The Problem With Canada’s Proposed Ban on Conversion Therapy

By Brian Giesbrecht
Brian Giesbrecht
Brian Giesbrecht
Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
June 8, 2020Updated: June 9, 2020


Being a parent can be one of the most rewarding roles we will have in our lifetime. When things go smoothly there is nothing like it. But things don’t always go smoothly, and when they don’t, parenting can become the most difficult and frustrating challenge we will ever face.

Undoubtedly one of the most difficult challenges today is for parents who discover that their child is showing signs of possible “gender dysphoria”— identifying with a sex other than one’s birth sex. Although we know very little about why this happens, we do know that in the great majority of these cases the situation will resolve itself, given time and sensitive handling. In most cases the child will eventually become comfortable with his or her birth gender. However, in some cases the child will go on to “transition,” that is, to live their life as a member of the opposite sex.

This problem of children showing signs of gender dysphoria is complicated by the fact that it appears to be far more common than it once was. In fact, there has been as much as a 1,000 percent increase in the case of girls expressing a desire to be boys in recent years. U.K. data shows that in the past decade, the number of young people referred for medical help to change genders has skyrocketed by over 4,000 percent. This new trend has even been given a name: Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD).

There is no consensus about why ROGD is happening, but it is becoming clear that social media plays a significant role.

Many people, including political leaders and professionals who should know better, are pretending that they know far more about transgender issues than they actually do. I do not want to be one of those people. This is an opinion article, and I don’t claim any special expertise. However, with opinions of the “experts” varying so wildly—particularly regarding surgery on children—it is questionable whether anyone is a true “expert” on what is a very recent phenomenon.

For example, one American physician who calls herself a gender dysphoria expert enthusiastically supports and even encourages the most drastic surgery, including mastectomies and hysterectomies, for children she diagnoses as being in need of transitioning. Conversely, another physician, the president of the American College of Pediatricians, bluntly calls surgeries done by people like the first physician to normal-bodied children child abuse. On such an important subject and with the “experts” so divided, concerned citizens must speak up.

Profoundly Wrong

On March 9 the federal Liberals introduced Bill C-8, which proposes five new criminal code offences related to conversion therapy. A similar bill, S-202, is being considered by the Senate. Each aims to ban certain types of counselling for children who are struggling with their sexuality or gender. Gender identity and sexual orientation are in fact very different issues and it is surprising that the two are lumped together in both bills. Because they are so different, this article will look at the gender identity issue only and leave the sexual orientation issue for another day.

It is truly frightening that if this legislation is passed, any counselling that is not deemed to be “affirming” will become illegal. In other words, a professional who might be able to help a child come to terms with his or her biological sex by means of counselling would become a criminal under this legislation. This is profoundly wrong.

There is universal agreement that parents confronted with a gender-dysphoric child find themselves struggling with immensely difficult challenges. It would seem that in such a situation, any government intervention should include offering the parents a choice of counselling options that they could consider. It would also seem that the last thing a government should do would be to make the parents’ job even more difficult by removing some of those counselling options from them—making it illegal for parents to seek certain types of counselling for their child.

But that is exactly what the government has chosen to do. This legislation is probably the most aggressive assault on parental rights that a federal government has ever attempted. If it passes, it risks destroying the bond between parent and child when a parent’s philosophy or religion conflicts with that of the state.

The proposed conversion therapy ban legislation is a response to the United Nations campaign for comprehensive sexuality education for children. No reasonable person can disagree with the idea that children should receive sexual information as part of their education. However, extreme activists have convinced some particularly “progressive” leaders that they must go much further than providing education. “Sexuality education” in some places now includes an extreme agenda that emphasizes the early sexualization of children.

One of the problems is that the “experts” who advise policy makers are the very people who are often involved in the gender-change system. They are committed people and believe they are doing the right thing, but there are at least an equal number of experts—pediatricians, psychologists, endocrinologists—who believe that intensive, professional counselling is the best answer for deeply troubled gender dysphoric children. Those experts do not have the government’s ear.

