TORONTO — Eight months after declining to ban conversion therapy, the Liberal party is promising to do just that if re-elected in October.
Discredited by scientific studies, conversion therapy aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It can cause mental health issues including depression and anxiety, according to the Canadian Psychological Association.
In its platform released Sunday, the Liberal party said it will criminalize the practice.
“We will move forward on our promise to work with provinces and territories to end conversion therapy in Canada, including making amendments to the Criminal Code that will prohibit this harmful and scientifically disproven practice, especially against minors,” the platform says.
In February, the Liberal government said it would not act on calls to criminalize conversion therapy because health care is a provincial and territorial responsibility.
Responding to a petition, Attorney General David Lametti said the Criminal Code already covers crimes like kidnapping, fraud, forcible confinement and assault, which may apply to people practising conversion therapy.
He called conversion therapy a “cruel exercise” and said the government would work with provinces and territories to end it.
The petition, introduced in the House of Commons by NDP MP Sheri Benson, had 18,200 signatures from every province and territory. It called for legislation to ban conversion therapy for minors in Canada, to ban taking minors to other countries for conversion therapy and for measures to end conversion therapy to be added to the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code.
Benson told HuffPost Canada Monday that she doesn’t know why the Liberals didn’t move on this when they were in government.
“I hope they follow through on that promise,” if they’re re-elected, she said by email. “Canada should be setting an example on the world stage, not lagging behind.”
NDP would ‘obviously’ criminalize
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Sunday that his party would “obviously” criminalize the practice if elected.
“We’ve been talking about this for years,” Singh said in Surrey, B.C.
“They had a complete majority in the House. They had four years … This is Liberals trotting out promises, trotting out empty promises and pretty words during an election, which they could have done four years ago if they really cared.”
“They had a complete majority in the House. They had four years.”
Asked if his party would do the same, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer didn’t directly answer the question Monday.
“We will support measures that protect the rights of LGBTQ Canadians. And we will support legislative changes that aim to stop the practice of people who are bullied or harassed or threatened in any way because of their sexual orientation,” Scheer said after a policy announcement in Whitby, Ont.
When the reporter asked Scheer again if that meant a Conservative government would criminalize conversion therapy, he repeated his promise to protect LGBTQ Canadians and said Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau should answer for his government’s previous stance.
“It’s up to Mr. Trudeau to explain the flip-flop … because it was just in the spring, he said that he would refuse to take action and that it was out of his government’s control to do more to tackle this very issue. And now, during an election campaign, he’s making the promise,” Scheer said.
A Liberal spokesperson did not directly answer questions about why the party’s stance changed and how exactly the Criminal Code would be amended to ban conversion therapy on Monday.
This story has been updated with comment from the Liberal party.