Under the guise of prohibiting “conversion therapy,” Bill C-8 would make it a criminal offence for parents to help their own gender-confused children find peace in accepting their biological gender. The Liberal government’s proposed legislation, introduced as a First Reading on March 9, defines “conversion therapy” as “a practice, treatment or service designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour.”
This proposed House of Commons legislation has the same major flaws that the Senate’s Bill S-202 had, as I argued in 2019. Under C-8, parents could spend up to five years in jail for trying to help their son accept himself as a boy, or for helping their daughter to accept herself as a girl. Bill C-8 also would impose prison terms up to five years for doctors, counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists and other paid professionals whose treatment for gender confusion departs from politically correct orthodoxy. Parents would be punished if they do anything other than encourage a confused child to “transition” to the opposite gender. Transitioning is an extreme form of intervention that includes taking puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and undergoing permanent surgical sterilization, including the removal of healthy organs such as breasts and testicles.
Bill C-8’s preamble denounces as “myth” that a person’s “gender identity” can and ought to be changed. This ignores reality. Many people – especially some minors – do experience change in their gender identity. Confusion during puberty later resolves in favour of their biological sex. Bill C-8 ignores the leading work of Dr. Kenneth J. Zucker, who for many years was psychologist-in-chief at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and headed up its Gender Identity Service. An international authority on gender dysphoria in children and adolescents, he and Dr. Susan Bradley helped hundreds of children integrate their gender identity with their biological reality, saving them from a lifetime of dependency on cross-sex hormones. Their work demonstrates that with appropriate therapy and encouragement, the vast majority of gender-confused children come to accept their bodies by the time they reach the age of 18.
“Transitioning” is not the panacea Bill C-8 makes it out to be. For example, a 2011 comprehensive study shows that post-surgery transgender people in Sweden commit suicide at a rate 19 times higher than the national average. Bill C-8 further ignores the rapidly growing number of deeply unhappy and disillusioned people who have “transitioned” genders and are now “detransitioning” back to their biological sex.
If Bill C-8 becomes law, it appears that the only legal treatment available to Canadian youth who struggle with their gender identity will be “transitioning” toward the opposite gender: puberty blockers, opposite-sex hormone injections, and eventually gender-reassignment surgery. The law’s definition of “conversion therapy” still allows for “a practice, treatment or service that relates to a person’s exploration of their identity or to its development,” so there may be some wiggle room. But C-8’s clear prohibition on changing “gender identity” to conform to biological reality, combined with C-8’s preamble declaring that gender identity should never be changed, means that counselling to help a child accept biological reality becomes practically illegal.
The medical, psychiatric and psychological professions are divided as to what course of treatment is best for children and teenagers who feel confused about their biological gender. Emerging research shows that gender dysphoria can be a social contagion, particularly among girls using social media. The debate among experts concerning the cause and best treatment for gender dysphoria in youth is far from settled. Yet the federal government now proposes to shut down the discussion with jail terms for parents and for medical professionals.
If passed, Bill C-8 would usurp the authority of the provincial Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons to formulate evidence-based and ethical guidelines on the best treatment options for children suffering with gender dysphoria. The same goes for the professional bodies which regulate psychologists, counsellors and therapists. Politicians, most of whom have no education in the fields of medicine or psychology, are imposing their ideological and political will on the medical and counselling professions. Are medical professionals OK with politicians deciding what is the best practice?
It is a mark of cruelty to use the law to force confused, dysphoric children and their parents to embrace the transition to a life of permanent hormone therapy, surgery and disillusion. Most dysphoric children, if granted the support and opportunity, will accept and regain comfort with their biology by the age of 18. On Twitter there are hundreds of people lamenting that they were allowed to take cross-sex hormones when they were confused and vulnerable children, brainwashed by websites like Buzzfeed and their own gender-confused culture. They ask: “Why was I allowed to do this to myself? How come no one older and wiser stopped me?” Their sorrow is palpable.
Bill C-8’s all-encompassing definition of “conversation therapy” interferes in the future happiness and lives of children. Once opposite-sex hormones have wreaked havoc on a young developing body, including causing lifelong sterility, there is no going back.
Good intentions are not enough to make for good law. Canadians appreciate the importance of helping children and teens navigate the challenges of modern social media, the hyper-sexualization in our culture, body image, sexual identity and other topics in this 21st century reality. Puberty is full of angst, confusion and turmoil for many teenagers. Canadians appreciate that compassionate, loving parents, along with medical and mental health professionals using evidence-based approaches, should not face jail time for working through these challenges. Parents and medical professionals should mobilize against the ideological and knee-jerk approach of Bill C-8.