Dawson’s Etcetera unsatisfied with federal effort to ban the outdated and ineffective practice
By Jessica Gearey
In October 2020, the federal government announced five new offenses that would be added to the Criminal Code in regards to conversion therapy. Although Canada is statistically one of the most progressive countries in the world in reference to LGBTQ2 rights, there is still more work to be done.
Conversion therapy started around a century ago and is intended to psychologically change the sexual orientation and gender identity of LGBTQ2 people. There are multiple types of conversion therapy, some amounting to both physical and psychological torture such as electroshock therapy. Conversion therapy is banned in a select few provinces and territories in Canada, but some clarify that’s not enough. “To us the practice doesn’t work, it causes more harm than good,” says Arwyn Regimbal, commissioner of Etcetera at Dawson. Regimbal explains that there is no satisfaction with just a select few locations banning the practice. “We’re not satisfied with youth in Ontario, Quebec, and Vancouver (the only city in BC that conversion therapy is banned) being covered and protected, and then you cross provincial lines and all of a sudden it’s a problem again,” they say.
Regimbal has been a part of Etcetera for three years and says that they joined at a time when the club was going through a rough period. “When I joined I kind of helped make sure it was an inclusive space for everyone,” they explain. The first major event during Regimbal’s first year was the sharing of a petition that was available on the Parliament website. Eventually the petition had gained enough attention for the government to respond to it. “Their response originally was that we don’t really need conversion therapy legislation because there are already offenses in the Criminal Code that people can be charged with,” Regimbal explains, “we were just not satisfied with that.” Etcetera did as much as they could in order to give the issue it's deserved attention. They mobilized the Dawson community, called into the offices of the Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, held events, passed petitions and then presented them to the local member of Parliament, and overall it was a collective effort. “It was a pan Canadian effort, many people were involved in this and at the end of the day we helped get legislation tabled that would make it a criminal offence.”
Even with the collective efforts of several LGBTQ2 activist groups across Canada there are still some people who are indifferent to the ever changing societal norms. Some members of The Conservative Party of Canada especially have halted progress. Since most of the people undergoing conversion therapy are youth, and Regimbal does state that while you can argue that adolescents do have medical liberty, there are borders. “There’s quite a difference between consenting to vaccines, abortions and what not, and consenting to conversion therapy,” Regimbal states. There is also the subject of whether conversion therapy even works. “We’ve recently had Exodus, a massive player in the America market, close their doors,” Regimbal explains, “the founder has said they have never seen a successful gay conversion therapy.” Exodus International closed in 2013 and another big ministry more recently closed its doors as well. “Hope for Wholeness,” which was a prominent “ex-gay” ministry in fifteen American states, closed its doors in June of 2020. The founder even came out as gay in 2017.
So what is the Canadian government trying to do? Are they conforming to new norms? “It’s a thorny question,” Regimbal states. They explain that it can be difficult to see through the Canadian government's objectives. Regimbal explains that it’s rare these days to find people who agree that conversion therapy should be used and promoted. “I think a certain point of it is [the Canadian government] realizing ‘like wait, it's still allowed?’” they say. However, Regimbal does think that it’s not high enough on the priority list. “I think it’s due to the fact that we don’t really have statistics. We don’t know how many people are subject to this every year in Canada because it takes place in the shadows,” they explain. Regimbal thinks that the Canadian government's objective is a mixture of both conforming to new norms and prioritizing equal rights for all. They say that they could’ve let the bill die during the election and they didn't, which shows that it’s somewhat of a priority, but from Regimbal’s understanding it’s at a standstill.
Overall, the practice is a pseudoscience and is discredited by multiple medical experts. “Everyone has the right to integrity and dignity,” Regimbal says and conversion therapy “attacks people’s dignity, and at the end of the day we consider it a great harm.”