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Canada’s ruling Liberal Party has introduced legislation that would ban therapists from attempting to subject minors and adult dependents to therapy aimed at altering their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The bill would criminalize forcing youth or adults to undergo conversion therapy against their will. But adults who voluntarily consent to the therapy would not be prevented from undergoing it.
The bill, introduced in parliament by Justice Minister David Lametti Minister and Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger, would also outlaw removing a minor from Canada for the purposes of enrolling them in conversion therapy abroad.
Those found guilty of such an offense, or of forcing an adult to undergo conversion therapy, could face up to five years in prison.
“Conversion therapy is premised on a lie, that being homosexual, lesbian, bisexual or trans is wrong and in need of fixing,” Lametti said. “Not only is that false, it sends a demeaning and a degrading message that undermines the dignity of individuals and the LGBTQ2 community as a whole.”
The bill would also make it illegal to profit from providing conversion therapy or to advertise such services — both offenses which could carry up to a two-year prison sentence, reports the Toronto Sun.
The proposed law would not apply to those who provide support to individuals questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity, nor would it punish people acting in a capacity as a spiritual or religious adviser to a person struggling with their identity.
“There is a difference between asking someone who they are and telling someone that who they are is wrong and in need of fixing,” Lametti said, adding that those who engage in “open-ended,” supportive discussions with a person questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity have nothing to fear.
The Liberal government argues that conversion therapy can lead to lifelong trauma, and cites evidence from the Canadian Psychological Association showing that the therapy is not only ineffective at changing a person’s identity, but can cause increased anxiety, depression, and negative feelings of self-worth among those subjected to it.
Conversion therapy has already been banned in some Canadian cities, including Vancouver and Calgary. Ontario became the first province to ban the practice in 2015.
Previously, the Canadian government had said it should be up to the individual provinces and localities to regulate the practice, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a campaign promise to ban the practice nationwide during his contentious re-election campaign last year, which saw his party lose seats in parliament and the rival Conservative Party win the popular vote.
The Trevor Project, a U.S.-based organization seeking to reduce suicides, particularly among LGBTQ youth, praised the Liberal government’s decision to introduce the bill as a sign of global progress in protecting youth from being forcibly coerced into conversion therapy.
“We’re proud to support Canada’s move to end the discredited practice of conversion therapy on LGBTQ minors, and celebrate as it joins the growing number of nations preventing its citizens from conversion therapy’s harms,” Troy Stevenson, the campaign manager for The Trevor Project’s “50 Bills, 50 States” campaign aiming to ban the practice in the United States.
“With Canada’s official introduction today, the country joins the U.S., Germany, Mexico, and Chile as we all seek to outlaw the practice among minors in our countries,” Stevenson noted. “This legislation will save countless LGBTQ young lives, and we’re grateful for Prime Minister Trudeau’s leadership in showing young LGBTQ Canadians that they are worthy of love and respect.”
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