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Gemma Hickey, 45, an advocate and survivor of conversion therapy, joined Justice Minister David Lametti and other ministers at the press conference and spoke about their experience.Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

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

The legislation is wider-reaching than a previous version. If passed, it will ban the so-called practice entirely for children and adults. Before, the legislation left open the possibility that an adult can consent to conversion therapy. The new bill, C-4, closes that loophole.

Justice Minister David Lametti said government is bringing forward this legislation because it has listened to survivors, heard from professionals and “have seen how damaging conversion therapy is.”

“Canada is a country where everyone should be able to live in equality and freedom, where everyone deserves to live a true authentic life regardless of who they are or who they love,” he said at a press conference in Ottawa on Monday.

The bill proposes four new Criminal Code offences: causing another person to undergo conversion therapy, removing a minor from Canada to subject them to conversion therapy abroad, profiting from providing conversion therapy, and advertising or promoting conversion therapy. It would also authorize courts to order the seizure of conversion therapy advertisements or to order their removal from the internet.

Gemma Hickey, 45, an advocate and survivor of conversion therapy, joined Mr. Lametti and other ministers at the press conference and spoke about their experience.

To end conversion therapy, we must understand what it actually means

After telling a therapist they thought they wanted to be a boy at the age of 15, the therapist who wore a wooden crucifix around her neck said if they prayed hard enough, “God would make me better.”

“She prescribed me antidepressants, in the meantime. After months of therapy, I still felt the same so I decided to end my life. At a party one night I swallowed all the pills in the medicine cabinet and washed them down with a flask of rum,” they said, saying they spent the beginning of high school’s senior year on a psychiatric ward and was sent home after a psychiatrist told them that there was nothing wrong with them.

“These words were like medicine to my soul. As I left the hospital, I vowed to do whatever I could to ensure that young people did not feel as I did.”

The bill was introduced in March, 2020, but died on the order paper when the government prorogued Parliament later that year. It was reintroduced as C-6 in October, and died when Parliament dissolved ahead of the federal election.

The Conservative caucus had been divided over the bill. At third reading of the previous bill in June, 62 Conservative MPs voted against it. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole was among the 51 Conservative MPs who voted in favour.

Josie Sabatino, a spokesperson for Mr. O’Toole, said, “Canada’s Conservatives agree that conversion therapy is wrong and should be banned. No Canadian should be forced to change who they are. We will review the proposed legislation to ensure that conversion therapy is banned while protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ Canadians.”

The NDP’s critic for LGBTQ issues, Randall Garrison, and deputy critic Blake Desjarlais issued a joint statement, saying they hope to see the Liberals finally “get the job done.”

“When this dangerous practice of conversion ‘therapy’ is finally banned in Canada it will be because brave survivors came forward to tell their stories and because those survivors, community members and allies have worked tirelessly for years to push the government to act.”

Kristopher Wells, an associate professor and Canada Research Chair for the public understanding of sexual and gender minority youth at Alberta’s MacEwan University, said it is good to see the government deliver on its campaign promise to introduce stronger and more comprehensive “conversion therapy” prohibition legislation.

Dr. Wells said the bill is a dramatic improvement over previous bills, as it closes loopholes and bans the provision, advertising and profiting from conversion practices, regardless of whom they target or where they occur.

“It is clear from this legislation that no one can consent, under any circumstances, to any form of conversion therapy. Consent cannot be given for practices that are clearly unscientific and known to cause significant harm. This legislation, if passed, will effectively end all forms of conversion therapy in Canada.”

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