Concerned Citizens oppose ‘highly problematic’ conversion therapy Bill

A group of concerned citizens has banded together to oppose a Bill opposing conversion therapy. They point out the proposed legislation now before the BC Legislature is poorly drafted, being both too vague and too broad.

An explanatory note with the Bill (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Protection Act) states:

This Bill prohibits

    • the provision of conversion therapy to minors by health professionals, as a hospital service or professional service, and by persons in a position of trust or authority,
    • the payment or reimbursement of the cost of conversion therapy provided as a hospital service or professional service, and
    • the expenditure of public funds for the provision of conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy is under fire all around North America. Some states have already banned it, while in Canada the Liberals have urged provinces to pass legislation and are considering changes to the Criminal Code.

The issue is often raised by ‘progressives’ who want to paint others as irredeemably reactionary. For example, transgender activist Nicola Spurling recently denounced Westwood Community Church’s plan to host a Tri-Cities all candidates meeting, based in part on the fact that pastor Giulio Gabeli has opposed the proposed ban on conversion therapy.

The Concerned Citizens – “a non-partisan, non-politically-aligned group of British Columbians” – introduced the issue in this way on their website:

When it comes to matters of sexual orientation and gender identity at present in BC, this imperative to listen as well as speak is currently being ignored by significant numbers of dominant voices, who resort quickly to the language of “hate” and “phobia” whenever others challenge their views.

One of the consequences is that all but the most robust citizens begin to keep to themselves their beliefs and concerns about what is happening around them. This can easily lead to a situation in which the “correct line” insisted upon by the dominant voices gains the appearance, for lack of public contradiction, of self-evident truth.

And this is a particular problem when politicians then seek to legislate on the basis of “the facts” – since the “facts” that they encounter are those from only one side of what ought to be (but is not in reality) a proper public debate. Poorly drafted and even dangerous legislation may then follow.

Go here (at the ‘Concerned BC’ header) for a fuller introduction to the group and its purposes. They have created a 30-page analysis, as well as a briefer explanation piece and a petition.

A recent comment by Danielle Martelle in Light Magazine explained why the Concerned Citizens are keeping a low profile:

The scholarship [on the website] is well documented and credible. Interestingly however, you will notice that the people behind it do not identify who they are. This is highly concerning because it is indicative that we are living in very troubling times.

Though I was able to interview one of the leaders involved, the people wish to remain anonymous due to the concern that it could be even dangerous to have a different perspective than the government on this matter. The concern is that one could be in danger of losing not just their job and reputation, but also face the courts.

When people are afraid of holding different convictions than the government, you know that the freedom of speech and public debate in British Columbia, and Canada at large, are no longer what they once were.

Though the original intention of the bill was perhaps to benevolently protect a minority, at the same time, it has left many others feeling extremely vulnerable.

Go here for her full comment.

Following is the Brief Analysis of the issue offered by the Concerned Citizens:

The Problem

This Bill has been introduced by Dr. Andrew Weaver of the Green Party, and currently awaits its second reading. Our assumption at the outset is that those who have drafted this bill are well-motivated, public-spirited people who are intent on helping and protecting vulnerable people, which is all to the good. However, we find the Bill as drafted to be highly problematic.

