Liberals plan to ban conversion therapy nationwide after months of provincial confusion

National News
Illustration by Anna Dodd.

Canada’s new Liberal government has promised to fight conversion therapy on the Federal level, after refusing to do so in the face of a nation-wide petition in March. Back then, the party condemned the practice, but said that banning it would be better left to provincial and territorial jurisdictions. No provincial bans have been implemented since then, and the government seems to have changed their tune. 

“We’ll ban it,” Ken Hardie, Liberal Member of Parliament for the Fleetwood—Port Kells riding said to the Martlet, “I’m not exactly sure what mechanism we’ll use, but whatever it takes. It’s something that the science isn’t there for, and it’s harmful in our view. We’ll find a way to get rid of it.” 

Conversion therapy — the attempt to convert an LGBTQ+ person to a heterosexual lifestyle — has been widely regarded as a pseudoscience. A 2015 statement by the Canadian Psychological Association said the practice causes “distress, anxiety, depression, negative self-image, a feeling of personal failure, difficulty sustaining relationships, and sexual dysfunction.” Despite this, there are still cloak-and-dagger groups and individuals that use controversial tactics to change a person’s sexuality, sometimes under a religious guise. 

“There is an impossible-to-know number of individual ‘practitioners’ who might take in individuals and provide this, and even misbill it as anxiety or depression treatment,” said Andrew Rose, Events Chair with UVic Greens and employee at the B.C. Green Party Office. 

Students at the University of Victoria have expressed concern with the lack of government action surrounding this issue. On September 30, 263 people signed a petition on in support of the Green Party provincial bill to ban conversion therapy. The UVic Green and UVic Pride clubs set up a table outside the Student Union Building and collected signatures from students who advocate the Green’s bill that was tabled in May. Those 263 signatures, and a provincial bill itself, may be redundant if the federal government introduces a comprehensive national ban. 

“Meanwhile, the B.C. Bill is right there, right now, and we should pass it,” Rose said. 

No government can seem to decide if the issue should be dealt with federally or provincially. This summer the B.C. provincial government sent an open letter to Ottawa pleading for a federal ban while the Green provincial ban bill awaited a second reading. Complications come from a divided opinion on how to address the ban. Closing loopholes in the healthcare system and preventing professionals from practicing conversion therapy would be a provincial issue. For the federal government, it would be possible to amend the Criminal Code to include conversion therapy as a form of kidnapping or forcible confinement. 

“I don’t even think there should even be a chance that somebody could be subjected to this,” said Nathan Ponce, UVic Pride Office coordinator.  “It’s a very harmful practice that leaves lifelong scars. If we could stop that from happening to children or even older people who are forced into it, I think we should take every measure we can.”