On January 7, 2022, Federal law banning conversion therapy came into effect. Bill C-4 amends the Criminal Code of Canada to create four new criminal offences. These include causing another person to undergo conversion therapy, removing a child from Canada for the purposes of undergoing conversion therapy, promoting conversion therapy, and receiving financial or other benefit from conversion therapy being provided. Bill C-4 also allows a Court to order that advertisements for conversion therapy be disposed of or deleted.
According to Bill C-4, Conversion therapy involves a practice, treatment, or service designed to:
- change someone’s sexual orientation to heterosexual or their gender identity to cisgender;
- change a person’s gender expression so that it conforms to the sex assigned to the person at birth;
- repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour;
- repress a person’s non-cisgender gender identity;
- repress or reduce a person’s gender expression that does not conform to the sex assigned to the person at birth.
The above does not apply to a practice, treatment or service that relates to the exploration or development of an integrated personal identity — such as a practice, treatment or service that relates to a person’s gender transition, as long as it is not based on the assumption that a particular sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is to be preferred over another.
The penalties for breaking these new laws can be stiff. If you knowingly cause a person to undergo conversion therapy, you can be sentenced to up to five years in jail. If you promote or advertise conversion therapy, you can be sentenced to up to two years in jail.
In considering the above, several definitions need to be explored. Heterosexual describes those who are sexually attracted to people of the opposite sex. Cisgender (sometimes cissexual or shortened to cis) describes a person whose gender identity is the same as their sex assigned at birth.
This appears to suggest that conversion therapy is illegal if it is meant to change a person’s sexual orientation to the gender identity at birth or to repress that person’s identity if it does not conform to the sexual orientation at birth. It also suggests that conversion to heterosexuality is also illegal. However, it may not be illegal to provide treatment that relates to the “exploration or development of an integrated” personal identity (Ie. A gender transition), as long as that treatment does not assume that one gender identity or expression is preferred over the other.
The above does not constitute legal advice or advice of any kind. However, to some it may appear to be somewhat confusing. For instance, why is treatment towards heterosexuality and cisgender illegal, while treatment for the development of an “integrated personal identity” not illegal? A review of the third iteration of bill C-4 explains some of the reasoning behind this:
Whereas conversion therapy causes harm to the persons who are subjected to it;
Whereas conversion therapy causes harm to society because, among other things, it is based on and propagates myths and stereotypes about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, including the myth that heterosexuality, cisgender gender identity, and gender expression that conforms to the sex assigned to a person at birth are to be preferred over other sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions;
And whereas, in light of those harms, it is important to discourage and denounce the provision of conversion therapy in order to protect the human dignity and equality of all Canadians;
Now, therefore, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:
The above is certainly not new information. A 2009 report by an American Psychological Association Task Force found that “results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex attractions or increase other-sex sexual attractions through conversion therapy.” The results from the 2011-2012 Sex Now Survey, showed that exposure to conversion therapy practices is positively associated with negative psychosocial health outcomes such as loneliness, regular illicit drug use, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. Studies have shown that youths who were subjected to conversion therapy reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not.
Professional associations such as the Canadian Psychological Association, the Canadian Psychiatric Association and the Canadian Pediatric Society have denounced conversion therapy as it is a practice that is harmful to LGBTQ2 persons, especially minors. More recently, results from the 2019-2020 results of the Sex Now Survey indicate that 10% of sexual minority men who responded to the survey were subjected to conversion therapy. Lower income, Indigenous, racialized and gender-diverse persons were disproportionately represented among those exposed. Compared to those who were not exposed to such practices, those who were exposed reported greater experiences of isolation.
There has been a general consensus that conversion therapy is based on the outdated and false notion that being LGBTQ+ is a mental illness that should be cured. The American Psychiatric Association has not treated homosexuality as a mental illness since 1973 and being transgender is no longer treated as a mental illness since “gender identity disorder” was removed from psychological diagnostic manuals in 2013.