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Bishops seek conversion therapy bill protection

By 
  • December 10, 2021

After a surprise, expedited third reading of long-promised legislation to ban conversion therapy, Canada’s Catholic bishops are hoping the Senate will amend the bill to ensure private conversations and religious teaching about sexuality and gender are not criminalized.

“While the government did make changes to the definition in Bill C-4 (a previous version of the conversion therapy ban), none of these changes address the concerns we and many others have raised,” Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops spokesperson Jonathan Lesarge told The Catholic Register in an e-mail. “Instead, the changes further expand the definition of conversion therapy and the scope of its prohibition. We therefore remain concerned and will continue to advocate for much-needed clarity through constructive dialogue.”

The Liberals first introduced the bill in 2019, but it died when Parliament was prorogued in 2020. It was back on the table this year, but failed to pass the Senate before the summer election was called. This third attempt sailed through the House of Commons with unanimous consent and goes back to the Senate with some changes to the original bill, including extending the conversion therapy ban for adults as well as children.

Gay conversion therapy, sometimes called “reparative therapy,” uses psychological categories and counselling techniques to try to turn gay people straight and convince transexuals to identify with their biological sex. The Canadian Psychological Association, the Canadian Psychiatric Association and other health professional bodies have denounced the practice. A 2009 review of the scientific literature by the American Psychological Association concluded that the therapies don’t work and often harm the subject’s mental health.

The CCCB does not oppose the basic intent of the conversion therapy ban, Lesarge said.

“There is no place in our communities for abusive or coercive practices. To that end we support the objective,” he said. “Our concern is that conversion therapy is so broadly defined that it could readily criminalize legitimate expressions that are not harmful and have nothing to do with forcing someone to change their identity.”

Government assurances that the legislation would not or could not be used to charge parents or religious leaders for talking about sexuality or gender in theological or traditional categories aren’t good enough, Lesarge said.

As the bill passed in the House of Commons, Campaign Life Coalition called the legislation “a smokescreen to go after parents of traditional faiths and values who raise their male and female children to live according to their biological sex.”

“This bill will certainly target common-sense parenting and could put parents in jail for up to five years for private conversations in which they encourage their child to be comfortable with the body in which they were born, or if they require their child to dress at home in conformity with their biological sex,” Campaign Life Coalition president Jeff Gunnarson said in a release.

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