Friday, July 02, 2021

Senator Plett's Speech On Bill C-6

 So, the other day, Bill C-6 passed from the House of Commons to the Senate.  As I had expected, Senator Don Plett led the conservative attack on the bill with a lengthy, long-winded speech full of utter nonsense.  

Let's take a closer look at the speech now that it's in the Hansard, and I've had some time to read it and digest the nonsense that Senator Plett has uttered. 

The Speech

Buckle up, this is going to be a long post - Senator Plett starts off with a whopper:

Senator Plett's Opening Words

Please note the use of the phrase "coercive conversion therapy" here.  It's important, and it forms the basis for the semantic hair-splitting that Senator Plett engages in throughout this speech. We'll come back to it in a moment.

Plett's Speech Highlight 2

The opening thesis of the Senator's speech expands into two prongs of attack.  The first is clearly the "oh, but this will criminalize so many normal conversations (it doesn't, but I'll address that more carefully when I delve into the distant relationship between what Plett imagines this is about and the actual legislation). 

The second part of the above highlight is a much more disturbing statement that implies something that simply isn't true:  Namely that heterosexual and cisgender people might be subjected to conversion therapy practices.  To be abundantly clear, this is Senator Plett returning to the old "Gays are coming to make you gay" scare line. As far as I know, and a quick survey of scholarly literature shows, there has never been any serious efforts made to apply conversion therapy techniques to someone who is already straight/cisgender. 

Senator Plett's Speech Highlight 3

I don't know about you, but when I read the middle sentence here, I had a "wait ... what?" moment.  Homosexual relationships have issues with fidelity just like heterosexual relationships - how on earth is this even related to conversion therapy?  

It isn't really, but we have to remember that in the minds of religiously inspired SoCons like Senator Plett, a homosexual relationship is never "committed" because there is no "way" to make babies.  Therefore, Senator Plett's imagined scenario here is a person who is in a heterosexual relationship, and is experiencing homosexual attractions at the same time.  (This would be bisexuality, but let's not confuse the poor Senator with such details)  In his mind, the only way to "treat this" is to attempt to "change" the person's sexual orientation.  

This demonstrates a huge, and fundamental misunderstanding of relationship therapy on the Senator's part, and in particular relationship therapy when it involves infidelity- actual or imagined. What does the Senator imagine is done with heterosexual couples in therapy when one partner starts to "wander"?  Does he think therapists try to bludgeon that partner out of being attracted to others?  (Hint:  That isn't how it's done - ever)

Plett Speech Highlight 4

Here we begin to see the thrust of Plett's arguments - he's seeking a loophole for religious exemptions.  He's all good with banning conversion therapy when it's a secular therapist providing that service, but if it's wrapped up in "good faith" religious doctrine, apparently that's a problem.  Unfortunately for Senator Plett, the fundamental issue is that far too many religious organizations provide conversion therapy while cloaking it in the form of "Pastoral Counselling", or any of a variety of religiously oriented "life skills" programs.

Again, legitimate therapy does not attempt to change a person's sexuality per se.  The general approach is to help the person better understand their behaviours, and to learn to recognize and manage them so they can understand and accept their reality.  There is a considerable distance between this and what conversion therapy approaches tend to attempt (which is literally to "change" the person at a fundamental level).  However, I'll come back to this in my analysis of the legislation and the speech. 

Plett Speech 5 - JCCF

If the JCCF is saying it, it's almost always going to be wrong, and sure enough, this is one of those "the point was moving too fast for you to catch it" moments.  The JCCF is arguing that this shuts off an avenue available to homosexuals but leaves it available to heterosexuals.  Except this is complete nonsense. Conversion therapy (reparative therapy, whatever you want to call it) has never been applied to heterosexual / cisgender people. Period. The practice has only ever been applied to those who do not conform to heterosexual / cisgender norms. 

Further, since it has been declared unethical by every major mental health body out there, offering it to heterosexuals would be just as damaging as it is for homosexuals.  

Plett Speech Highlight 7 - Religion

Here we come to the crux of Senator Plett's reasoning that we need to pay attention to. The argument is that this represents an infringement on freedom of conscience and religion.  Any legislation that talks about matters of sexual identity in a manner that does not align with a particular faith's ideas is naturally an infringement on that faith to some degree.  However, Senator Plett presents us with a straw-man argument, claiming that any discussion would automatically be criminalized with this law. 

This is incorrect. The discussion of what your faith may or may not believe is fine.  However, the "counselling" side of it MUST stay away from "I can help you change that" because we know that those attempts to "change" sexual orientation or gender identity are harmful.  

