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