‘Conversion Therapy’ Bill Could Have Far-Reaching and Unexpected Consequences

Government must amend Bill C-8 so that normal conversations about gender and sexual behaviour are not criminalized
April 24, 2020 Updated: April 24, 2020

Commentary

In January and February of this year, the world was starting to turn its attention to the major threat posed by COVID-19. However, the Liberal government was busy seeking to legislate on other issues—the expansion of euthanasia (Bill C-7), conversion therapy (Bill C-8), and a number of other things unrelated to the pandemic.

With Parliament scheduled to resume regular sittings at the end of May, MPs will have to be ready in case the government decides to put off dealing with this crisis and instead seeks to advance other aspects of its legislative agenda. I do not think that this is what Canadians want to see, but we have to be ready. We cannot let the government use the current situation as a cover to advance other agenda items without proper scrutiny.

In particular, the government’s proposed Bill C-8 on “conversion therapy” could have some far-reaching and unexpected consequences. Virtually all politicians oppose conversion therapy in principle, but the particular way in which this bill was written means things could go well beyond what was intended.

First, a bit of background. Although it was never mainstream, there was a time when some people thought that certain violent and abusive actions could change someone’s sexual orientation. These appalling practices took different forms—at times they involved castration, lobotomy, electric shock therapy, prostitution, and the promotion of heterosexual pornography. These so-called treatments came to be known as “conversion therapy.”

These revolting practices only harmed those they were imposed upon. It is very reasonable for governments to take steps to prevent this and protect the vulnerable. The government could and should take specific measures to ban any action by a professional or pseudo-professional that  seeks to use violence or abuse to compel or coerce a person to change his or her sexual orientation.

Bill C-8, though, does not do this. Instead it applies the label “conversion therapy” to a broad range of private conversations, going far beyond what most people think of when they hear this term.

The definition in Bill C-8 says that conversion therapy is “a practice, treatment or service designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour.” This does not just apply to efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation. It would also ban advice, counsel, and even mere conversation from parents, teachers, and guidance counsellors about the subject of sexuality and sexual behaviour.

Consider a few examples:

A 17-year-old is struggling with a severe addiction to pornography and a related sex addiction. In response to a strong recommendation from friends, the 17-year-old enters a course of psychological counselling in order to help him manage his addiction. Part of that management involves seeking to reduce his sexual attraction and behaviour, though not to change his sexual orientation. Even though freely chosen, the conversations with the counsellor fall into the definition of “conversion therapy” and would be banned under Bill C-8.

A six-year-old girl tells her grandfather that she thinks she is actually a boy. Her grandfather tells her, “No honey, you’re a girl. There are only girls and boys, and you’re a girl.” If bill C-8 passes as written, these simple words from her grandfather would be rendered illegal, punishable even by jail according to the terms of bill C-8.

A 14-year-old comes out as gay to his parents, and his parents respond in a positive and affirming manner. However, they become concerned when they find out that he has had unsafe sex with strangers at parties on a few occasions. They take steps to more directly manage his social activities, and encourage him to wait until he is a little older before having sex again and to consider only having sex with people he knows well and trusts. The teenager strongly resists these efforts and chafes under the new discipline imposed by his parents. If properly coached, this teenager would have many legal tools to use against his parents under Bill C-8.

Even in cases where conversations do not run afoul of this new law, there is a risk that its broad and ambiguous definition would have a chilling effect. Parents might be unsure of what kinds of conversations they can have with their children without being reported by busybodies.

I hope that politicians will work together across party lines to address the problem of conversion therapy, and also to ensure that we are not blind to the problems with the way Bill C-8 is written.

I encourage all Canadians to contact their Member of Parliament to share their thoughts on Bill C-8. I hope  the government chooses to continue to focus on vital measures to respond to COVID-19, but Parliamentarians will need to be ready for the time when this bill is brought up again. Also, people can visit www.fixthedefinition.ca for more information and to sign a petition asking the government to fix the issues with Bill C-8.

Garnett Genuis is a Conservative Member of Parliament.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.