British Columbia

'It's a milestone, I'm thrilled': B.C. survivor of conversion therapy applauds federal commitment to ban it

A B.C. man who says he is still recovering from an attempt to change his sexual orientation through a practice known as conversion therapy is applauding a federal commitment to ban it in Canada.

Peter Gajdics says 6 years of conversion therapy in Victoria almost killed him

Peter Gajdics spent six years in Victoria B.C. undergoing conversion therapy from a psychiatrist who prescribed drugs which Gajdics says almost killed him. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

A B.C. man who says he is still recovering from an attempt to change his sexual orientation through a practice known as conversion therapy is applauding a federal commitment to ban it in Canada.

This week, a mandate letter sent from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti asked that the Criminal Code be amended "to ban the practice of conversion therapy and take other steps required with the provinces and territories to end conversion therapy in Canada."

Conversion therapy is a practice that aims to change an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity, aiming to "convert" them from gay, lesbian or bisexual to heterosexual, or from transgender to cisgender, which means identifying with the sex assigned to them at birth.

Peter Gajdics, author of the book The Inheritance of Shame, spent six years in conversion therapy with a licensed psychiatrist in Victoria.

"It's a milestone, I'm thrilled, I think it will be a journey to actually have it passed," he said about the federal move to end its practice in Canada.

He described his years in conversion therapy as painful.

"I just felt completely distorted and cut up inside by the drugs, by the primal scream, by the shame, by this effort to change myself into something that I wasn't," he said. "At one point the medications were at a fatal level, and I overdosed, and by all accounts I should have died."

He says a psychiatrist prescribed several antidepressants and a sedative in hopes that it would help Gajdic become heterosexual.

"I fell for these tactics because I wanted to believe what my family wanted me to be, that I could heal somehow," he said.

WATCH Peter Gajdics talk to the CBC's Jon Hernandez about his experience with conversion therapy:

B.C. Conversion therapy survivor Peter Gajdics talks about his troubling experience. 0:36

Gajdics says he grew up ashamed of his sexuality because his parents didn't approve of it, and was cut off from his friends and family.

No proof it works

Conversion therapy employs various approaches, including talk therapy, medication and aversion therapy, which attempts to condition a person's behaviour by causing them discomfort through things like electric shocks when they're exposed to specific stimuli. 

It is believed conversion therapy has existed for more than a century, with German psychiatrist Albert von Schrenck-Notzing being one of the first to use the practice on patients.

Conversion therapy has been widely condemned by health experts as having no scientific proof that it works. It is also described as being unethical and unprofessional.

Elizabeth Saewyc, a UBC nursing professor, says people who have gone through the therapy have a greater chance of developing depression and anxiety.

"It has created challenges around their ability to actually have caring relationships with others," she said.

In 2018, the City of Vancouver passed a bylaw that bans any business from providing conversion therapy.

Gajdics said he will watch how the federal government develops its amendments to the Criminal Code to ban conversion therapy. He's worried that loopholes will remain for the practice to carry on underground.

"Delineating exactly what conversion therapy is or maybe isn't in the Criminal Code will be vital," he said. "Practitioners, organizations, sidestep the issue. Immediately they say we don't practise that."

With files from Jon Hernandez and Alvin Yu

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