When Public Policy Hurts


In a world of increasing complexities, it’s unsurprising but very disappointing that governments are confounding policy issues—and the convoluted solutions they create will inevitably generate more harm than good. Unfortunately, this is merely political theatre: the problems themselves don’t get solved at all. Do elected officials realize what they are voting on?

Case in point: Bill C-4, a federal bill that is commonly touted as a “ban on conversion therapy.” The bill criminalizes any “practices, treatment or service” designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to their gender assigned at birth.

It then takes criminal intent one step further by saying that it is similarly illegal to “repress or reduce” another person’s non-heterosexual behaviour or non-cisgender identity. Bill C-4 quite literally weaponizes words.

Bill C-4 adds five offences to the Criminal Code, and three of them are punishable by as much as five years in prison. (No word yet on the penalty for writing an opinion column on it).

Strong public policy is open to criticism and amendment; in sharp contrast, Bill C-4 was unanimously passed by an expedited December vote in the House of Commons and fast-tracked through the Senate to come into effect in January of this year. The democratic guard rails of debate and discussion, leading to thoughtful amendments, were totally absent. And make no mistake: C-4 is NOT the same as its predecessor C-6 that failed to pass. C-4 is much more aggressive.

The overall goal of any public policy should be to improve the lives of citizens, without harming others or unnecessarily infringing on rights. The danger of ideology making its way into public policy is that the needs of the few (special interest groups) supersede the needs of the whole. Policies driven by ideology lack the nuanced discussion and consideration of ripple-effects. Everyone agrees harmful therapies and hateful practices must stop, but Bill C-4 transcends both validity and reason by criminalizing any action that is non-affirming of one’s homosexual orientation or non-cisgender identity—and that includes legitimate questions by parents and doctors, or even offering a friend the website of a counselor.

Frankly, if your 10-year-old son comes home from school to announce that he would now like to become your 10-year-old daughter, it's only natural to assume this would spark some sort of conversation—hopefully respectful and loving—and I think most Canadian parents would agree with that. Yet parents may now be fearful to even have these types of difficult conversations. If the details of that dialogue were to be disclosed (accurately or not) to a third party, like a teacher or coach, parents could face consequences. Essentially, the "ban on conversion therapy" is a complaint-based law; as such, the RCMP are obligated to investigate every complaint.

Doctors are also strong armed by C-4; they are forced to affirm what they may not believe is the best course of treatment for a patient. Any checks and balances based on professional, medical opinion are rendered moot. Only one course of action is acceptable: affirmation.

There can be major, long-term consequences if a child decides to change his/her gender. Powerful drugs and surgery will alter that person’s future.

Since when did we allow—or more accurately: champion and celebrate—young children and teenagers to make medical decisions (or any decision) that will have a permanent impact on their life without guidance? Bill C-4 doesn’t answer to common sense. It reads like a knee-jerk reaction to the terrible stories of conversion therapy that were revealed in a committee hearing. Is this what parliamentary proceedings have come to? Abusive conversion therapy practises have already been condemned for decades by professional associations worldwide, and if a practitioner were found guilty of these types of horrendous treatment, they could have been charged under existing criminal law.

Finally, the bill is openly one-sided and seems to ignore the idea that some individuals might want to opt for heterosexuality later in life, become celibate and/or de-transition back to their cisgender. A review of ten long-term studies has shown that, without intervention, 80% or more of gender dysphoria children who identify as the opposite sex will revert to their birth sex once they have passed through puberty.[1]

Surely Canadians have enough faith in the principles of free choice and free speech to allow difficult conversations about gender or sex to occur without police intervention. The utmost respect is due to all people regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or any other identification. Part of this respect is acknowledging their freedom of conscience. If anyone wants to seek any type of counseling, therapy, or treatment they should be free to do so, and to freely stop when they wish to. No child should be burdened by the consequences of decisions they are not mature enough tomake.

Bill C-4 paralyzes all Canadians from assisting when someone in the LGBTQ2+ community genuinely asks for help. I implore all elected officials at all levels of government to do their homework before they vote on any legislation. Anything less is an insult to democracy and all people. We deserve better.

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