Time to put a ban on torture


Official petition seeks to bar conversion therapy

By Cassandra Wehrhahn

Neepawa Banner & Press

Imagine being sent away from your loved ones, having everything taken from you and sleeping without so much as a sheet to keep you warm. Picture being told every day that you are a mistake, that there’s something drastically wrong with you on a fundamental level. This is the reality for LGBT+ youths who are sent by their families to undergo conversion therapy, a practice that remains legal in much of Canada despite widespread opposition.

By definition, conversion therapy is a pseudo scientific practice that aims to change an LGBT+ individual’s sexual orientation to heterosexual and/or their gender identity to cisgender. It has been described both by survivors, and those who know the details, as torture. This suffering could be doled out by medical professionals such as therapists and doctors, religious groups, or a combination of the two (secular and non-secular). The practice is heavily and widely discredited by a multitude of health organizations and individuals, including the Canadian Psychological Association; World Health Organization; American Psychiatric Association; American Medical Association; The American Academy of Pediatrics; American Counseling Association; National Association of School Psychologists; National Association of Social Workers; it is also against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

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A personal account

One survivor from the United States, aged 21 this year, gave a brief account to the Banner & Press, detailing what she remembered of the horrors from her personal experience. Sent away by her father at the age of 13, she was held in a hospital-like facility for three months without her mother’s knowledge, as she was away on a trip. Patients were made to wear hospital gowns, paired with pants that seemed like a mixture of cloth and paper. The patients’ rooms contained beds, which were essentially wooden boxes with a mattress on top, and nothing more than a simple sheet, worse than a hospital’s, to cover them as they slept.

While at the facility, which she described as blindingly white, the survivor underwent aversion therapy, involving the use of electrical shock, and talk therapy. On a daily basis, she and the other patients would be told that they were mistakes and that something was wrong with them because they weren’t straight.

It was also revealed that if a patient committed suicide, the administer(s) deemed the patient a success because, while they hadn’t converted, they were no longer alive.

“There was a girl I met there, and she committed suicide. That’s how I found out they were okay with that,” the U.S. survivor solemnly stated. “She was released but the damage was already done.”

The girl had been admitted without her father’s knowledge, her parents having been divorced.

“I remember thinking sometimes [in conversion therapy] that it would be better if I was dead. Not because I wasn’t straight, but because it would be much better than being in that hell,” said the survivor. “They took everything from us. We couldn’t watch TV, we couldn’t read... I hated it.”

With an insincere laugh, she forged on, “I got in trouble a lot because I was a smartass. But that was okay, because it meant the others wouldn’t get treated as badly.”

When asked how she reacted to finding out Canada had no law in place to ban the practice on a nationwide scale, the survivor stated her shock and emphasized the importance of such a legislation. “Honestly, I was kind of disappointed. I would have thought that someplace that’s more- I guess ahead of our time than in America- that it [conversion therapy] would be something that has already been taken care of,” she relayed. “The reason why it [a ban] is so important is because of the fact that it is a violation of human rights. It isn’t ok. It’s disgusting, really. The fact that people are willing, and okay with putting their children and people in general in those situations, is not right. They shouldn’t be okay with it.”

Tax deductible

Some conversion facilities, or “camps”, were even reported in a 2015 Global News article as receiving tax deductible donations and expecting expansions. The article also stated that “a handful of faith-based groups that offer these services are registered charities with the Canada Revenue Agency, which means your tax dollars reimburse their donors.” Whether that is still happening today, and how many facilities or individuals are administering conversion therapy is unclear. This is because government funded facilities or individuals administering conversion therapy today would instead bill for depression or other mental disorders. In fact, according to government billing guidelines, the practice of conversion therapy does not exist, making it much harder to track and report.

Canada now

Canada, as of 2018, only has three provinces and one city with a ban in place on the practice of conversion therapy. A fourth province appears to have a ban in the works. Manitoba was the first province to lay down a ban, dated May 22 of 2015. Second was Ontario, dated for the June of 2015. Prior to this, the practice was not only allowed in Ontario, but was paid for by provincial health coverage.

Three years later, on June 6, 2018 Vancouver City, B.C. placed a ban on conversion therapy within city limits. Later, on Sept. 25, Nova Scotia approved a ban which is currently awaiting royal assent. However, the Nova Scotia legislature appears to allow “mature minors”, between 16-18 years old, to consent to conversion therapy. Alberta introduced a bill in September, but no further news was heard.

The provinces and territories currently without area wide bans in place are: Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.

Now, an official online petition, hosted on the Parliament of Canada’s House of Commons website, is being spread around in hopes of placing a nationwide ban on conversion therapy. The petition, “E-1833”, was initiated on Sept. 20, 2018, and will be open for signature until Jan. 18, 2019. Petition E-1833 will be presented by an MP that same month, after the signing period has concluded, and a response from the federal government expected within 45 days.

With the primary target of the practice being youths, the petition calls upon the government to ban administering conversion therapy to minors in Canada, enact a legislation prohibiting the transport of minors outside the country for the purpose of subjection to conversion therapy, and to have conversion therapy included in the Canadian Human Rights Act as well as the Criminal Code to protect children from abuse.

As of Monday, Oct. 29, 10:24 a.m., there are 8,958 verified signatures. From most to least amount of signatures, the standings are: Ontario, 2,479; Alberta, 2,411; British Columbia, 1,584; Quebec, 970; Manitoba, 395; Nova Scotia, 389; New Brunswick, 215; Saskatchewan, 205; Newfoundland and Labrador, 125; Yukon, 62; Prince Edward Island, 54; Other countries, 55; Northwest Territories, 12; Nunavut, 2.

The petition can be found here: https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-1833&fbclid=IwAR0ol2w2RS0B9GCMqZnD853tg_mraZzZh3-NK0CxSq9_gNC-bd4SJD-HmRs