    • Although “conversion therapy” is widely referred to in Canada at present, as if everyone knows exactly what it is, this is in fact imprecise language that allows for wide and dangerous latitude in interpretation. Many Canadians appear to associate the practice with activities like kidnapping, forcible confinement and assault; they believe that coercion lies at the heart of the matter. They fail to understand that many others include in it (for example) the well-established medical practice of offering non-directive counselling to pre-pubescent children concerning their perceived gender identity, while waiting to see if their symptoms of gender dysphoria disappear over time (as they mostly do).
    • This immediately raises the question: what is it, exactly, that Bill M 218–2019 is setting out to prohibit? This is a pertinent question because the Bill explicitly includes “counselling” in its list of prohibited activities – something that one would not normally consider to be coercive. This choice of word already implies that the Bill wishes to ban not only coercive but also consensual practices.
    • This impression is confirmed when one compares it to a precursor Ontario Act from 2015, which allows “treatment that seeks to change . . . sexual orientation or gender identity” if the minor “is capable with respect to the treatment and consents to the provision of the treatment.” The BC Bill possesses no such consent clause. This strongly implies that it is not about ending coercion with respect to minors, but actually about depriving them of certain freedoms. Indeed, if it is passed as it stands, the Bill will seemingly place us in an extraordinary situation. Children as young as 10 with gender
    • dysphoria will continue to be able to consent to taking puberty-blockers (whose full risks are unknown), followed a few years later by cross-sex hormones (possessing significant health risks). However, minors as old as 18 who would welcome counselling about their (perhaps unwanted) sexual attractions will not be considered competent to consent to such counselling, even though in BC they are considered competent at 16 to drive a vehicle or to give consent to sexual activity, and at 18 to vote.
    • The BC Bill as drafted can reasonably be interpreted as depriving not only minors, but also various responsible adults of important freedoms. “A person in a position of trust or authority in relation to a minor must not provide conversion therapy to the minor.” On the face of it, this appears to forbid parents and other adults from responding to minors in ways that are not entirely affirming of their current perceptions concerning sexual orientation or gender identity. Especially against the background of the introduction of SOGI 123 into BC schools, it is unfortunately all too easy to interpret the current situation in this way: that the Province intends by way of SOGI 123 to inform minors about the “correct” manner in which to think about sex and gender, and by way of Bill M218–2019 to prevent even their parents from teaching or counselling them otherwise.
    • Finally, the exclusion clause stating that conversion therapy does not include “services that provide acceptance, support or understanding of a person or that facilitate a person’s coping, social support or identity exploration or development” is far too vague to allay the above concerns.

Constructive Proposals

It may well be that those who drafted BC Bill M218–2019 will themselves be surprised by the possible interpretation that we have offered of its wording, because they did actually intend only to ban coercive practice. If so, the current problems with the Bill can easily be resolved by rewording and offering further clarification. In the absence of such rewording and clarification, however, we believe that the Bill should not pass into law, whereupon (for the reasons stated above) it can only cause great mischief. We propose the following:

    1. The innately confusing terminology of “conversion therapy” should be avoided. Instead, the Bill should specify the particular practices that it seeks to ban, and provide reasons for doing so. In providing the reasons, the Bill should be sure to treat even-handedly
    • all the evidence pertaining to the nature and significance of self-reports by minors concerning sexual orientation and gender identity.
    • all the adult personal testimony pertaining both to changes and non-changes in sexual orientation and gender identity over time, as well as all the testimony to both benefit and harm arising from counselling in this regard.

   2. The consent clause from the 2015 Ontario Act should be inserted into the BC Bill so that minors do not have less freedom to consent to counselling than to “a gender-confirming surgery or any related service.”

   3. The “exceptions clauses” (under “Definitions” [1]) should be expanded to make it explicitly clear that the legislation is not intended to interfere with:

    • The right of healthcare professionals, without threat to their reputation, licensing or employment, to offer what they believe is their best counsel to, and treatment of, minors experiencing distress concerning their current sexual attractions or sense of gender identity.
    • The right of parents to discuss with their children in a non-coercive manner the nature and significance of their current experience of sexual attraction or gender identity, in the context of the parents’ understanding of all the facts and the family’s moral and/or religious worldview.
    • The right of other adults “in a position of trust or authority” in relation to minors to discuss with them in a non-coercive manner the nature and significance of their current experience of sexual attraction or gender identity, in line with those adults’ understanding of all the facts and their moral and/or religious worldview, and without threat to their reputation or employment.

Go here for the Brief Analysis, here for the 30-page backgrounder and here for the petition.

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