Bill C-4 to Ban Conversion Therapy

29 November 2021

UPDATE: The new bill to ban conversion therapy, Bill C-4, received royal assent Dec. 8 and passed into law January 7, 2022. It was rushed through both the House of Commons and Senate in just over a week, a process that usually takes months. The EFC is preparing an analysis of the bill’s impact.

This bill is similar to the previous ban, proposed in former Bill C-6, which died at the election call. Bill C-4 extends beyond the previous ban by, among other changes, proposing a ban on conversion therapy practices for both adults and minors. The EFC is concerned that the definition of conversion therapy remains overly broad and will impact freedom of expression and religion.

Bill C-4 is the third attempt at legislation to ban conversion therapy. The former Bill C-6 died at the election call in 2021, and a previous version (former Bill C-8) died when Parliament was prorogued in August 2020.

With each version of the legislation, the EFC has recommended changes to add clarity to the definition of conversion therapy and to ensure protection for religious teaching and practice.

Bill C-4 would create new criminal offences relating to conversion therapy. In Bill C-4, conversion therapy is defined broadly as

a practice, treatment or service designed to

        (a) change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual;
        (b) change a person’s gender identity to cisgender;
        (c) change a person’s gender expression so that it conforms to the sex assigned to the person at birth;
        (d) repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour;
        (e) repress a person’s non-cisgender gender identity;
        (f) repress or reduce a person’s gender expression that does not conform to the sex assigned at birth.

The legislation says conversion therapy does not include a practice, treatment or service that relates to “the exploration or development of an integrated personal identity — such as a practice, treatment or service that relates to a person’s gender transition — and that is not based on an assumption that a particular sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is to be preferred over another.”

The bill would create new Criminal Code offences relating to conversion therapy. These are:

  • Causing a person to undergo conversion therapy;
  • Promoting or advertising conversion therapy; and
  • Receiving a financial or other material benefit from the provision of conversion therapy.

A key concern is that the definition of conversion therapy includes efforts to repress or reduce sexual behaviour. With previous versions of the bill, the Justice Department said the legislation would not criminalize

private conversations in which personal views on sexual orientation, sexual feelings or gender identity are expressed such as where teachers, school counsellors, pastoral counsellors, faith leaders, doctors, mental health professionals, friends or family members provide support to persons struggling with their sexual orientation, sexual feelings, or gender identity [emphasis added].

In a media Q and A on previous Bill C-8 in March 2020, Justice Minister Lametti was asked if it would be legal for religious leaders to speak about homosexuality. He replied that if it’s an open-ended and exploratory conversation, it is not prohibited for religious leaders, parents or others. He went on to say: “What is covered by this legislation are practices that attempt to change one’s orientation towards a predefined goal.”

These qualifiers (private, personal, open-ended, exploratory) are not included in the legislation itself, and also raise serious questions about whether a sermon series or a youth Bible study or other programs on sexual ethics offered to those wanting to order their sexual lives in accordance with their religious conscience would be construed to fit the definition of a practice, treatment or service. And since the definition of conversion therapy includes reducing sexual behaviour, programs offered in a church or ministry setting that consider sexual behaviour could be considered as being toward a “predefined goal.”

The legislation would also criminalize promoting or advertising conversion therapy programs or receiving remuneration for conversion therapy.

Coercive or abusive efforts to a person’s change sexual orientation or gender identity have no place in our communities. However, we have serious concerns with the legislation as worded.

The EFC is seeking assurances that religious instruction, parental guidance and supportive services for individuals wishing to order their sexual lives in accordance with their religious conscience, faith identity and personal convictions will not be captured.

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