion therapy and Canadians from the commercialization of conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy refers to alleged treatments that seek to change the sexual orientation of bisexual, gay and lesbian individuals to heterosexual, a person's gender identity to cisgender and to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or non-conforming sexual behaviour. This outdated and much maligned practice comes in many forms including counselling, behaviour modification and talk therapy.
In our 2019 platform, the government made a commitment to protect the dignity and equality of LGBTQ2 Canadians by ending the dehumanizing practice of conversion therapy. The bill supports that promise and builds on other related measures, including those from the last Parliament when we strengthened protections for transgender people in the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act, through the former Bill C-16.
I had the pleasure of joining the health committee in the last Parliament for the study on the health of LGBTQ2 Canadians. A number of witnesses spoke about the negative impact that so-called conversion therapy has. I always hesitate to use the word “therapy” because therapy to me implies something positive while there is nothing at all positive about this discriminatory practice.
While many witnesses spoke about this issue, I want quote Dr. Travis Salway, post-doctoral research fellow at the school of population and public health at the University of B.C. who testified at committee. He said:
Conversion therapy is an umbrella term for practices that intend to change an individual's sexual orientation and gender identity. It is among the most extreme forms of psychological abuse and violence, leaving those exposed to manage the stress associated with a severe form of withholding for many years. ...conversion therapy has been unequivocally denounced by the Canadian Psychological Association and multiple other professional bodies.
Despite those denouncements, in a recent Canadian survey, 4% of sexual minority men reported having attended conversion therapy. On this basis, as many as 20,000 sexual minority men and countless more sexual minority women and transgender people have been exposed. Exposure to conversion therapy was associated with numerous health problems in the study we conducted. Most notably, one-third of those who had completed conversion therapy programs attempted suicide.
Sexual minority youth are especially vulnerable to being enrolled in conversion programs against their will, yet in Canada we lack federal policies to protect our youth from these harmful practices. Many, if not most, conversion programs are practised outside health care providers' offices. Thus, the current situation in which some provinces ban conversion practices by a subset of providers is insufficient and inequitable....
Suicide attempts, suicide ideation, treatment for anxiety or depression and illicit drug use were all higher in those who had attended conversion therapy. The health consequences are quite large. That suggests to me that as an infringement, as an assault, putting someone into conversion therapy, especially youths who aren't able to choose for themselves, is quite a serious offence....
Dr. Salway's testimony was echoed by other witnesses, which led the health committee to recommend, “That the Government of Canada work with the provinces and territories to eliminate the practice of conversion therapy in Canada and consider making further modifications to the Criminal Code.” The bill we are debating today fulfills this recommendation, as well as the calls from advocates and the medical profession and our own commitment to end the abhorrent practice of conversion therapy.
Yesterday, the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke spoke eloquently and passionately about the bill. He quite accurately described a number of red herrings that are circulating to discredit the bill and create confusion in the public. The bill would in no way criminalize affirming support to those struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity, given by friends, family members, teachers, social workers or religious leaders.
I have seen a flyer circulated by Campaign Life Coalition claiming that the bill would “deny spiritual guidance and pastoral care for people who identify as LGBT even if they ask for it”, and “that many Canadians have seen their lives turned around by turning to clinical therapy, prayer and spiritual counselling to overcome unwanted same sex attraction”.
There were more absurd and troubling claims made, but I am not going to justify them by repeating them here in the House of Commons. I am deeply disturbed by these claims, which are fundamentally based on the belief that sexual orientation and gender identity are a choice that an individual makes. They ignore the very real harms of conversion therapy: self-hatred, depression, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.
These claims and the practice of conversion therapy as a whole also perpetuate harmful myths and stereotypes about LGBTQ2 people, in particular, that sexual orientation other than heterosexual and gender identities other than cisgender can and should be changed. This type of discriminatory messaging stigmatizes LGBTQ2 persons, undermines their dignity and goes against our shared goal of equality.
Given conversion therapy's proven harms and its impact on the most marginalized among us, this bill would define conversion therapy for Criminal Code purposes 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.”
Secondly, this legislation will criminalize causing minors to undergo conversion therapy, removing minors from Canada to undergo conversion therapy abroad, causing a person to undergo conversion therapy against their will, profiting or receiving a material benefit from the provision of conversion therapy and advertising an offer to provide conversion therapy.
Our government's approach will protect all minors from conversion therapy because we know that minors are disproportionately impacted by this harmful practice. The offences I listed above, taken together, fill a gap in the criminal law by specifically addressing conversion therapy conduct. They respond to the evidence and, together with existing offences that address aspects of conversion therapy such as assault and forcible confinement, create a comprehensive criminal law response to the harms that conversion therapy is known to cause.
The proposed offences in the bill would not include legitimate therapies, primarily because gender-affirming practices, treatments and services do not aim to change a patient's sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender, nor are they aimed at repressing or reducing non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour. For greater clarity, the legislation also states that these types of practices are not captured by the definition of conversion therapy.
I want to emphasize that this legislation does not seek to, nor would it, ban open-ended conversations between an individual and a parent, another family member, faith leader or anyone else about their sexuality. Despite the claims of the Leader of the Opposition and organizations like Campaign Life, this legislation would not ban talking, but it would criminalize a heinous practice that inflicts very real and documented harms to LGBTQ2 Canadians.
We want a country that respects the differences between us. In Canada, everyone must not only feel safe to be who they are, but actually be safe. Bill C-6 would assist in ensuring that everyone feels considered, accepted, respected, valued and safe. I urge all members of this House to support this important bill.