Madam Speaker, it has been very interesting listening to this debate so far. I am happy for the opportunity to participate in this debate as well.
On December 3, Emmanuel Sanchez appeared before the justice committee to tell his story. He said, “I was around five years old the first time I noticed that I was attracted to the same sex.” As he grew older, he noticed the attraction more and more. He was bullied by the other boys at school. He was called crude names. As he sought an escape from the bullying, he found himself drawing near to the girls in a desire for safety and protection.
At times, these experiences, previous abuse and the hurtful words of others caused him considerable confusion. He told the committee he began to question his sexual orientation and gender identity. He hated himself. He hated being alive. He felt lonely and he did not feel safe confiding in anyone. He pursued a dark response to these feelings, but thankfully his suicide attempts failed.
As a teenager, Emmanuel began exploring gay culture. He wanted to understand his sexuality. He wanted to belong. At 16, he began to identify as gay and entered relationships with other men, but he feared rejection from family, friends and his faith community. While he knew that not everyone in his life agreed, he still described them as “very loving, caring and supportive of [him] as an individual.”
Despite Emmanuel's decision to embrace his truth, he described himself as “still very unsettled”. He made the choice to meet with a counsellor. She encouraged him to continue living the life he was living, yet week after week he still felt confusion and not peace. Feeling that he was not getting the support he needed, he made the choice to seek counselling from a pastor. This individual journeyed with him, neither affirming nor condemning decisions related to his sexual identity.
In time, he made a personal decision, his own choice, that he no longer wanted to continue this course that his life was on. He wanted to live his life in a way that was consistent with his faith and beliefs. Had it not been for the guidance and support that he freely sought out and received, he told the committee he did not think he would be breathing today and sharing his story.
This is not a story with a neat and tidy ending. Like every single one of us, Emmanuel is a unique and complex individual. He did not claim that counselling removed his same-sex attraction. He simply said it helped him determine the life he wanted to live.
Emmanuel asked the committee to do two things. He asked that parliamentarians acknowledge that people like him exist, and he asked that they create a well-written bill that truly bans coercive and abusive methods while respecting the individuals' freedom at any age to chose the type of support they want and their desired goal.
While we need multi-party co-operation to do the latter, I can at the very least recognize that Emmanuel and others like him exist. The problem with Bill C-6 is that it writes off people like Emmanuel. It suggests that the choices he has made and the support he has sought are wrong. It removes his agency and tells him that the government knows better than he does what kind of support he needs. Why? The definition of conversion therapy used in Bill C-6 is extremely broad. At present, it could not only capture instances where coercion or violence is present, but also capture something as simple as a good-faith conversation between a struggling teen and a trusted family member or professional.
Let me be very clear. If Emmanuel had described violent and coercive efforts that sought to change his sexuality against his will, this would be an entirely different situation. There is a reason government steps in to protect all of us from those who would cause such harm. It is wrong.
However, that is not what we are talking about. We are talking about a definition that could very well capture conversations. While many members want to pretend that no such problem exists, there were a myriad of witnesses appearing before the justice committee who had the same, or similar, concerns, individuals from the LGBT community, lawyers, medical professionals, clergy. Members might not agree with the view expressed, but when an issue is raised time and again by a diversity of voices, we should at least be paying attention.
Some witnesses warned of potential consequences should the bill not be amended.
Lawyer Daniel Santoro said:
The first problem is that the definition of conversion therapy is overly broad and imprecise. It's likely to capture situations that are not actual conversion therapy and cause confusion. The second problem is that the existing exception for medical treatment is too narrow, because it specifies only one lawful form of treatment: gender transition. The third and final problem is that the exception allowing exploration of identity is unclear and does not adequately protect charter freedoms.
Psychologist Dr. James Cantor said:
We will end up with clinicians...with a chill effect, simply unwilling to deal with this kind of issue; the service will become unavailable. Without a clear indication of what counts as an “exploration” and exactly what that means, anybody would have trouble going into this with the kind of confidence that a clinician needs in order to help their client.
I choose not to believe the Liberal government set out to restrict the choices available to Canadians based on their sexual orientation, but that is now exactly what will happen should this bill pass. It is not just these folks who will face limitations. Bill C-6 fails to affirm the right of parents to raise and educate their children in accordance with their beliefs. Whether we are talking about religious beliefs or a secular world view, the state has a duty to respect the values that parents choose to instill in their children.
This is not about allowing violent or coercive actions. The law should never protect those committing such acts against children, but the ambiguity created by this bill creates the fear that parents may not be able to set house rules about sex and relationships. In essence, parents of straight children would not be under the microscope, but parents with children questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity could feel as though journeying with their child through this period could result in criminal penalty. The fact the bill could restrict some parents from fully supporting their child and not others is an issue.
Family physician Dr. Jane Dobson told the justice committee:
My question is: Why is the government telling people what sexual or gender goals they should have? They are effectively doing this with Bill C-6, as the bill broadens the definition of conversion therapy from abusive and coercive therapeutic practices to also include talk therapy, watchful waiting, interpersonal conversations and spiritual practices, widening the net to now potentially criminalize parents, spiritual leaders and medical professionals for simply [raising] tested and tried therapy to help an individual reach their self-directed goals.
These are real concerns that many in this place have chosen to ignore in the name of political expediency. It is political expediency. We know this bill was reintroduced after the Liberal decision to prorogue Parliament. It was originally thought cleared from the agenda. The concerns I have mentioned were flagged to the government at that time, so when it later reintroduced Bill C-6, it could have been improved to ensure wide support, but it was not. The justice minister was fully aware of the changes he could have made to better this bill. He chose not to. It would have made sense indeed.
After the first introduction of the legislation, the Department of Justice put the following disclaimer on its website:
These new offences would not criminalise private conversations in which personal views on sexual orientation, sexual feelings or gender identity are expressed such as where teachers, school counsellors, pastoral counsellors, faith leaders, doctors, mental health professionals, friends or family members provide affirming support to persons struggling with their sexual orientation, sexual feelings, or gender identity.
Why did the department feel the need to clarify if the definition of conversion therapy in the bill is any good? If anything, the only clarity brought on by this clarification is that the bill is in need of much more work. The reality is that a disclaimer on the department's website is not the same as legislation. That is why Conservatives sought to find common ground by proposing reasonable amendments that would bring real clarity to the legislation. These amendments were focused to ensure that voluntary conversations between individuals and their teachers, school counsellors, pastoral counsellors, faith leaders, doctors, mental health professionals, friends or family members would not be criminalized.
Finding a balance between protecting individuals from violence, abuse or coercion while maintaining free and open conversation is a balance I think most Canadians would appreciate. Unfortunately, despite the clear indication the Liberals are aware of the bill's ambiguity, they refuse to support these amendments. In free societies, governments must leave space for individual citizens to make decisions about their lives. This includes the space to seek counsel on personal matters, such as one's sexuality.
Canadians can expect their government to respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including the freedoms of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression. Like Emmanuel, those with deeply held convictions, who may want to seek advice and support on questions of sexuality, deserve the right to do that. No one should be be able to be told by the government that seeking guidance, asking questions or helping to reconcile faith and sexual attraction is off limits to them.
I stated earlier that Emmanuel had asked parliamentarians to do two things, which were to acknowledge the people who can exist and to create a well-written bill that protects from violence while respecting the rights of individuals to receive their chosen support. Unfortunately, I find that Bill C-6 fails on both points, and as long as it fails Canadians like Emmanuel, I will not support the bill.