Conversion Therapy Ban in Canada: a year in review

  • May 31, 2023
  • Jose Garcia-Bonilla

Conversion therapy, a discredited practice that seeks to forcibly change or repress the sexual identity, gender identity or gender expression of 2SLGBTQ+ individuals, has been banned in Canada for just over one year. When the ban was introduced, it was heralded as a historic win in protecting 2SLGBTQ+ communities and was generally well-received by the public and advocacy groups. This article provides background information surrounding the criminalization of conversion therapy in Canada and explores some of the criticisms of the ban one year after its implementation.   

The amendments to the Criminal Code to prohibit conversion therapy were introduced by way of Bill C-4, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy), (“Bill C-4”). Bill C-4 created four new criminal offences with the goal of implementing a comprehensive ban on conversion therapy. These new offences prohibit:

  • causing another person to undergo conversion therapy; 
  • removing a minor from Canada to undergo conversion therapy abroad; 
  • profiting, or receiving other material benefit, directly or indirectly from conversion therapy; and
  • promoting or advertising conversion therapy. 

As hybrid offences, each one carries the possibility of imprisonment on indictment. For the former two offences, an individual charged could receive a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment. For the latter two, one could receive a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment. The amendments also authorize courts to order the seizure of conversion therapy advertisements or order their removal from personal devices or the Internet.  

The term “conversion therapy” was defined in Bill C-4 to include any practice, service or treatments designed to change or repress one’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression to heterosexual or cisgender, respectively. However, the offences are not meant to capture interventions related to gender transitioning, or those that would permit an individual to explore or develop their personal identity, so long as there is no assumption that one sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is preferred over another. It was made clear that these new offences are meant to capture more formalized forms of conversion therapy, as activities that do not amount to “practices, treatments or services” would not be captured by the amendments. As such, personal views on matters of sexual orientations, gender identity or gender expression would be exempt/not criminalized. As discussed further below, the focus on formalized interventions, though, has been the subject of criticism.