Canadians divided on “conversion therapy” ban

Jose Ruba, Marty Moore and Emmanuel Sanchez (l-r) are among those expressing concern about the reach of Bill C-6. (Submitted photos courtesy of JCCF - The B.C. Catholic, CCN)

By Agnieszka Ruck, The B.C. Catholic

[Vancouver – Canadian Catholic News] – A recent survey of 1,016 Canadians has found there is no widespread support for the so-called “conversion therapy ban” Bill C-6.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) commissioned a Nanos poll Feb. 28 to March 4 to ask people across the country for their thoughts on access to counselling about sexuality.

The poll found 78 per cent of respondents agreed that “consenting adults should be able to receive the sexuality counselling of their choice regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

It also found most respondents believed children with gender dysphoria who are thinking about altering their bodies with puberty blockers or hormones should have access to counselling services with a “wait and see” approach.

JCCF staff lawyer Marty Moore said his organization does not take a political stance, but advocates for rights of Canadians. He believes Bill C-6 and similar conversion therapy bans introduced in some major cities threaten Canadian rights and liberties.

“The concept of conversion therapy often brings to mind appalling and abusive practices,” such as electric shock, he said during a video press conference March 16. “The prohibition of such abusive coercive practices is of course justified, but the recent conversion therapy bans make no reference to abuse or coercion.”

The proposed bill defines conversion therapy this way: “a practice that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual, to change a person’s gender identity or gender expression to cisgender or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour or non-cisgender expression.” (Cisgender refers to a person whose gender identity matches their biological sex).

The bill would amend the Criminal Code to make offering conversion therapy, advertising it, or receiving financial benefit for providing it a criminal offence with a maximum five-year prison sentence.

Moore said if conversion therapy remains so defined, it could ban a person’s voluntary and personal choice to seek counselling for a sexual issue and discriminates against some LGBTQ persons.

Concerns about Bill C-6 – Resources

In fact, at least one same-sex attracted person has already been denied such treatment. Calgary-area resident Jose Ruba joined the press conference to share that as a university student, he began to experience unwanted sexual attractions to men and began viewing same-sex pornography. He sought help from a spiritual director, who led him to a counsellor.

“Some of what he said was not so helpful, but some of it was life-giving,” said Ruba.

After moving to a different city, he has looked for other counsellors who could give him the same help. But while freely seeking this service, Ruba has been told by several counselling agencies they can’t help him, or only help him in a limited way.

“They would only help me if we talked about a pornography addiction, but not gay pornography,” he said. “If Canadians understood the kinds of discrimination … they would not support this ban.”

Ruba said his former counsellor could, if Bill C-6 was in force, be criminally charged, as could the spiritual director who recommended him, for advertising and offering their help.

“No one wants anyone to be coerced into counselling … I had been forced into counselling, it would not have benefitted me,” he said.

Legislators and politicians have said the bill would not block access to conversion therapy for a person who freely consented to it, as long as the counsellor did not receive compensation for the treatment. They have also said it would not criminalize private conversations between family members.

But Moore warns that language is not actually laid out in the bill itself.

“Bill C-6 is imposing a one-way street, a one-size-fits-all solution, regardless of the best interests of” the person seeking conversion therapy, he said.

It “drastically impairs the ability of parents to make decisions in the best interests of their children,” and “could criminalize conversations that a parent has with their children, even about counselling the child wants to get.”

That’s what Rachel Smith is concerned about. Rachel, a minor who used a pseudonym to protect her identity, told the press conference she is autistic and identified as transgender for two years due to an inability to form meaningful friendships with girls and a lack of female athletic role models.

“Working out was the best way for me to handle my gender dysphoria,” said Rachel. She built up a muscular physique and felt more comfortable around boys.

Then, around age 14, she met a young woman who was strong, competitive, and comfortable in her skin as an athletic female. She took time to train Rachel to improve her flexibility and helped her build an appreciation for her body. Rachel came to embrace the gender she was born with.

“When I came out as a girl in school after I was known as trans for two years, I was bullied by many students and even some teachers,” said Rachel.

She said all people with gender dysphoria have different needs and it is important for them to access a variety of resources, including ones that help them affirm their biological sex.

“What works for me may not work for someone else,” she said. “All I needed was a strong female role model and friend … Imagine if … my parents were forced to allow me to transition.”

The JCCF poll found Canadians are divided on whether counselling a child to accept their birth gender rather than explore other genders should be legal: 41 per cent agreed it should be legal, 27 per cent said it should be illegal, and 32 per cent said they were unsure.

Emmanuel Sanchez also spoke at the press conference. After coming out as gay at age 16 and having relationships with older men, “I was still very unsettled.”

He found out a counsellor who helped him tackle the bullying and depression in his past and challenged him to take a hard look at all of his relationships.

“I started to see life differently and I deeply loved it,” he said. Sanchez has joined a movement called “Fix the Definition” calling for Bill C-6 to be amended to ban coercive practices designed to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity while ensuring Canadians can freely access the counselling they choose. The movement also seeks to protect the rights of parents to speak to their children about sexuality and gender.

Bill C-6 is currently pending third reading in the House of Commons.