Despite being condemned by the Canadian Psychological Association, conversion therapy—the practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity from LGBTQ2+ to heterosexual or cisgender—still happens in Canada.
Conversion therapy, sometimes called reparative therapy, is carried out by licensed healthcare providers and by religious or spiritual leaders. Its methods include counselling, prayer, religious rites, medication and more.
All approaches are based on pseudo-scientific beliefs that any expression of gender or sexual orientation of LGBTQ2+ people is deviant and needs to be corrected. In other words, practitioners of conversion therapy believe that LGBTQ2+ folks are suffering from an illness that needs to be cured. With today’s understanding and acceptance of gender and sexual expressions, this therapy is severely out of line with modern societal values.
The treatments associated with conversion therapy can be seriously harmful to those they claim to help. The practice is discredited by the Canadian Psychological Association, the World Health Organization, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association and more.
In its 2015 Policy Statement on Conversion/Reparative Therapy for Sexual Orientation,The Canadian Psychological Association states it “opposes any therapy with the goal of repairing or converting an individual’s sexual orientation, regardless of age”. Not only does the association say there’s no evidence to support the efficacy of conversion therapy, but it acknowledges its potential to do harm: “conversion or reparative therapy can result in negative outcomes such as distress, anxiety, depression, negative self-image, a feeling of personal failure, difficulty sustaining relationships, and sexual dysfunction”.
The negative lasting effects of conversion therapy is something Peter Gajdics knows all too well. He endured six years of conversion therapy in British Columbia, and has published a book, The Inheritance of Shame: A Memoir about his experience. In an op-ed for Maclean’s, Gajdics describes conversion therapy as “…soul-crushing torture that ends up not even being about ‘changing’ sexual orientation as it is about eradicating homosexuality, silencing it from the bodies of people who are gay”.
As of the end of 2018, three Canadian provinces and one city have introduced restrictions on conversion therapy. While these restrictions are steps in the right direction, they’re not total bans.
–2015: Manitoba became the first province to restrict conversion therapy from being provincially funded. Its official position states that “conversion therapy can have no place in the province’s public health-care system”.
–2015: Ontario introduced Bill 77 to end funding for conversion therapy under provincial health insurance.
–2018: City of Vancouver banned businesses from providing conversion therapy within city limits.
–2018: Nova Scotia passed a bill which prevents healthcare professionals and people in a position of trust from providing conversion therapy to minors.
While provincial and city-level restrictions are encouraging, this doesn’t necessarily stop conversion therapy from happening. It can cut off public funding or force a practitioner to move their business, but the treatment can still occur with private funding, or in another city. This patchwork approach could also take years to arrive at a full country-wide ban, meaning Canada’s laws will lag behind the moral and social consciousness of its residents.
That’s why YQueerL and Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group have initiated a petition to the Government of Canada, sponsored by MP Sheri Benson (Saskatoon West). Petition E-1833 asks the federal government to:
(a) enact legislation banning conversion therapy to minors in Canada;
(b) enact legislation prohibiting transporting minors outside of the country for such purposes; and
(c) have conversion therapy included in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, to protect children from abuse.
By signing this e-petition, you can show your support for a federal ban on conversion therapy for minors and call on the federal government to criminalize the practice, making it illegal to carry out. It would also impact the ability to send children to another country for conversion therapy.
The petition is open for signatures from Canadian residents and citizens until January 18, 2019. Add your name to tell our government that conversion therapy has no place in Canada.