A federal bill that would ban the discredited practice of conversion therapy is facing opposition from Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu.
A petition launched by the Tory MP calling on the government to amend or withdraw Bill C-6 — legislation aimed at criminalizing conversion therapy — garnered 169 signatures and was presented to the House of Commons.
“This petition is supported by the majority of the 91 churches in my riding,” Gladu said at the December reading, noting residents and churches in Sarnia-Lambton are “extremely concerned about an attack on our freedom of religion, conscience, expression, belief and our ability to speak it in the public square.”
Conversion therapy is defined by the government as ‘any service, practice or treatment designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual, gender identity to one that matches the sex assigned at birth, or to repress or reduce non heterosexual sexual attraction or sexual behaviours.’
The practice has been denounced by medical and human rights organizations around the world, citing devastating impacts on its victims, including suicide.
Bill C-6, designed to protect the equality rights of LGBTQ2 persons, would make it a criminal offence to: cause a child to undergo conversion therapy; remove a child from Canada to undergo conversion therapy abroad; cause a person to undergo conversion therapy against their will; profit from providing conversion therapy; or advertise an offer to provide conversion therapy.
The legislation easily passed second (virtual) reading in October in a 308-7 vote. Gladu’s office noted she was unable to vote because of Internet issues.
Gladu said supporters of the petition want the government to narrow the definition of conversion therapy so it doesn’t exclude pastoral care and voluntarily sought counselling and prayer.
“This petition came forward from members of the faith community in Sarnia-Lambton who agree that no one should be forced to receive conversion therapy, but were concerned that the overly broad definition of conversion therapy would infringe upon their rights of religious freedom and freedom of speech,” she told The Journal.
The Government of Canada website says the bill would not criminalize private conversations involving teachers, faith leaders and school and pastoral counsellors. Gladu wants that included in the legislation.
“The Liberals refused to amend the definition of conversion therapy to protect the freedoms of others, and the bill is currently in the Senate for debate,” she said.
The MP said she is unsure which local churches were associated with the petition, but added: “I would say I have received calls from members covering most of them.”
Nicholas Schiavo, founder of No Conversion Canada, called Gladu’s petition ‘disappointing’ and a distraction from the real issue – “that is, that LGBTQ2+ Canadians continue to experience a form of fraudulent, dangerous abuse for simply existing.
“Petitions such as this reinforce systemic homophobia and transphobia and can be re-traumatizing for survivors of conversion therapy,” Schiavo told The Journal.
“Unfortunately, in 2021, conversion therapy is still prevalent in Canadian society, which ranges from aversion therapy, gender coaching, regressive role play, fasting, and other more extreme forms which include demonic exorcisms.”
Simon Harris, a member of the Sarnia Intersectional Feminist Network, called it ‘highly hypocritical’ for an MP to participate in Sarnia Pride and Transgender Association events “and then turn around and choose to present a petition like this on the floor.
“You cannot have your cake and eat it too,” he added. “Constituents deserve to know where Ms. Gladu falls on this issue, as this is a civil rights issue that has taken a serious toll on the lives of the people she represents.”
Gladu acknowledged the criticism but said she doesn’t believe the petition is harmful.
“The right to put forward a petition is part of every individual’s right under the Charter to freedom, opinion, and expression, and so members of the faith community must be free to express their views in private and in the public square,” she said.
“Protecting the rights and freedoms of everyone, not choosing one person’s right over another, is essential to our democracy.
“Let me restate,” she continued. “All Canadians believe no one should be forced to receive conversion therapy. However, multiple lawyers have indicated that Bill C-6 as written will be Charter challenged since it would violate rights of freedom of belief and freedom of speech.”