Second reading of Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy)

By: The Hon. Jane Cordy

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Maman statue, Ottawa

Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I would like to begin by acknowledging that I’m joining you from Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral land of Mi’kmaq people.

I am pleased to speak today at second reading debate on Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy). I would very much like to thank the sponsor of the bill, Senator Cormier, who shared his experiences and who spoke so articulately about Bill C-6 last week. In addition, when I reached out to him for information related to conversion therapy, he kindly sent me a huge package. Senator Cormier, I really did read all the material. Thank you so much for sharing it with me.

I must also thank our former colleague Senator Serge Joyal, who introduced Bill S-260, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy), in the Senate in April 2019.

I also thank those who have spoken prior to me on Bill C-6. You shared personal stories, you were passionate and informative, and I thank each of you. This is an issue where those experiences can be difficult to share publicly. Too many Canadians who are the victims of conversion therapy and the stigma inflicted by society about their sexual orientation or gender identity often suffer in silence. You have provided a voice for them in the Senate of Canada.

Honourable senators, I fully support this bill that bans the practice, the promotion or the profiting from the so-called practice of conversion therapy. The bill will also make it unlawful to practise, promote or profit from conversion therapy tourism. In other words, it makes it illegal to take a person outside of Canada to a jurisdiction that permits this cruel practice.

The so-called science behind conversion therapy has long been debunked as junk science, and, unfortunately, it often operates from within religious or faith-based institutions. The World Psychiatric Association found that there is no sound scientific evidence that innate sexual orientation can be changed. In 2020, the Independent Forensic Expert Group on Conversion Therapy declared that offering conversion therapy is a form of deception, false advertising and fraud.

Honourable senators, I have read that we don’t have to worry because these cruel practices no longer take place. I only wish that were true. Data collected by a British Columbia research group shows that conversion therapy practices are still common across our country. The data was from the Community-Based Research Centre’s 2019 Sex Now Survey, which included over 9,000 responses. As many as 1 in 10 gay, bisexual, trans, queer men, and two-spirited and non-binary people reported that they were part of conversion therapy practices.

In its wake are thousands of Canadians who were irrevocably traumatized by experiencing conversion therapy first-hand, while untold thousands more were made to feel devalued and ashamed of who they are. They were left feeling that there was something “wrong” with them.

These emotional, psychological conflictions didn’t just naturally manifest internally but rather were uncaringly forged by external forces. Whether in the schoolyard, at the dinner table or places of worship, the effect was devastating for entire generations of gay, bi, trans and queer men and two-spirited and non-binary Canadians. If you were not a heterosexual male or heterosexual female, you needed to be “cured.”

The idea that sexual orientation and gender identity is an affliction that can or must be cured is nothing but cruel. Unfortunately, as I stated earlier, those beliefs are not a thing of the past. Far too many in Canada still hold to those beliefs, and shame on them for continuing to promote those beliefs in our society in 2021.

The lasting results of conversion therapy on those Canadians unfortunate enough to be forced into it has been widely documented. We know that the practice is discriminatory. It starts with the premise that members of the LGBTQ2+ community are flawed and that they need conversion. Honourable senators, conversion therapy devalues lives. As Senator Cormier stated in his speech, “. . . it perpetuates stereotypes and myths that have no place in Canadian society.”

Honourable senators, I have heard concerns that the legislation fails to safeguard voluntary conversations with friends, parents, doctors and clergy. Unfortunately, I have also heard this information from a few MPs, and an amendment in the other place in section 320.101 clarifies what conversion therapy means and, for greater clarity, what conversion therapy is not. Bill C-6 clearly states that:

. . . this definition does not include a practice, treatment or service that relates to the exploration and development of an integrated personal identity without favouring any particular sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Colleagues, in 2018, the people of my province overwhelmingly supported criminalizing conversion therapy as Nova Scotia became the third province in Canada to ban the practice of conversion therapy for anyone younger than 19. Nova Scotia also made the practice uninsurable for adults.

As noted by others, Ontario, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Yukon have also banned conversion therapy. It is well past time that we follow suit nationally and ban this harmful practice from coast to coast to coast.

Honourable senators, by not agreeing to outlaw the practice of conversion therapy outright, we risk legitimizing it. As others have said, this is Pride Month. Let us do the right thing so that everyone is supported for being themselves.

I am proud to support this bill. Thank you.

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