House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights – Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy)

Opening Remarks

House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights
Minister’s Remarks – 7 minutes

November 2020

Madam Chair, I am so pleased to speak to you today about the criminal law reforms proposed by Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy). The almost unanimous support for sending Bill C-6 to this Committee reflects the Bill’s critical importance. I want to start by thanking those who have courageously shared their own experiences of discrimination. It is through the lived realities of LGBTQ2 individuals that we better understand why Bill C-6 is so essential to the protection of their dignity and equality.

Specifically, Bill C-6 and the five new criminal offences it proposes target a practice that discriminates against LGBTQ2 individuals by positing that they can and should change a fundamental part of who they are – their sexual orientation or gender identity. This practice finds its roots in the erroneous and discriminatory view that non-heterosexual orientations and non-cisgender identities are pathologies or sicknesses that can be “fixed.” In short, its origin betrays the discriminatory views on which the practice is based - views that are completely out of step with modern science. Unsurprisingly, conversion therapy is known to be ineffective and harms those who are subjected to it.

I will focus on the Bill’s definition of “conversion therapy”, because there appears to be some persisting confusion about its scope. Bill C-6 defines “conversion therapy” as 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.”

The definition, therefore, has two elements: first, that the conduct at issue amounts to a practice, treatment or service; and, second, that the practice, treatment or service is designed to achieve one of the prohibited objectives.

The terms “treatment”, “service” and “practice” are used in the Criminal Code and various other federal and provincial statutes, including in provincial conversion therapy-related statutes’ definitions of conversion therapy. For example, PEI’s legislation refers specifically to a “practice, treatment, or service”. Notably, in none of these contexts are these terms defined, largely because the terms have a clear, literal meaning.

In Bill C-6’s conversion therapy definition, the term “treatment” means “a therapy or procedure used to treat a medical condition” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). That is how the term is also used and understood in the Criminal Code’s mental disorder provisions (for example, section 672.59).

The term “service” in this context means “labour that does not produce a tangible commodity” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). The term is also used in this way in the human trafficking provisions, whereby traffickers extract a “labour or a service” from their victims (section 279.04). The term is also found in the Cannabis Act to refer to using the “services” of youth in the commission of cannabis-related offences and to “services” related to cannabis in the context of commercial activity.

The term “practice” means a “repeated or customary action” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). The term is also used in this way in the Criminal Code’s illegal betting provisions (section 203), and in the animal cruelty provisions (section 445.2).

All of these terms imply an established or formalized intervention, one that is generally offered to the public or a segment of the public. A mere conversation cannot, therefore, be considered a “practice”, “service” or “treatment”, unless it forms part of a formalized intervention, such as a talk therapy session.

The second part of the definition narrows its scope further. The practice, service or treatment must be specifically designed to achieve clearly defined objectives. That is why the definition uses the terms “heterosexual”, “cisgender” and “non-heterosexual”. Specifically, to be captured by the definition, the intervention must be 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 means that practices, services or treatments that are designed to achieve other objectives, such as abstinence from all sexual activity or to address sex addiction or criminal sexual behaviour (for example, child sexual abuse), are clearly not captured by the definition. Neither can legitimate medical or therapeutic practices fall within the definition, such as interventions to support a person’s gender transition, “watchful waiting” for youth whose gender identity does not align with the sex assigned to them at birth, or de-transitioning for those who choose it. That is because these practices are designed to help the patient explore and realize their own self-determined identity, not to ensure a result that conforms with societal norms. The definition’s “for greater certainty” clause, though unnecessary, clarifies this point.

I trust that this helps clarify the scope of Bill C-6’s carefully-crafted definition, which makes clear that we are only seeking to address conduct that has been systematically and universally denounced by medical and mental health professions around the world, including in Canada, because of the harm it is known to cause – that is, interventions designed to change a fundamental part of who a person is – their sexual orientation or gender identity.

I look forward to the Committee’s study of all the issues raised during Second Reading debate and by stakeholders, but believe that the scope of the Bill C-6’s “conversion therapy” definition is foundational as all of the Bill’s proposed offences are based on its clear articulation of this harmful and discriminatory conduct that must end. Everyone in Canada must feel safe to explore and develop their identity and to be who they are.

Thank you.