Canada Senate passes bill outlawing ‘conversion therapy’

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Anti-LGBTQ conversion therapy is currently illegal in Canada

The Senate has passed a bill banning the practice of “conversion therapy” in Canada.

The controversial treatment for gay and transgender people works to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It is currently illegal in Ontario and B.C., but the new legislation aims to extend its reach across the country.

Supporters say the practice is abusive, and supporters of conversion therapy say it is necessary in certain cases.

On Sunday, the bill, C-428, passed unanimously after a 30-hour debate.

Senator Murray Sinclair, who headed a royal commission into sexual abuse in Canada and recommended the bill be introduced, told Reuters that Senate debate had “allowed the world to see the sufferings of so many who have been deeply damaged by conversion therapy”.

“The bill is the only piece of legislation in the world to actually outlaw this practice in every corner of our country,” Senator Sinclair said.

‘Scary things happen’

The Anti-Defamation League and Human Rights Campaign say conversion therapy has a long history of pseudoscience and abuses vulnerable people.

“Kids are forced to take out terrifying things like they’re committing suicide or they’re in a concentration camp, and it’s not about sexual orientation or gender identity,” David Rhode, an LGBT advocate at the Human Rights Campaign, told BBC News.

“It’s about very destructive and confusing things that people who struggle with their identity deal with every day of their lives, and they’re particularly vulnerable to being traumatised by being put through this process.

“You can’t just charge someone with something like that, and an awful lot of people are pushed to do this.”

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The new bill also makes it illegal to deny someone the right to be a Canadian citizen

A number of reputable scientific organisations, including the American Psychiatric Association, have expressed concerns about the practise.

It involves using psychological or psychiatric treatments which are intended to convert people to a heterosexual or gender-specific identity.

Approaching this issue is problematic in so many ways – on human rights, both religious, ideological and regulatory grounds, and in a number of ways to students of human psychology, I suspect in all their practicalities. You can’t just charge someone with something like that. David Rhode, HRC

The treatment involves controversial therapies such as polygraphs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or electroconvulsive therapy.

Mr Rhode says it is dangerous and said conversion therapy should be banned across the country.

“Treatments in the medical space – that’s what the therapy is, not conversion therapy. To prevent anything from occurring at the medical level to offer that treatment in the medical space, you can’t really stop it because it will still be happening,” he told BBC News.

Media playback is not supported on this device Anti-homophobia group CANSOP urges Canada Senate to ban conversion therapy before any national ban

But Laura Hopkins, the chair of Equality Now Canada, which backed the bill, says therapy can work in some cases.

“It’s about figuring out the situation, finding out the value of what it is that makes a person who they are as a person and providing that therapy appropriately,” she told BBC News.

If the bill becomes law, it is hoped that “carefully regulated” conversion therapy would have to be reported to a body like the Children’s Aid Society, which could place restrictions on providers.

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While the bill passes into law, those who subscribe to conversion therapy say it still has the opportunity to be subject to a legal challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Conservative Senator Jane Cordy said conversion therapy should be available as “a tool that is used to overcome the challenges in life”.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Conservative Senator Jane Cordy (left) proposed an amendment on conversion therapy

“If you’re experiencing mental health challenges as part of your transition, as part of your wellness, as part of your day-to-day, then help is at hand,” she told the Canadian Press news agency.

Ms Cordy added that fears in the run-up to the bill’s debate that it would conflict with Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms did not prove to be accurate.

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