On January 7, 2022, Bill C-4, a federal bill that amends Canada’s Criminal Code by creating new criminal offenses related to conversion therapy, came into effect. The new offenses include knowingly causing another person to undergo conversion therapy, promoting or advertising conversion therapy, and receiving financial or material benefit from conversion therapy. Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti and Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth Marci Ien introduced the bill on November 29, 2021. On December 1, members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons unanimously agreed to expeditiously adopt a motion to pass the bill. Soon after, the bill was also fast-tracked in the Senate, and on December 7 it was passed without amendment. The bill received royal assent on December 8, 2021. The bill itself stipulated that the law would come into force 30 days after it received royal assent.
Contents of the Bill
The bill defines “conversion therapy” as follows:
[C]onversion therapy means 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; or
(f) repress or reduce a person’s gender expression that does not conform to the sex assigned to the person at birth.
For greater certainty, this definition 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 amends sections 320.102–104 of the Criminal Code to establish the following as indictable offenses:
- Knowingly causing another person to undergo conversion therapy or providing such therapy, which is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.
- Knowingly promoting or advertising conversion therapy, which is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment.
- Receiving a financial or other material benefit, knowing that it is obtained or derived directly or indirectly from the provision of conversion therapy, which is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment.
Each of these offenses can also be punished on summary conviction.
Bill C-4 amends subsection 164(8) of the Criminal Code to define “advertisement of conversion therapy” as “any material — including a photographic, film, video, audio or other recording, made by any means, a visual representation or any written material — that is used to promote or advertise conversion therapy contrary to section 320.103.” Moreover, the bill states that “[i]t also amends the Criminal Code to authorize courts to order that advertisements for conversion therapy be disposed of or deleted,” including from computer systems or the internet. (Bill C-4 summary; sec. 2(2).)
In addition, the bill amends the existing offense under section 273.3(1)(c) of the Criminal Code, which prohibits the removal of children from Canada for “specified purposes,” to now include subjecting them to conversion therapy abroad. This is also a hybrid offense that is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment on indictment.
Previous Attempts to Ban Conversion Therapy in Canada
Previous attempts to pass a bill to ban conversion therapy in Canada were unsuccessful. Bill C-6, which was considered during the second session of the 43rd Parliament, “died on the order paper when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament before the last federal election.” An even earlier Bill C-8 that was under consideration in early 2020 was “derailed” when the “government turned its focus almost exclusively to its emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The previous Bill C-6 was eventually adopted in the House, despite opposition from dozens of Conservative MPs, and it faced opposition from Conservative senators in the Senate as well. One news report indicates that “[t]hose opposed to the legislation generally criticized it for offering too broad a definition of conversion therapy.” Another news report notes that “[a]t the time, Conservative Senators expressed concerns about the bill and said it merited a fulsome study in the fall.”
Passage of the Current BillThis time around, the bill had cross-party support, and it was Conservative MPs and senators who proposed fast-tracking the bill through unanimous consent motions in both chambers. One news report stated that this shift was “likely in an attempt to make [the conversion therapy bill] no longer a wedge issue used by the Liberals.” Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos, who proposed the motion to expedite the bill in the Senate, reportedly declared that “C-4 is a bill that has been turned into a controversial political football, unfortunately. We saw the House of Commons do the right thing a number of days ago and pass this piece of legislation unanimously.” Advocacy groups also praised the “unanimous support” for the bill in Parliament, with No Conversion Canada founder Nicholas Schiavo claiming that the passage of the bill “sends a clear message to LGBTQ2 Canadians: you are valid and deserving of a life free from harm.”