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CANADA: Feds push to 'prevent, punish and deter' conversion therapy

While many provinces, Ontario included, already have some restrictions on conversion therapy, federal cabinet ministers insist that more remains to be done

Federal cabinet ministers have written all provincial and territorial governments and urged them to halt conversion therapy as the federal Liberals explore reforming the Criminal Code to “prevent, punish and deter” the discredited practice.

“Conversion therapy is a cruel exercise that can lead to life-long trauma. It has no scientific basis,” states the June 21 letters sent to Ontario’s health and justice ministers, copies which were obtained by Global News. “The federal government is committed to doing everything within its jurisdiction to combat conversion therapy.”

The letters, first reported by CBC News, are signed by Justice Minister David Lametti, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, and Randy Boissonnault, a Liberal MP from Edmonton Centre and special advisor to the prime minister on LGBTQ2 Issues.

“There is a movement across Canada to restrict or condemn practices that seek to change sexual orientation. Addressing the availability of conversion therapy is a complex issue,” the letter continues. “No one jurisdiction can end this dangerous practice alone.”

The Canadian Psychological Association condemns the practice of conversion therapy or any therapy that attempts to “change the sexual orientation of bisexual, gay and lesbian individuals to heterosexual,” the association states in its position paper on the matter.

“Scientific research does not support the efficacy of conversion or reparative therapy. 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.”

A spokesperson for the justice minister told Global News that as of Tuesday morning, the department had not received any responses to the letters. As for how widespread the practice is in Canada, the spokesperson said there are no solid statistics on it. “We know that it’s happening across the country and there are ties to some religious groups, where it’s more active than others,” but that it is not exclusively practised by religious organizations. 

While Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island have already imposed some restrictions on conversion therapy, and others such as B.C. are exploring restrictions, the letter states that “more remains to be done” and that the government is “concerned that a number of jurisdictions have not yet taken steps to end or condemn the practice.

In 2018, an Alberta LGBTQ2 activist obtained more than 18,000 signatures on a petition calling on the federal government to ban conversion therapy. In March, the federal government responded saying that the issue was largely a provincial and territorial matter.

In May, the province’s newly elected United Conservative Party disbanded a working group that had been struck by the former NDP government to look into banning the practice.

On Monday, city councillors in St. Albert, Alta., became the first municipality in the province to pass a motion to curb conversion therapy there. The motion states that “conversion therapy is not a lawful business activity in St. Albert and no business licence shall be issued for any person or organization that has conversion therapy as part of its business activities.”

Federal legislation introduced earlier this year in the Senate sought to amend the Criminal Code to criminalize advertising conversion therapy to children.

- Global News