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opinion

Sometimes Liberals act for the best possible reason and the worst possible reason at the same time. Their move to criminalize conversion therapy is a case in point.

Conversion therapy, which is not therapy and converts no one, can be so harmful to LGBTQ patients that some provinces and municipalities have moved to restrict the practice. The Trudeau government is thinking of making it a criminal offence, in an effort to protect young people at risk. Best possible reason.

But such a law might violate Charter rights. And in any case, the Liberals may simply be seeking to discredit Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer on the eve of the federal election campaign. Worst possible reason.

The so-called therapy, which assumes homosexuality is a mental disorder, usually involves a combination of rewards and punishments aimed at promoting feelings of heterosexual attraction and suppressing any homosexual equivalents.

“Conversion therapy is dangerous enough that it should be prohibited with youth,” said Karen Blair, a professor of psychology at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., and chair of the sexual orientation and gender identity section of the Canadian Psychological Association. “To my mind, and in the minds of many other psychologists, conversion therapy is a form of psychological abuse,” she said in an e-mail exchange.

The American Psychological Association has declared that conversion therapy “represent(s) a significant risk of harm by subjecting individuals to forms of treatment which have not been scientifically validated and by undermining self-esteem when sexual orientation fails to change.” The practice is banned in 18 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and British Columbia all restrict or are moving to restrict conversion therapy on minors by regulating professional practitioners. Jason Kenney’s Alberta conservatives condemn conversion therapy, but appear to be retreating from plans by the previous NDP government to prohibit it.

In a recent letter to his provincial counterparts, Justice Minister David Lametti urged provincial governments, which are responsible for health care, to do everything they can to prohibit the practice.

At the federal level, “we are actively examining potential Criminal Code reforms to better prevent, punish and deter this discredited and dangerous practice,” he wrote. The letter was co-signed by Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor and MP Randy Boissonnault, who advises Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on LGBTQ issues.

But the Liberals have brushed off previous attempts to move against conversion therapy, and with good reason. Any law that prohibited a practitioner from providing purportedly sexuality-altering services to a consenting adult might run into Charter protections of religious freedom and freedom of expression.

“Inevitably there would be a challenge. There’s no question," Lorraine Weinrib, a professor of law at University of Toronto, said in an interview. “The most secure way to do it would be to do it for young people first."

When Global News asked Mr. Scheer about the Conservative Party’s stand on conversion therapy, he condemned “any type of practice that would forcibly attempt to change someone’s sexual orientation against their will.”

As for criminalizing the practice, “we’ll wait and see exactly what is being contemplated,” he said.

A perfectly reasonable conservative response, you might think. But the Liberals are having none of it.

“I think it’s a dodge,” Mr. Boissonnault said in an interview. “I don’t think he’s supportive of LGBTQ people at all.”

No government has done more to advance and protect the rights of LGBTQ Canadians than the Trudeau government: Legislation protecting transgender rights. The apology in Parliament for past acts of persecution and prosecution. Financial compensation for people who were forced out of the public service or military because of their sexuality. Reforms to the criminal code that stripped out antiquated homophobic laws. Liberals at their very best.

But Conservative governments do not claw back existing LGBTQ rights or abortion rights, or the rights of racial minorities. Liberal efforts to concoct some mythical Tory hidden agenda represent the party at its worst.

Conversion therapy is noxious. Any licensed therapist who practises it should lose that licence. Forcing it on a minor should be strictly prohibited, perhaps even made a crime. But criminalizing the practice if the patient is a consenting adult may be going too far.

And Mr. Scheer and the federal Conservatives pose no threat to the LGBTQ community. The Liberals should not have gone there.