A progressive and comprehensive promise?
by Jack Taylor
Labelling Canada’s Bill C-8 as “the most progressive and comprehensive in the world,” Canadian Attorney General Minister David Lametti introduced legislation for the government’s new ban on conversion therapy. The action, tabled along with Bardish Chagger, the minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, fulfilled a campaign promise many Christian leaders hoped would be forgotten.
The Bill, titled, “An Act to Amend the Criminal Code” delineates five new criminal code offences including, ‘causing a minor to undergo conversion therapy; removing a minor from Canada to undergo conversion therapy; causing a person to undergo conversion therapy against their will; profiting from providing conversion therapy; and advertising an offer to provide conversion therapy.’ Advertising conversion therapy services would open up an organization to have these notices seized or removed.
Paul Dirks, a researcher in the area of gender studies, says that “Bill C-8 is laughably unscientific. It states: “including the myth that a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity can change.” No one has ever changed sexual orientation or gender identity? How many studies do you need to show this is wrong? How many cases to contradict?”
Cities like Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary have established their own by-laws on conversion therapy and provinces like Ontario, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia have their own versions in play. Edmonton has a $10,000 fine for anyone offering conversion therapy.
The federal initiative was a response to a petition with 18,000 signatures urging the government to outlaw the therapy. While the Liberals acknowledge what is seen as a harmful practice, up until now the governance of such practices has been seen to be under the umbrella of the provinces and territories.
The Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) noted recently that conversion therapy bans, “prohibit particular methods of alleviating gender dysphoria, which an astonishing number of children now experience. In 2004, the number of referrals for transgender teens to clinics across Canada was in the single digits. By 2016, in just nine cities, over 1,000 teenagers were referred to ‘gender clinics’.”
At this point, there seems to be no intent to criminalize private conversations where individuals are looking for support on their personal struggles with issues like identity, same-sex attraction or gender confusion. Clarity on what is or is not permitted will likely come through the courts.
In a bill under consideration in BC (M-218), conversion therapy is any “counselling, behaviour modification techniques, or the administration or prescription of medication or any other practice, treatment, or service provided with the purported objective of changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, but does not include: a) services that provide acceptance, support or understanding of a person or that facilitate a person’s coping, social support or identity exploration or development, or b) a gender-confirming surgery or any related service.”
Whether this first section only applies to medical professionals or to parents, pastors, teachers and counsellors is still to be clarified. The act does say that parents, guardians, substitute decision, or representative decision makers, “may not give consent on a minor’s behalf to the provision of conversion therapy by a person in a position of trust or authority in relation to the minor.”
Christians generally agree with the intent of any legislation designed to eliminate harmful practices once practiced by therapists or medical personnel who performed lobotomies or shock therapy to adjust urges. The fear with current thinking is that a wide net has been cast which will eliminate helpful supports for those who genuinely desire change.
Lucas Ramon Mendos of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), tracked 70 organizations like Journey Canada, the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity and the Campaign Coalition for Life. The monitoring and lobbying arm of the LGBTQ movement is in full court press. David Cooke, campaign manager for the latter says his organization believes “in helping people who want help with their unwanted same-sex attraction or unwanted gender dysphoria.” A church in Montreal, QC and one in Langley, BC, were also noted in the Mendos report.
ARPA notes that “the heart of the debate over conversion therapy is the question of whether sexual orientation, gender identity, or biological sex can, or ought to, be changed. This question is difficult to answer, due to a lack of an objective definition of sexual orientation or gender identity. Sexual orientation, for example, is a multifaceted phenomenon that includes sexual attraction, sexual arousal, sexual fantasy, sexual behaviour, and sexual self-concept. The idea of an innate and immutable (trans) gender identity or sexual orientation is a cultural and legal construct. These are not naturally-existing categories like male and female.”
Despite Lametti’s claim that “conversion therapy is a cruel practice that can lead to a life-long trauma, particularly for young people,” Swedish researcher Ebba Lindqvist found that health deteriorates one year after a sex-change operation and by five years, “mental health, vitality, bodily pain, social function, emotional function, physical function, and general health” is poorer (cited by ARPA). Counseling is an attempt to bring wisdom into the emotional and psychological confusion of natural maturation before impulsive choices result in lasting regret and damage.
Barry Bussey, President of the Canadian Council for Christian Charities, in an article entitled, The Controversy over Conversion Therapy, states that “Canadian society appears to be at a pivotal moment. Soon, Canada may decide whether or not it remains acceptable for religious communities to advocate a biblical understanding of sexuality that honours either celibacy or marriage between one man and one woman for life. We may well see prayer, Bible studies, or sermons labelled as “conversion therapy,” depending upon the wording of the legislation, and how the courts deal with claims of religious freedom under the Canadian Charter.”