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—still happens in Canada.
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.
With today’s understanding and acceptance of gender and sexual expressions, this therapy is severely out of line with modern societal values and contributes to harmful stigma and discrimination towards the queer community.
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 others.
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
As of June 2021, four Canadian provinces and four major cities 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: 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 passes a bylaw and prohibits the practice and promotion of conversion therapy within city limits.
- 2020: City of Calgary passes a bylaw banning conversion therapy and implements fines of up to $10,000.
- 2020: Quebec passes 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 passes Bylaw 9747, prohibiting the business of conversion therapy within the city.
- Currently Regina, Saskatchewan and other cities are considering similar bylaws.
Take action to ban conversion therapy in Canada
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.
In 2018, Lush joined an action initiated by YQueerL and Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group to call on the federal government to end conversion therapy in Canada and have it included in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to protect children from abuse. Petition E-1833 was presented to the House of Commons by Member of Parliament Sheri Benson on February 1, 2019 with 18,200 signatures.
Since then, the federal government has introduced legislation Bill C-6 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.
It also amends the Criminal Code to authorize courts to order that advertisements for conversion therapy be disposed of or deleted.
Bill C-6 needs your support. Take action to tell our government that conversion therapy has no place in Canada.
If you’re an LGBTQ+ 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.