Mr. Speaker, today we are once again talking about the hate that the 2SLGBTQQIA community continues to be subjected to. It is important that I state it that way because that is the truth about what continues to happen in Canada even with the progress we have made. Without adequate protections and legal provisions, Canadians do experience hate, with the pain and suffering that comes along with it.
I cannot wait for the day when everyone in the country will be free to be themselves, celebrated fully, without shame, without fear for who they are, and feel confident that they will be loved and represented in all corners of our society.
Someone once said that if we cannot love ourselves, how are we expected to love somebody else? I have no doubt that our charter supports that intent.
With that in mind, I am honoured to speak to Bill C-6, an act to amend the Criminal Code to include provisions that will limit the negative impacts of conversion therapy in Canada, though it does not go far enough to actually eliminate it.
Last week, I had the privilege of discussing how the rights of 2SLGBTQQIA Canadians were fought for, confirmed and celebrated in recent decades in a response to the ministerial address the day Bill C-6 was tabled. My Green Party colleagues and I will certainly be voting for the bill and when we do, I will be thinking of the people I have met along the way who have suffered conversion therapy and the shame and self-loathing they have had to overcome as a direct result.
Many Canadians, and many members in the House, have seen the biographical drama Boy Erased, describing the journey of a young man from Arkansas who travelled to Tennessee to participate in a conversion therapy program. It is easy for us to hear that story and clearly denote that conversion therapy is wrong. It is easy to tell ourselves that it does not happen here. The truth is that it does; it just flies under the radar. It is more insidious.
I have a constituent, a brave man, who spoke with a CBC journalist a couple years ago to share his story in the hope of helping others. He grew up in a rural New Brunswick community. Outed as a teenager by his browser history, my constituent was sent to a religious counselling service in a nearby town. He was told that he needed to pray for God’s help to change, that what he was feeling was simply a sinful choice.
The counsellor suggested my constituent mentally put his gay feelings in a box and ask God to help keep that box closed. She offered tips to avoid future temptation, tips like “avoid flamboyant situations”. I am so glad he ignored that ridiculous advice. This constituent of mine is a leader in our community and an inspiration for young people today to celebrate who they are. The damage done by his experience with conversion therapy left him to fight feelings of shame through his adolescence and young adulthood.
The truth is that in church basements and family homes across our country children, youth and adults are being taught to hide who they are because it is something to be ashamed of. The real shame here is the damage we are doing to these young minds and hearts. We are limiting their capabilities by stunting their personal growth. We are dimming their light.
The harm that this process causes to people is immeasurable. It reinforces stigma, myths and lies. It has a profound impact on the ability of people to love themselves and to have self-confidence.
There is a recognition worldwide of the destructive nature of this practice and an acknowledgement that criminal law is an appropriate way to address that harm. We are not criminalizing conversations as we have so callously heard in the House. There should be no doubt about what conversion therapy is and our responsibility to stop it from happening.
Yesterday during his intervention, the Minister of Justice said that the purpose of the bill was to criminalize conduct related to conversion therapy. He said that putting an end to conversion therapy would be a reflection of the government’s commitment to eradicating a discriminatory practice that was out of step with Canadian values. He reminded us that multiple professional associations recognized that conversion therapy could lead to various negative impacts on mental and physical health, contributing in some cases to death by suicide. I could not agree more with the minister. We must put an end to conversion therapy.
I cannot help but wonder why we are not going all the way with the bill. Instead, we are leaving the door open for a dangerous loophole.
Bill C-6 would ban the practice of conversion therapy for minors but not for adults. The specific phrasing that one cannot cause a person to undergo conversion therapy against his or her will falls short of providing meaningful protection for the exact Canadians most likely to face pressure from their loved ones to undergo the therapy. Leaving the door open to conversion therapy through the notion that one might choose to engage in this abusive practice means forcing Canadians to make an impossible choice: undergo the experience or lose the love and support of their families.
The bill does take the clear and unequivocal step of precluding someone from profiting from conversion therapy. It makes it impossible to advertise the service, regardless of whether it is provided to minors or adults. If it is wrong, then it is wrong. We know conversion therapy is abusive and cruel. The minister correctly has affirmed that it is a discriminatory practice that is out of step with Canadian values. As parliamentarians, should we not be aiming to uphold the rights of all Canadians to protect their safety and security? When something causes harm, it is a legitimate decision of government to criminalize the practice.
I will actually go a step further. Leaving queer Canadians across the country with the burden of navigating these conversations with their families and expecting them to stand firm against coercion, without the backing of a law that truly denounces the practice, amounts to cowardice. We are leaving these Canadians to confront an issue that we are not bold enough to take on ourselves in the public sphere.
I think of a constituent I mentioned early. I mourn the time he has lost overcoming shame he should never have been made to feel. Together we can make the bill into what it needs to be for all Canadians so no one goes through what he has experienced.
I am looking forward to voting for the bill and I will be tabling amendments to strengthen it at committee stage.
If I can be clear today about one thing, let it be this. Whatever people’s identity, be it two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersexual, asexual or otherwise, they belong. Their right to security of the person is as valid as for any heterosexual cisgender Canadian. They are an integral part of our communities across Canada and we are here today to fight with them and for future generations to feel the respect and love they deserve.