Madam Speaker, today we are debating a very unfortunately worded piece of legislation, Bill C-6, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding conversion therapy. I say it is unfortunate because this legislation fails to accurately define what conversion therapy is. It fails to provide clarity for Canadians, and I believe that it puts LGBTQ+ Canadians, children, parents, religious leaders and medical professionals at risk.
From the outset, I have been clear that I do not support conversion therapy, which involves coercive, involuntary and abusive practices that seek to change someone's sexual orientation. The evidence we have heard is clear: These practices have been harmful to those who have participated and they should not be allowed to continue.
The problem I have as a legislator is that the government has adopted a definition of conversion therapy that goes far beyond the scope of this harmful practice, and risks creating significant harms for families as a result. Going by the very definition the government has included in the legislation, we are asked to accept that even discouraging someone from “non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour or non-cisgender gender expression” is a criminal act of conversion therapy.
The Minister of Justice has tried to assure members of the House that honest discussions about sexuality will not be criminalized under this act, but it is very apparent that the wording has been left so vague as to open up the very real possibility that the courts could interpret honest discussions about sexuality as potentially criminal. Without further clarification, we are introducing confusion into the Criminal Code, which could potentially lead to many honest Canadians being subject to a criminal investigation for honest discussions about sexuality.
The legislation is also potentially very harmful to children under the age of 16, who I believe are unable to truly consent to life-altering surgeries and drug regimens to achieve gender transition. This legislation could lead to the criminalization of important information streams that are essential for people to make informed decisions regarding gender transitions. In the recent United Kingdom High Court decision of Bell v. Tavistock, the court ruled that it is highly unlikely that children under 13 could truly consent to the use of puberty blockers. The court also analyzed the considerable effects of these treatments and concluded that it was even doubtful that children under the age of 16 could understand the long-term risks and consequences of these treatments.
This legislation potentially undermines the ability of medical professionals to share critical medical information that may lead to discouraging a child from undergoing a gender transition. The consequences for these children, as we have seen in the Tavistock case, are permanent and tragic. This puts LGBTQ+ youth at significant risk, as they may not be given access to the necessary medical information and frank advice needed for them to make informed decisions.
I am also very concerned over the effect this legislation could have on families, the foundational building blocks of a free society. The inclusion of gender expression and penalties for the repression of non-cisgender behaviour creates risks for families that could result in bad outcomes for children.
It is not hard to imagine a young boy who wants to go to school dressed in female clothes. Many parents would force their child to wear what they believe are gender-appropriate clothes, and I believe in the majority of those cases the parents are doing it out of a genuine care and concern for the well-being of their child. When that child goes to school, perhaps he will tell the teacher that he believes he is of another gender and that his parents refuse to let him wear female clothing. If the practice of conversion therapy, as poorly defined by the government, is made a criminal offence, teachers would probably have little choice but to report the parents to children's services for allegations of emotional abuse. The ramifications of this outcome would be highly damaging to the welfare of children, families and society. The definition of conversion therapy must be clarified, and the rights of well-meaning parents who are caring for their children must be protected.
One result of this legislation is that it could lead to an infringement on the rights of LGBTQ+ Canadians to seek out services they may genuinely wish to access. In my exploration of this topic, I spoke with members of the LGBTQ+ community who, for religious or personal reasons, felt they did not want to engage in certain activities.
In some cases, members of these communities may have been struggling with issues of sex addiction or sexual practices that could lead to serious physical, emotional or spiritual consequences. Under this legislation, it would not necessarily be illegal to offer services that would be covered under the definition of “conversion therapy” to consenting adults. However, it would be very difficult for LGBTQ+ adults to find or access these services considering the effect of this legislation, which is essentially to make these services impossible to advertise and, by extension, to access in Canada.
This could even lead to cases of discrimination, whereby a heterosexual who is seeking counsel and support for dealing with sex addiction or harmful sexual behaviours will receive treatment, but an LGBTQ+ person would be turned away. I do not think the government intended to discriminate against LGBTQ Canadians, but I believe that it is a very real possibility under this legislation as it has been drafted. Again, this demonstrates why the flawed definition of “conversion therapy” is leading to confusion and significant potential adverse outcomes for LGBTQ Canadians.
Furthermore, the legislation's poor definition of “conversion therapy” could potentially lead to outcomes whereby well-meaning people with bonafide constitutionally protected beliefs will be made into criminals. When people are driven by a sincere desire to help those who come to them struggling with issues, they should not be treated as criminals for sharing their perspective. In the case of religious leaders who are approached by members of their congregation looking for guidance, I believe that under this legislation, the very act of even sharing passages of the Bible could be considered a criminal act of conversion therapy.
These provisions create the very real possibility of criminal sanctions against those who hold unpopular opinions in whole or in part because of those opinions. Punishing people for having unpopular opinions or beliefs is not a Canadian value. Given the religious views of conservative Muslims and Christians, among others, it is probable that those impacted by this legislation will be people who come from various faith backgrounds. This is potentially a case of enforcing religious discrimination.
Jail time is not an appropriate punishment for those who hold differing viewpoints, particularly religious views. The criminal penalties in this legislation, which include a maximum of between two and five years in prison, are on par with assault, abandonment of a child and infanticide. To treat people who hold constitutionally protected beliefs on par with those who kill children is completely disproportionate. I propose to the government that the provisions of this act are already addressed by human rights legislation and human rights tribunals. Given that we are debating competing rights, such as the equality rights of LGBTQ Canadians and the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of religion, it would be far better to delegate the adjudication of these difficult decisions to a body that is equipped to deal with them.
In cases where there is evidence of harm related to conversion therapy, such as forcible confinement, assault or kidnapping, the Criminal Code already has significant mechanisms to deal with these matters. In cases where there is a dispute between people over what is and what is not legitimate to say to somebody regarding their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, it would be far better for the human rights tribunals to be investigating and making decisions on these matters rather than the criminal courts.
In closing, I have illustrated a number of reasons, including the poor definition, the potential for discrimination and the possibility that human rights tribunals could do a far better job of adjudicating these difficult decisions on competing rights, that I cannot support this legislation at this time. I believe that Bill C-6 would harm some LGBTQ Canadians, some families and society in general, which outweighs the potential benefits outlined in it. If the government is truly interested in working in good faith with concerned Canadians, it will commit to amending the definition in this legislation to provide clarity and protections for families, counsellors and medical professionals.