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Justice Minister and Attorney-General David Lametti takes part in a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, on July 16, 2020.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Liberal government has reintroduced legislation that bans forcing anyone to undergo conversion therapy, a denounced practice aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Justice Minister David Lametti said it’s a “devastating practice” that harms people and that is why the government is again bringing forward legislation it introduced months ago.

The bill proposes five new Criminal Code offences: causing a person to undergo conversion therapy against the person’s will; causing a child to undergo conversion therapy; removing a child from Canada with the intention that the child undergo conversion therapy abroad; advertising conversion therapy; and profiting from providing conversion therapy.

The same bill had been introduced in March, before the pandemic forced the Commons to close. Its progression ended when the Liberals prorogued Parliament in August.

Mr. Lametti said the bill does not “put an end to conversations youth and individuals may have with supportive adults and professionals in their lives in assisting them in exploring their identity.”

“These discussions are often critical to personal development,” he continued, adding it does not criminalize conversations where personal points of view on this issue are expressed.

“What we are targeting are those who actively work to and provide services designed to change someone’s gender identity to cisgender or sexual orientation to heterosexual. These dangerous practices must come to an end.”

The legislation does leave open the possibility that an adult can consent to conversion therapy.

Mr. Lametti explained that the government is not criminalizing consenting adults who are not being forced or “fraudulently deceived” and decide to pursue conversion therapy. Still, the Liberals have made everything illegal surrounding conversion therapy, he said. Even if an adult is consenting, the people who advertise conversion therapy would be guilty of a criminal offense, as well as those who benefit materially from providing the so-called therapy.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole agreed that conversion therapy is wrong and should be banned.

“This is particularly the case when it could be threatened against someone against their will or when it is used to denigrate or demean someone for who they are,” he said in the House of Commons.

However, Mr. O’Toole accused the Liberals of ignoring advice from parents, teachers and faith leaders, and creating a situation that allows people who ask questions about the bill to be “shamed into silence or cancelled on social media in the age of cancel culture.” He said simple amendments could fix the bill, if it is “truly more than a political wedge,” and reiterated that the practice should be banned.

NDP MP Randall Garrison, critic for sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, said his party is pleased to see the Liberals take action on the issue.

“It is impossible to change someone’s sexual orientation through counselling or aversion therapy. Attempts to alter a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression are harmful to those subjected to it, leading to depression, social isolation and often self-harm or even death by suicide.” The NDP will work to help strengthen the bill, he said.

Kristopher Wells, an associate professor and Canada Research Chair for the public understanding of sexual and gender minority youth at MacEwan University, said it is great that all federal leaders understand the importance of legislation to prohibit conversion therapy in Canada.

Mr. O’Toole misunderstands the legislation when he suggests people will be criminalized for speaking about the issue, he said, adding that it does “nothing of the sort.”

Prof. Wells does take issue with the legislation for allowing consenting adults to engage in the practice.

“The legislation should apply to all ages. If we believe, and rightly so, that conversion therapy is an unscientific, dangerous and fraudulent practice, then no one should be subjected to it. You can’t consent to something that is false or fake.”

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