Putting Britain to shame, Canada stamps out conversion therapy for good as ban goes into effect

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and Toronto mayor John Tory march at Toronto Prid

Canada has officially banned conversion therapy, making it a crime to provide or promote the dangerous, debunked practice.

The law, which went into effect Friday (7 January), was one that was bulldozed within weeks by lawmakers after parliament came together to accelerate the legislation’s passage.

Canada’s criminal code will now slap those who force someone into conversion therapy with up to five years’ imprisonment.

It is now also illegal to take a minor abroad to subject them to it, as well as anyone who profits or promotes the practice, with both punishable with up to two years behind bars.

Putting Canada in the company of more than a dozen countries that have done the same, ministers described the ban as offering “among the most comprehensive” protections in the world.

Justin Trudeau: ‘LGBTQ2 rights are human rights’

Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, is a dangerous medical and spiritual practice debunked by every mainstream medical and mental health body, including the Canadian Psychological Association.

Prime minister Justin Trudeau, who previously called conversion therapy “despicable and degrading”, welcomed the ban.

“As of today, it’s official: Conversion therapy is banned in Canada,” he tweeted Friday.

“Our government’s legislation has come into force – which means it is now illegal to promote, advertise, benefit from, or subject someone to this hateful and harmful practice. LGBTQ2 rights are human rights.”

The urgency of outlawing conversion therapy has been long known to activists. After all, at least one in 10 trans and non-binary Canadians have undergone the practice, a harrowing 2019 report by Trans PULSE Canada found.

Trudeau’s administration initially shrugged off calls to ban conversion therapy, saying that such a move falls on the shoulders of provincial and territorial governments and health associations.

Within Canada’s patchwork legal system, provinces such as Ontario and Nova Scotia and territories such as Yukon had already outlawed it.

But in a turnaround, Trudeau vowed to make a ban a top priority for the federal government. In fits and bursts across two years, lawmakers sought to pass various conversion therapy bans only for the bills to fizzle out.

By November 2020, justice minister David Lametti and minister for women, gender equality and youth Marci Ien revived the effort.

The more robust bill, the third bid by lawmakers to ban conversion therapy, even closed loopholes that shot the previous two, such as protecting both adults and minors.

Parliament passed Bill C-4 in December 2021, with the House of Commons giving united consent to pave a path for it being written into the books.

Even Conservative parliamentarians who had bitterly opposed the ban before threw their support behind it during the vote.

In a stunning display of unity, MPs from both aisles voted to accelerate the ban. Pictured: Conservative Party leader Erin OToole. (Geoff Robins / AFP) (Photo by GEOFF ROBINS/AFP via Getty Images)

Conservative MP Rob Moore had even been the one to propose a motion to fast track the bill and send it directly to the Senate.

The breakthrough vote is a stark contrast to Britain’s government that has still yet to ban the practice years after Tory premier Theresa May’s government released its promising LGBT Action Plan.

The long-sought ban offered by ministers last year will allow some forms of faith-based conversion therapy to go ahead, among other alarming red flags, activists warn. Policy-makers hope to have proposals drafted for Spring.

Canada’s bill has been dubbed a “major victory” by Michael Kwag, himself a survivor of conversion therapy and policy director for the Community-Based Research Centre, which researches the health of LGBT+ folk.

Kwaghe’s family forced him to undergo a course of telephone conversion therapy with a Christian counsellor, he wrote in an article on the centre’s website. It was an experience that left him deeply rattled and he even tried to take his own life as a result.

But now, a moment of relief for Kwaghe. With conversion therapy outlawed, Canada must now look to what more it can do to stamp out anti-LGBT+ bile.

“As much as we need to rid our society of bad actors peddling harmful and fraudulent ideas, we also need to push for policies and initiatives that will create the affirming communities that we know queer and trans people need to thrive,” Kwaghe wrote.

“That will provide alternatives rooted in love and acceptance to families like mine.”