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Born free and equal: Conversion therapy in Canada | Marvin Zuker

Monday, February 22, 2021 @ 3:05 PM | By Marvin Zuker


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Marvin Zuker
On Jan. 28, 2021, Justice Gregory Moore of the Superior Court of Quebec in the case of Center for Gender Advocacy v. Attorney General of Quebec [2021] Q.J. no. 349, Egale Canada Human Rights Trust, intervener, significantly advanced the rights of trans, non-binary and intersex people in Canada, citizens or not.

It is not our Charter that has changed but just maybe we have changed with the greater knowledge of what it means not only to be gay or lesbian but to be transgender, non-binary or queer.

Conversion therapy

Conversion therapy is a cruel practice that can lead to life-long trauma, particularly for young people. Our government remains steadfast in our commitment to protecting the dignity and equality rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit Canadians, by criminalizing a practice that discriminates against and harms them.

— Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti

Conversion therapy practices are rooted in the wrongful premise that sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression can and should be changed to fit an ideal of what some believe is normal or natural. By reintroducing this legislation, our Government is standing up for LGBTQ2 people and reaffirming our commitment to ensuring Canada is a place where everyone is free to be their authentic selves.

— Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger

Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy), was introduced in the House of Commons on Oct. 1, 2020. The definition of “conversion therapy” in the bill is “a practice that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation to heterosexual, to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviours, or to change an individual’s gender identity to match the sex they were assigned at birth.”

It amends the Criminal Code to prohibit anyone from:

  1. advertising services related to conversion therapy,
  2. forcing persons or causing a child from Canada to undergo conversion therapy,
  3. removing a child from Canada to undergo conversion therapy abroad, and
  4. receiving a material benefit from the provision of conversion therapy.

Bill C-6 may require the removal of advertising for conversion therapy services from social media, the Internet and computer systems.

Conversion “therapy” is any form of treatment, including individual talk therapy, behavioural or aversion therapy, group therapy treatments, spiritual prayer, exorcism, and/or medical or drug-induced treatments, which attempt to actively change someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Change efforts can dramatically impact its victims. (See Cramer, R.J., Golom, F.D., LoPresto, C.T. & Kirkley, S.M. (2008). “Weighing the Evidence: Empirical Assessment and Ethical Implications of Conversion Therapy.” Ethics & Behavior, 18(1), 93-114.)

Conversion therapy practices imply that LGBTQ2 lives are somehow less valuable, less desirable and less worthy than heterosexual or cisgender persons. (Cisgender is a term for those whose gender identity aligns with or matches the sex that they were assigned at birth.) Being an LGBTQ2 person is not a disorder. It is not a sin. It is not a disease that must be fixed, cured, healed or somehow repaired.

The American Psychological Association has resolved that portraying homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder should be avoided. Gender identity is a person’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or boy or girl). For some people, their gender identity does not always fit neatly into these two choices. We must understand that for transgender people, the sex they were assigned at birth and their own internal gender identity do not match.

“Transitioning” must be respected, by the local school board, our family, our friends, all the way up the ladder. Transitioning may mean using a different name, using new pronouns, dressing differently, changing one’s name and/or sex on legal documents, hormone therapy and maybe surgery.

Current legislation throughout Canada should be reviewed to make sure that there are no restrictions, not just on trans youth, but also on our medical personnel who serve them. We must not ban or restrict children and teens from participating fully in school sports. We must not equate the medical treatment of trans youth with child abuse or prohibit gender-affirming treatment for those under 18 years of age.

We must actively support lifesaving treatment for trans youth. Just acknowledging and using their preferred pronouns saves trans youth from self-harm and saves their lives. Leading sports governing bodies such as the International Olympic Committee are trans-inclusive.

This is part one of a two-part series. Part two: Born free and equal: More on conversion therapy.

Marvin Zuker was a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice, where he presided over the small claims, family and criminal courts from 1978 until his retirement in 2016. He is associate professor at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, where he teaches education law. Zuker is the author and co-author of many books and publications, including The Law is Not for Women and The Law is (Not) for Kids.

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