Ottawa looking at Criminal Code reforms to deter ‘shameful’ conversion therapy

The federal government is calling on all provincial governments to stop conversion therapy while it reviews Canada’s Criminal Code reforms.

“The federal government is committed to doing everything within its jurisdiction to combat conversion therapy,” reads a letter from two Liberal cabinet members and an MP to Alberta’s Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer.

“The provincial, territorial, municipal and federal governments all have roles to play to protect Canadians from the harms associated with this practice.”

The June letter, recently obtained by CBC News, asks Schweitzer to take immediate action to “end the shameful practice.” It’s signed by federal Justice Minister David Lametti, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor and Edmonton Centre MP Randy Boissonnault, the special adviser on LGBT issues to the prime minister.

Conversion therapy — opposed by the Canadian Psychological Association — tries to change people’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression through counselling, medication or religious practices.

Activists say conversion therapy often happens informally in churches and on a one-on-one basis rather than more organized groups — although it’s unclear how prevalent it is in Canada.

Alberta has been embroiled in a heated debate about the practice.

On Monday, the Alberta city of St. Albert moved towards banning the controversial practice. City staff can now begin drafting amendments to land-use and business licensing bylaws to effectively ban the practice. The amendments would block businesses from obtaining a licence if they perform conversion therapy and those caught advertising or offering those services to minors could also be fined $10,000.

This comes a month after Alberta’s United Conservative government disbanded an NDP working group trying to find a provincial response to the issue.

Some provinces already have restrictions

The federal letter says existing Criminal Code offences such as kidnapping, forcible confinement, and assault may apply where a person is forced to undergo conversion therapy and fraud could apply if fees are charged for the service since the practice has been discredited by medical and psychological associations.

But the federal government is now looking at Criminal Code reforms to “better prevent, punish, and deter this discredited and dangerous practice.”

The move to tweak Canadian law comes after the government rejected a petition calling on a national ban. In March the government said “conversion therapies are immoral, painful, and do not reflect the values of our government or those of Canadians.”

But it added the governance of conversion therapy is largely a provincial and territorial issue, since it is sometimes carried out by members of the health profession.

Canada doesn’t have a national ban but Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island all have restrictions.

British Columbia has also introduced legislation to prohibit conversion therapy.

In 2012, the World Health Organization issued a statement in saying conversion therapy poses a “severe threat to the health and human rights of the affected persons.”

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