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Looking into a new future with a ban on conversion therapy

By Anjali Choudhary, January 13 2022—

The human rights and dignity of members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community should not be a politicized issue. The recent unanimous decision by the Canadian parliament to ban conversion therapy is an encouraging step towards setting aside polarizing beliefs and ensuring the equal protection of all individuals in Canadian society is a given.

Justice Minister David Lametti said “the consensus demonstrated by Parliamentarians in Canada is a part of an emerging global consensus surrounding the real and life-long harms for conversion therapy victims and survivors.” 

Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault says that he dreams “of the day when LGBTQ2 issues are no longer political footballs –– and we are one day closer to that future.”

The harmful practice of conversion therapy revolves around the premise of attempting to change an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression to that of a heterosexual one.

Both in theory and practice, this method is unbelievably coercive, harmful and traumatizing for survivors. This can take the form of shock therapy, verbal coercion, prayer efforts, physical violence or food deprivation. This harm — deep-rooted in the homophobic narrative internalized by some Canadians — will now become a criminal offence under any circumstance. 

Regardless of overbreadth claims made by some Conservative MPs in the past, hiding behind a veil of wanting to allow individuals the opportunity for self-discovery is not acceptable. Conversion therapy is plainly and simply torture.

Hence, it should not be a shock that no political parties now openly oppose the ban. It is a great failure of the Canadian democratic system to split issues of basic human protection into two sides of a political debate.

Nonetheless, it is a time to celebrate the federal government’s legislative promise to protect the 2SLGBTQIA+ Canadians. This terrible practice needs to be banned universally and is not given nearly enough attention because people believe it does not occur near them. But in reality, it takes place much closer to home than many people believe — including our home prairie provinces. 

In communication with Global News, a woman from Saskatchewan shared her experience of undergoing conversion therapy with an Evangelical Christian church. 

“She was forced into meetings at the church during which she was shown pictures of men and told that they were what she should be attracted to. She said that the church pastor even recommended shock therapy to her parents,” said Global News.

The harms of conversion therapy are widespread and long-lasting. These impacts can include increased depression, PTSD, suicidal thoughts and other lifelong psychological and social issues. Being subject to this torture at a young age, such as the 19-year old unnamed Regina woman was, impacts the trajectory of the rest of an individual’s life. The physical and mental coercion imposed on them does damage beyond what any of us could imagine. 

“It made me feel ashamed for very many years so I got into drinking and doing drugs a lot. It’s just terrible. You don’t feel like a human,” she told Global News

This ban is definitely a positive start, but a societal mindset and practice change will occur through advocacy by all. Ultimately, the actual black-letter law is often constrained in its effectiveness by the social uptake that needs to occur after. Let’s not forget that homophobic behaviour continues to persist decades after the legalization of gay marriage. Survivors, however, view this as a historic moment in Canadian history. 

 “I was brought to tears. This will save lives,” Jennifer Hickey, a survivor of teenage conversion therapy told CBC News. “I just can’t tell you how proud I am to be a Canadian. I feel like we converted a country.”

This much-needed message sends a beacon of hope to many across the country. More importantly, the universality of the decision sends a clear message to the country: torture, discrimination, and homophobia will not be accepted. Canada must now continue to genuinely enforce both the legal ban and encourage a mindset shift to the most extreme extent possible.

This article is a part of our Voices section.

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