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 queer to heterosexual or cisgender—was still legal in Canada until now.
Today (January 7, 2022), changes to Canada’s Criminal Code come into effect, banning conversation therapy. The government passed federal legislation 30 days ago with provisions to take effect January 7, 2022, meaning it is now illegal to subject someone of any age, consenting or not, to so-called conversion therapy.
What is conversion therapy?
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 queer people is deviant and needs to be corrected. In other words, practitioners of conversion therapy believe that queer individuals are suffering from an illness that needs to be cured.
Despite its condemnation by the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) and World Health Organization, the pseudo-scientific practice of reversing queer identities to conform to heterosexual and/or cis-gender roles fuels a toxic narrative in which LGBTQ2+ folks are suffering an illness or defect that must be cured or ‘corrected’. However, “treatments” associated with conversion therapy can be seriously harmful to those they claim to help.
In its 2015 Policy Statement on Conversion/Reparative Therapy for Sexual Orientation, The Canadian Psychological Association states that 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 are 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”.
Conversion therapy in Canada
On January 7, 2022, four new Criminal Code violations were enacted, protecting anyone of any age against this cruel practice. Prior to the federal legislation passed by Parliament, several provinces and cities led the charge:
- 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: The 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.
- 2019: City of Edmonton passed a bylaw and prohibits the practice and promotion of conversion therapy within city limits.
- 2020: City of Calgary passed a bylaw banning conversion therapy and implemented fines of up to $10,000.
- 2020: Quebec passed Bill 70 banning conversation therapy in the province and stating that anyone who seeks to practice it is committing "an act derogatory to the dignity of his or her profession."
- 2021: City of Saskatoon passed Bylaw 9747, prohibiting the business of conversion therapy within the city.
From federal bill to law
While provincial and city-level restrictions were encouraging, they didn’t necessarily stop conversion therapy from happening. Bill C-6, which was an act to amend the Criminal Code for and ban conversion therapy, was introduced in October 2020 to Parliament with strong language to amend the Criminal Code and create the following offences:
(a) causing a person to undergo conversion therapy without the person’s consent;
(b) causing a child to undergo conversion therapy;
(c) doing anything for the purpose of removing a child from Canada with the intention that the child undergo conversion therapy outside Canada;
(d) promoting or advertising an offer to provide conversion therapy; and
(e) receiving a financial or other material benefit from the provision of conversion therapy.
In June 2021, Bill C-6 was passed by the House of Commons but failed to reach the Senate. When Parliament resumed in November 2021, both the House of Commons and the Senate voted to ban conversion therapy, and the bill received Royal Assent on December 6, 2021.
Our actions on banning conversion therapy
In Jan 2019, Lush supported a petition to Parliament initiated by The YQueerL Society for Change in Saskatchewan, and it was presented to the House of Commons with over 18,000 signatures on February 1, 2019 by MP Sheri Benson.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, Lush advocated for the passage of a ban on conversion therapy through various social media and in-store campaigns in order to not only show our support, but bring awareness of this cruel practice to Lushies everywhere.
Today, we celebrate Canada becoming one of the few countries in the world that has a federal ban. Tomorrow we get back to work ensuring that everyone can exercise their human rights to bodily autonomy, health, and free expression of one’s sexual orientation and gender identity.
If you’re an LGBTQ2+ person in need of crisis support, call Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566 at any time or text 45645 between 4 p.m. and 12 a.m. EST (standard messaging rates may apply). Residents of Quebec, please call 1-866-277-3553.
If you’re a trans person thinking about suicide or experiencing a crisis, please call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-330-6366 for confidential support from other trans individuals. If you or someone you know is looking for more resources, please visit our website.