Critics do not trust courts on “conversion therapy” definition as Bill C-6 enters third-reading stage

Bill C-314 would amend the Criminal Code to provide that a mental disorder is not a grievous and irremediable medical condition for which a person can receive medically-provided euthanasia / assisted suicide. (Image from

By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

[Ottawa – CCN] – Most critics of the federal government’s effort to ban conversion therapy say that they do not doubt that the federal government and supporters of Bill C-6 are trying to do the right thing.

But the ongoing debate surrounding Bill C-6 shows that the critics of the effort to ban conversion therapy don’t trust how the courts will eventually interpret a ban on something that almost everyone in the debate claims they are against.

Related: “More questions than clarity regarding Bill C-6” – LINK

A small minority of federal MPs, mostly from the Conservative Party, have been raising concerns about how the wording of Bill C-6 – which is currently at the third reading stage in the House of Commons – could end up criminalizing sexual orientation conversations between parents and children as well as such conversations with faith leaders.

It is that concern that is at the heart of the Catholic Church’s opposition to Bill C-6, even though the church is quick to condemn aspects of conversion therapy.

“Like many Canadians, (the Church) is opposed to all forms of coercive and manipulative activities because they do not respect the sacred dignity of the human person and the freedoms inherent with that dignity. The protection of vulnerable Canadians from harmful acts is a necessary and important goal and one which the Bishops irrevocably support,” according to the Conference of Catholic Bishops, adding that the wording of Bill C-6 is too broad and will expose good faith efforts to address gender identity issues to the whims of the courts.

“It is generic in its scope and ambiguous in its language, and thus its application could be overextended and interpreted to include what are and should remain lawful activities,” the CCCB said of Bill C-6.

“This is mainly because of its problematic definition of conversion therapy which reads: ‘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 CCCB said in its brief to the House of Commons regarding Bill C-6.

“In the Bill’s current form, a range of activity and well-intended actions, hitherto legitimate and lawful, that are also beneficial goals in support of individuals, could become subject to prosecution under the Criminal Code, despite the apparent claims to the contrary on the website of the Department of Justice.”

That is a concern that the federal Liberal government dismisses, but critics who have seen how the courts have continually expanded medically-provided euthanasia/ assisted suicide argue that this is a valid concern unless the wording of Bill C-6 is changed to clearly state the limits of such a ban.

“Discussions and open-ended conversations that explore identity are not conversion therapy and they are not targeted in the Bill,” said Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger, who along with the federal justice minister is one of the federal government’s lead ministers in navigating Bill C-6 through the House of Commons.

“Children should be free to ask questions about who they are and to come to know themselves. That is why health care workers, parents, teachers, religious leaders must be able to continue supporting and affirming youth in these conversations and discussions,” she said. “The challenge where it becomes conversion therapy is when it is without consent, when it is being imposed, when people are being forced to change who they are or exploring who they are.”

But Conservative MP Michael Cooper said the issue isn’t really about banning conversion therapy, which he supports, but instead how the courts will interpret Bill C-6 once it becomes law.

“It is wrong, and it is harmful,” Cooper said. “Conversion therapy should be banned. Individuals who perpetrate such harmful acts and seek to coercively change someone’s sexual orientation or sexual identity should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law under the penalty of the Criminal Code,” he said, but added that “it goes without saying that if we are to carve out any law in the Criminal Code to ban conversion therapy, it is absolutely imperative that we get the definition right.”

“The Minister of Justice and other members of the government have repeatedly said that the bill would not target voluntary, good-faith conversations,” Cooper said.

“I do not doubt their sincerity when they say that is what they believe. Consistent with that, the website of the Department of Justice states the same. However, what matters is not the minister’s interpretation of the bill. What matters is not what is on the website of the Department of Justice.

“What matters is, in fact, what is in the bill,” and how that is interpreted by the courts in the future, he said.

“The government’s intention is a good one, and the intent of the bill is a good one, but it is important that we get the definition right,” Cooper said. “I am concerned that we have not achieved that in the bill before us.”