Spike in Number of Kids Transitioning

Although in the past the number of children who expressed a desire to “transition” was very small, there has suddenly been and astounding increase in the number, especially in the case of girls expressing the desire to be treated as boys.

At one time it was unheard of for a child to actually begin transition surgery before turning 18, but it is now becoming increasingly common. It is also not unusual for a child to start taking what are called “puberty blockers” when they are as young as 12. These puberty blockers do exactly what their name implies: they change the way the child’s body would naturally develop. A child taking puberty blockers will have his or her growth stunted. There are many serious and permanent effects from these drugs.

Children are often prescribed hormones. Girls taking testosterone will develop male features such as beard growth for the rest of their lives; they’re stuck with that if they later decide that they want to return to their birth gender. Boys who take estrogen will develop breasts. Their penises will stop growing. Again, if the child later decides that he wants to be a boy after all he will be left with feminine features, including breasts. There are very few places in the world that will even attempt to operate on a boy to remove breasts, and there is nothing that can be done about a growth-stunted penis. He will be left with that sad mistake for the rest of his life. For girls, breast removal, the most radical surgery, is performed in some cases before they turn 18, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Canadian children are usually sent to the United States for surgery. One California clinic alone performs many such surgeries every year.

Not only is there an astounding increase in the number of children who say they want to transition, there is also a huge leap in the numbers of transitioned people who decide that they have made a mistake and want to “detransition.” YouTube is full of examples of transitioned people who desperately want to go back to their biological sex. Why this is happening is also not well understood. Many of these people say they were given bad advice by counsellors and psychologists who should have assisted them with their psychological problems instead of pushing them toward transition.

It is also a sad fact that suicide rates are much higher for gender dysphorics than for the general population. This is the case whether or not they transition. (In fact the rate is even higher for people who transition.) The fact is that many have deep psychological problems. Just as transitioning solves problems for some, at least temporarily, it adds additional problems for others.

Astonishing Proposal

Bill C-8 and S-202 would make it illegal for the parent of a child who is wavering on gender identity issues to obtain any counselling, be it religious or secular, that might persuade the child to retain their birth gender. Even a parent suggesting caution might be illegal, according to the proposed legislation. A counsellor who even advocates a “watchful waiting” approach for a child who has merely expressed an interest in transitioning might be guilty of a jailable offence—even if the child subsequently changes his or her mind.

Conversely, any counsellor advocating a change in gender is specifically given the OK by the legislation. The proposed legislation is not neutral on this point—it clearly favours transition over watchful waiting. Encouraging a child to transition is legal, discouraging a child from transitioning is illegal.

This is such an astonishing proposal that I will back up on that sentence and repeat it: A person advocating that the child change gender is exempted by the legislation, but a person suggesting that the child stick to their birth gender would be guilty of a serious criminal offence. Similarly, a religious adviser, medical doctor, or anyone else consulted by a parent would be committing a jailable criminal offence if they gave their honest advice about transition that a government official did not approve of. If this all sounds quite crazy, that’s because it is.

What is the takeaway from all of this? It is clear that the issue of children who say they wish to transition is both very complicated and not well understood. However, the aggressive implementation of an extreme agenda has seriously aggravated the problem, and the legislation advanced by the government is indeed extreme. It sends a signal that transgender ideology trumps parental rights and the parents’ duty to protect their child.

There is no doubt that trans people have been very badly treated in the past. Trans men and women deserve respect and fair treatment. But Bill C-8 is not about them. It is about a government attempting to usurp the role of parents who find themselves in a terribly difficult situation. Bill C-8 is also about a federal government that is pretending to know far more than it actually does about the complicated issues involved.

The phenomenon of large numbers of children expressing a desire to transition is so new that there has not been enough time to develop the medical and scientific knowledge necessary to thoroughly understand the issues. Under these circumstances it is extremely unwise for the state to disregard the parents’ wishes and allow things to be done to children that will have permanent and irreversible consequences.

Parents must have the latitude to gather as much information and help they deem necessary and feel is in their child’s best interests. Until the child becomes an adult, parents must have the final say.

This is bad legislation and it should be defeated.

Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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