Conversion therapy refers to any attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. It is sometimes described as a way to “cure” or “repair” a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
Because of the serious harm shown to be connected to this so-called “therapy”, it is a practice that has been widely criticized and opposed by many professional organizations and 2SLGBTQIA+ advocates throughout the world. At time of publication, the practice had been banned in whole or in part in 15 countries including Germany, France, Mexico, and several US states.
In 2021, the Canadian Government passed a law banning conversion therapy practices. This law took effect in 2022, changing the Criminal Code of Canada to make conversion therapy practices and the promotion or advertising of conversion therapy practices a criminal offence.
This booklet will explain where this new law came from, what the new law says, and offer options for resources and support in Newfoundland and Labrador for anyone who may have experienced conversion therapy or knows someone who has.
What is Conversion Therapy?
Conversion therapy is defined in the Criminal Code as any service, practice, or treatment meant to:
- Change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual;
- Change a person’s gender identity to cisgender;
- Change a person’s gender expression to match the sex assigned at birth;
- Repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour;
- Repress non-cisgender gender identity; or
- Repress or reduce gender expression that does not match the sex assigned at birth
Many practices that would fall under the definition of “conversion therapy” use other names, sometimes to hide the intention behind them. Conversion therapy services or practices may involve psychotherapy practices, medical practices, or faith-based practices. Sometimes they are described as:
- Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE)
- Sexual Attraction Fluidity Exploration in Therapy (SAFE-T)
- Reparative Therapy
- Ex-gay ministry
Why is Conversion Therapy harmful?
Conversion therapy practices have been shown to be very harmful to 2SLGBTQIA+ persons, especially minors.
Many different professional organizations in Canada and throughout the world have denounced conversion therapy, including the World Health Organization, the World Psychiatric Organization, Canadian Psychological Association, the Canadian Psychiatric Association, the Canadian Association of Social Workers, the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Canadian Paediatric Society.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, conversion therapy has been opposed by groups including the Newfoundland and Labrador College of Social Workers and many 2SLGBTQIA+ advocates. These organizations and groups have also called for the banning of conversion therapy services, practices, or treatments.
Conversion therapy has been proven to cause harm to persons who experience such practices. Research has found that approximately 1/3 of persons who experienced conversion therapy practices have attempted suicide. Research has also found other health consequences connected to conversion therapy include:
- Suicidal ideation and self-harm
- Poor self-esteem and self-hatred
- Problematic substance use
- Social isolation and loneliness
Actions to Ban Conversion Therapy
On November 29, 2021, the Government of Canada introduced a bill to change the Criminal Code of Canada to include new criminal offences to end conversion therapy in Canada. The law took effect on January 7, 2022.
Sections 320.102-4 are the new sections added to the Criminal Code of Canada to outlaw conversion therapy. These sections created four new criminal offences, covering the following actions:
- Conversion therapy (s. 320.102)
A person who knowingly causes another person to undergo conversion therapy, including by providing conversion therapy to that person could be found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for up to 5 years.
- Promoting or advertising conversion therapy (s. 320.103)
A person who promotes or advertises conversion therapy can be found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for up to 2 years.
- Material benefit from conversion therapy (s. 320.104)
A person who receives a financial or material benefit (meaning money or other form of compensation or payment) and knows that the benefit comes either directly or indirectly from conversion therapy practices, can be found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for up to 2 years.
- Removal of child from Canada with the intention that the child undergo conversion therapy outside of Canada (s. 273.3(1))
A person who does anything for the purpose of removing a child who normally lives in Canada and is under the age of 18 years old from Canada, with the intention that the child undergo conversion therapy outside of Canada, can be found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for up to 5 years.
Explaining the Powers in the New Law
This law allows for a wide scope of conversion therapy practices, services, or attempts at conversion therapy to be banned. The law includes not just organizations or individuals that offer conversion therapy, but also includes any organization or individual who promotes or advertises conversion therapy practices. It also includes what may be considered informal forms of conversion therapy, such as family or church pressure and practices to conform to hetero and cisgender normativity.
This law also bans different forms of media and communication, including papers, magazines, radio stations, or websites, from being paid to promote conversion therapy. This charge would require the person or organization being paid to promote conversion therapy to do so knowingly.
As well, “providing conversion therapy” includes those that provide other forms of material support for conversion therapy practices such as providing a flight to send a person to undergo conversion therapy or helping remove a child from Canada to undergo conversion therapy. This law can also be used to investigate family or community members who might try and send their children to other countries where conversion therapy practices may be more common, including the United States.
Other Changes to the Law
This new law also changed other parts of the Criminal Code and gave the Government new powers in relation to investigating and stopping conversion therapy practices. These changes include:
– Allowing a Judge to issue a warrant to seize recordings, publications, other written material, or other representations that are advertisements for conversion therapy practices.
– Allowing a Judge to order the forfeiture of publications, representations, written materials, or recordings involving the advertising of conversion therapy.
– Allowing a Judge to order the seizure or computer data or computer systems used to create advertising materials for conversion therapy. This can include computers, servers, websites, and any machines used in the production of these types of materials.