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Did you know that conversion therapy was still legal in most provinces across Canada in 2018? Over the last few years Canada has made incredible progress in protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning and two-spirit youth and adults across the nation, resulting in the recent victory of banning and criminalizing conversion therapy at the Federal level with the passing of Bill C-4. Let’s take a look at the milestones and tremendous efforts of the 2SLGBTQ+ community and advocates that lead to this historic day.
Until collective efforts brought this issue to the federal government in 2019, there had been disjointed but decisive actions taken by provincial and municipal governments to protect 2SLGBTQ+ people in Canada. Beginning in 2015, the province of Manitoba banned these extremely harmful programs, and the province of Ontario banned conversion therapy for minors. Nova Scotia joined Ontario in banning this practise for minors in 2018, and at the same time the City of Vancouver banned conversion therapy for all ages, followed by the City of Edmonton in 2019. In 2020, the provinces of Prince Edward Island and Quebec, along with the Yukon Territory banned conversion therapy for minors, and the City of Calgary banned the practice for all ages.
The federal level fight started in 2019 with Petition e-1833 which called the Federal Government to put an end to conversion therapy across the country. Many youth advocacy groups, including It Gets Better Canada, advocated for this petition, which boasted 18,000 signatures. In an effort to support the ban, It Gets Better Canada began the #RightToBeYouCanada change.org petition. This petition called for the Government of Canada – to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, asexual and two-spirit youth by 1) making a clear statement that establishes that the Government of Canada opposes the use of conversion therapy and other related treatments, and 2) developing policies and legislation to prevent any organization or individual from attempting to alter the sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression of any person under the age of majority. In March 2019, It Gets Better Canada wrote a letter to Justin Trudeau, saying, “Canada’s LGBTQ2 kids don’t need bogus therapies: they need love, support and acceptance, just like everyone else.” Both of these efforts were unfortunately initially rejected by the Canadian government.
The issue was reignited and by March 2020 Bill C-8 was presented to ban conversion therapy for anyone who doesn’t consent to such ‘therapy’ and to all minors. This bill was derailed by the COVID pandemic, as the government turned its focus almost exclusively to its emergency response efforts.
A new version of this bill, titled Bill C-6, which was aimed at amending the Criminal Code to prohibit certain activities that relate to conversion therapy, was introduced in the beginning of October 2020. To support Bill C-6, It Gets Better Canada forwarded over 100,000 and counting signatures on our change.org petition that were collected as Nov 27, 2020 to new decision makers in parliament. On Tuesday December 1st, conversion therapy survivors and allies began testifying in front of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to improve Bill C-6. Once again, this version of the bill died on the Order Paper when Parliament was dissolved on August 15, 2021.
The fight was renewed once more on November 29, 2021 with the first reading of an updated version that the Liberals said was to be more comprehensive and one of the strictest pieces of legislation on conversion therapy anywhere in the world. This new version, dubbed Bill C-4, was unanimously fast-tracked by the House of Commons on December 1, 2021, pushing it straight to the Senate, which also unanimously supported the legislation on December 7. On the historic day of December 8, 2021, Bill C-4 received royal assent, the last formal step to becoming law, officially making providing, promoting or advertising conversion therapy a criminal offence in all of Canada. This enacted four new Criminal Code offences, which will take effect on January 7, 2022, 30 days after it received royal assent.
Banning conversion therapy in Canada has been a long and challenging journey led by the inspirational survivors of this harmful practise. It Gets Better Canada is proud to have played a part in raising awareness nationwide through our change.org petition. We are even more proud of the brave survivors who had the courage to share their stories, such as Matt Ashcroft, who was a huge driver in our initiatives. In 2014, at the age of 24, Matt attended a conversion therapy camp which instilled a tremendous amount of guilt and shame about his identity. When asked about his participation in fighting for the end of conversion therapy, he stated:
“I was newly out, and I would love to go to the Starbucks at Church and Wellesley here in Toronto frequently. I met a guy who turned out to be the founder of It Gets Better Canada, Chris Gudgeon. Chris was one of the first people in Toronto that listened to my story. If it wasn’t for him, none of this would be possible for me. If it wasn’t for It Gets Better Canada, I would have never lobbied for bill C4. If I didn’t speak up, we would never have protections for LGBTIQ+ folks.
So, thank you Chris Gudgeon and the It Gets Better Canada team. You will always have a special place in my heart.”
This has been a truly historic victory for the 2SLGBTQ+ community in Canada. We want to congratulate everyone who persevered for years to protect two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and questioning youth and adults, and to the brave survivors of conversion therapy, like Matt, for sharing their stories.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to sign our petition and make a difference in our country, and continue to support 2SLGBTQ+ Canadians. You can continue to help us uplift, empower, and connect today’s youth across Canada by supporting It Gets Better Canada.
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