Presentation to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in view of its study of Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy)
Remarks by Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto
December 8, 2020
Good afternoon and thank you for providing me the opportunity to speak with you about Bill C-6. I am grateful for the work of the Justice and Human Rights committee and for all that you do to serve our country in your role as elected Members of Parliament.
As the Archbishop of Toronto, I serve as the spiritual leader for 2 million Catholics in the Greater Toronto Area.
At the outset, I should clearly state the Catholic Church opposes any coercive practices that undermine a person’s free will and human dignity. We believe that every person is a gift from God, to be treated with love, compassion and respect. In a society where mutual respect and love of neighbour should define us in all that we do, we must all ensure that no-one experiences coercion or manipulation.
I am most appreciative of Minister Chagger’s insistence that we act against coercive practices. I am deeply concerned, however, that the current definition of conversion therapy found in Bill C-6 goes much further than the stated goal of criminalizing coercive behaviour. In this bill, there is no requirement that the “practice, treatment or service” in question be coercive or cause harm. The bill fails to define exactly what constitutes a “practice, treatment, or service.” Actions that are now lawful could be subject to the criminal code.
In its current form, the legislation lacks protection in relation to the following:
- the fundamental right of parents, as first educators and guardians, to make decisions regarding the welfare of their children, specifically their freedom to instruct them in accord with their religious and ethical beliefs;
- the right and freedom of every Canadian to voluntarily seek support to live in a manner consistent with their identity and beliefs, and in accord with their personal convictions;
- the right and freedom of the Church and other religious communities to support persons who choose to live their lives and sexuality in accord with moral teachings and the dictates of conscience;
- the right and freedom of the Church and other religious communities to share their religious and ethical beliefs regarding the human person, and human sexuality.
Some within government have said that clearly this bill is not intended to criminalize some of the points that I have mentioned. Be that as it may, no such protection is actually present in the text of the legislation, and it is the text that will become law.
If I may cite an example, when the euthanasia law was passed in 2016, we were assured that language in the preamble would be sufficient to protect conscience rights for those not wishing to participate in the act of taking a patient’s life. That has turned out not to be true.
Any law concerning conversion therapy must strike a careful balance. On the one hand, the law must recognize that coercive and harmful practices have no place in our social order. On the other hand, the law must not criminalize the Charter-protected beliefs of Canadian people. While these beliefs may not find popular acclaim, and may even be offensive to some, the fact remains that many people freely choose to live their lives in accordance with traditional principles and beliefs. Tolerance and diversity are a two-way street. Educators, counsellors, parents and pastoral leaders should be allowed to express their views freely and without fear of punishment. This is certainly true when it comes to faith communities, because in practice, in our society, they are now, and always have been, at the forefront in caring for the most vulnerable.
I hope that this committee will seriously reflect on these concerns, and amend Bill C-6 to criminalize conversion therapy in a more careful and accurate manner. While we must address the suffering caused by any harmful coercive practices, to ensure they are no longer present in our country, at the same time we must permit respectful dialogue and expression of diverse views in a way that supports deeply enshrined principles in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I thank you for the opportunity to share my comments with you this afternoon.