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After two failed attempts, Canada bans conversion therapy

People carry a rainbow flag at the WorldPride 2014 Parade in Toronto in 2014.
Geoff Robins
AFP via Getty Images
People carry a rainbow flag at the WorldPride 2014 Parade in Toronto in 2014.

Canada has formally banned conversion therapy, the widely discredited practice aimed at changing a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

Legislation that makes it illegal to provide, promote and profit off conversion therapy was officially approved on Wednesday and will take effect in 30 days, on Jan. 7.

"It's official: Our government's legislation banning the despicable and degrading practice of conversion therapy has received Royal Assent - meaning it is now law," tweeted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "LGBTQ2 Canadians, we'll always stand up for you and your rights."

(The Canadian government utilizes the acronym "LGBTQ2" to include Two-Spirit, a term that some Indigenous people use to describe their sexual, gender and/or spiritual identity.)

The bill defines conversion therapy as any practice, treatment or service designed to change or repress a person's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Those techniques can range from talk and behavioral therapy to medical treatments, and have been discredited by major medical associations in many countries (including the U.S.) as well as the United Nations, World Health Organization, Amnesty International and other groups. Critics say the practice causes harm to its victims and is based on the false premise that sexual orientation and gender identity can or should be "cured."

As many as one in 10gay, bi, trans and queer men and Two-Spirit and nonbinary people in Canada have experienced conversion therapy, according to recent findings of a study by the Community-Based Research Centre. Among them, 72% started before the age of 20. Lower-income, Indigenous and other marginalized groups are disproportionately represented, according to Canada's Justice Department.

The Justice Department notes that some jurisdictions, like Ontario and Québec, have enacted legislation addressing different aspects of conversion therapy, while certain municipalities have banned the practice and promotion within their city limits.

This was Canada's third attempt at banning the practice nationally, with the Toronto Star noting that the bill went farther than previous versions by making it a crime to have anyone to undergo conversion therapy, regardless of whether they consent. This time, the bill was unanimously approved in both the House of Commons and the Senate.

"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," Justice Minister David Lametti said in a statement cheering the bill's passage. "In fact, with these changes to the Criminal Code, Canada's criminal laws on conversion therapy are among the most comprehensive in the world."

The text of the bill says it harms society because "it is based on and propagates myths and stereotypes about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, including the myth that heterosexuality, cisgender gender identity, and gender expression that conforms to the sex assigned to a person at birth are to be preferred over other sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions."

It makes it a criminal offense to cause someone to undergo conversion therapy, promote or advertise the practice, receive financial or other material benefits from providing it and do anything for the purpose of removing a child from Canada with the intention of making them undergo conversion therapy in another country.

It also authorizes courts to order the removal of advertisements for conversion therapy .

"This legislation represents an important milestone in the Government's commitment to protecting the dignity and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and Two-Spirit communities, by criminalizing a shameful, unscientific, and destructive practice," Lametti said, adding that more work must be done to protect LGBTQ2 people.

Many politicians and LGBTQ2 rights advocates are applauding the bill's passage, and crediting the activists who shared their personal stories with making it possible.

"It's hard to describe how significant this is to so many survivors, but beyond the LGBTQ2+ community, all Canadians should be proud of this historic moment of nonpartisanship to do the right thing," tweeted Nick Schiavo, one of those activists. "This matters. This sends a clear message. This is Canada at its best."

There's been a growing push to ban conversion therapy around the world.

In the U.S., 20 states and some 100 municipalities have banned the practice, according to a tracker from the National Center for Lesbian Rights' Born Perfect campaign.

Three European countries have outlawed conversion therapy: Malta, Germany and Albania. And there could soon be a fourth, as France's Senate voted to criminalize it this week.

This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman
Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.