Canada has officially banned LGBTQ+ conversion therapy, a harmful and wholly debunked practice that attempts to "convert" LGBTQ+ people to become heterosexual.
On Wednesday, a bill to criminalize conversion therapy practices received Royal Assent, the last step before becoming law in Canada, and will come into effect on January 7, 2022. The law will also criminalize causing another person to undergo conversion therapy and make it illegal to remove a child from Canada with the intention of making them undergo the practice in another country. It will also be a criminal offense to profit or promote conversion therapy.
The new bill was welcomed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who described conversion therapy as “despicable and degrading.”
Early conversion therapies typically involved "ice-pick" lobotomies and aversion therapies, such as giving people electric shocks while they looked at erotic material. Nowadays, it tends to rely on more subtle behavioral techniques, often accompanied by prayer.
However, there is no robust evidence that so-called conversion therapy can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The World Health Organization has discredited and the United Nations has described as akin to “torture.” Furthermore, the practice is known to be extremely harmful to LGBTQ+ individuals, with numerous studies linking conversion therapy to psychological distress, poor mental health, and suicide attempts. These studies indicated that the vast majority of conversion therapies are carried out by religious leaders.
In spite of this clear lack of evidence, the practice remains remarkably common in many parts of the world. A poll in Canada found that approximately 10 percent of sexual minority men had been subjected to conversion therapy practices. A national LGBT survey in the UK found that 7 percent of respondents had either undergone or been offered it. It is currently banned in Germany, Brazil, Malta, and around 20 states in the US. France's senate voted to outlaw it this week, while the UK has pledged to ban it, but hasn't yet.
“Efforts to change an individual’s sexual orientation to heterosexual, to change an individual’s gender identity to cisgender, or to change their gender expression to match the sex they were assigned at birth cause great harm,” the Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and the Honourable Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth, said in a statement.
“They are rooted in a wrong — and harmful — view that these facets of a human being can and should be changed to align with what has been perceived as ‘normal’ or ‘natural’. This further stigmatizes LGBTQ2+ persons and harms their dignity and equality.”