Further, it is vital to put this in context and recognize that the entire domain of conversion therapy arises out of religious "views" (and I use that word with considerable caution) on sexuality in the first place. The fundamental point is that nobody cares what your faith is so much as recognizing that faith has been used as an excuse to inflict great harm on many. 

As with Alberta's Bill 207,  Senator Plett is seeking not an equality of rights, but in fact a hierarchy of rights which would place religious rights above others. 

Senator Plett Speech Highlight 8

Therapists use a model called 'informed consent' when approaching any treatment. I'm not sure that "informed consent" can be given for a practice that is known to cause PTSD-like trauma symptoms, is known to be ineffective, and generally falls under the heading of unethical practices.  

We also ban tobacco advertising - for the same basic reason - tobacco tends to result in people dying of cancer or COPD illness.

Plett Speech Highlight 9

Yes, Senator, freedom of religion is a universal right.  So is security of the person, and the right not to be abused by those in positions of power.  You would have to do a lot of work to convince me that a limitation on religion preventing its practitioners from harming others is an unreasonable limitation. 

The Legislation Compared To The Speech

Broad Definition Of Conversion Therapy

In order to make sense of this, it's important to actually look at the proposed legislation for Bill C-6 as it has been sent to the Senate. 

Definition of Conversion Therapy from Bill C-6

I will agree with Senator Plett that this is in fact a very broad definition.  There is a reason for this:  so-called "conversion therapy" practices have been provided in a wide variety of guises ranging from specific "therapies" to Church-run programs that are not about homosexuality, but where people are told not to be homosexual, to "pray away the gay" camps foisted upon youth.  A broad definition is needed because the same wolf has been dressed up in so many different ways. 

Senator Plett argues that the broadness of this definition renders all discussion of such matters illegal.  This is not true.  Again, this stems in part out of the senator's rather limited understanding of therapy in general.  For the most part, therapists are not directive - they meet the client where they are with their feelings and work with the client to help them sort out their own solutions.  (anyone with any training in psychology and therapy will recognize this as a core principle of Carl Rogers)  What is being rendered illegal is a coercive and directive approach that is designed to "lead the client down the garden path" to a specific outcome.  

Nothing about this makes it impossible for a cleric to say "well, our faith says that homosexuality is a sin".  What it does remove from the cleric's hand is the saying "oh, well, if you do this and this, God will cure you of your homosexuality" (something that never actually happens in reality). Again, the cleric is quite able to say "pray to God for guidance" or other such things.  (BTW - therapeutically speaking, prayer is really just a form of meditation, and yes, it can help with sorting out your feelings).  

I submit that the Senator's real objection is that this broad of a definition really means that a common approach to homosexuality taken by many faiths is no longer going to be seen as harmless (it isn't, and it never was).  You cannot use coercive strategies to make someone "not be gay anymore" - at most you will get a short term change in superficial behaviours. 

Inclusion of Attraction / Sexual Behaviour Language

Senator Plett complains that the phrase "... reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour or non-cisgender gender expression" is somehow problematic because it excludes heterosexual / cisgender people. This is a bit of a head-scratcher, because as far as I can tell in perusing the academic literature, conversion therapy techniques have never been applied to someone who is heterosexual or cisgender.  So, it sees a bit of a stretch to assume that this is a problem that needs to be addressed in law to begin with. 


Senator Plett's arguments seem more designed to establish a hierarchy with religious rights at the top, rather than actual legitimate criticisms of the legislation itself.  It is unsurprising given his handling of other socially progressive legislation like Bill C-16.  He continues to be one of the people who demands the right to impose his faith on others, no matter the harms that may result.  

There was a time in the past when human sacrifice was considered an essential religious practice too. We moved beyond that, I think we can and should move beyond the days when religion is used to justify psychological abuse and torture because of a person's sexuality. 

1 comment:

Bill Malcolm said...

To sum it all up: The right to practise freedom of religion is not a right to impose the values of your religion on society at large, which is secular in toto. Proselytizing in favour of a particular religion and its mores is not encouraged in our society. That's what freedom of religion is, the right to not be pestered by donks with a different view on the matter.

But then plodding dopes like Plett have never worked that out. In particular, the Vatican has been a proselytizer for its entire existence, following hot on the heels of the invading colonial forces to convert the heathen savages. And what a wonderful job they've done, screwed up in every way imaginable. The Anglicans were next.

Any nitwit knocking on my door to try to convert me to their way of religious thought gets unceremoniously told to hit the road and to never come back. Mind your own business is my outlook, not mine.

Why the Catholic Church is allowed to run its own schools with public funds is beyond my ken. At least here in NS that is not the case. Most everywhere else they've wormed their way into that position of power or never lost it.

And now we get to reap the rewards of allowing such a skewing of our secular society. Why in hell is it acceptable in the first place?

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