Yukon becomes 1st territory to ban conversion therapy

The bill to ban the widely-discredited practice - which tries to change someone's sexual orientation and gender identity through counselling, behaviour modification or medication - passed unanimously in the legislature on Monday.

Widely-discredited practice attempts to change someone's sexual orientation, gender identity

At Calgary's Pride parade in 2019 there were lots of banners calling for conversion therapy to be banned. Yukon is now the fourth province or territory to pass legislation banning the practice. (Michaela Neuman Photography)

Yukon has become the fourth province or territory to ban conversion therapy.

In the legislature on Monday, the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Protection Act (Bill No. 9) received assent, and is now in force after a unanimous vote in support.

This makes Yukon the only territory to pass legislation banning or criminalizing conversion therapy — the widely discredited practice of trying to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity through counselling, behaviour modification or medication. 

Ontario, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. have also enacted legislation banning health care professionals from providing treatment to minors, unless they are capable of consenting.

The Canadian Psychological Association and the Canadian Psychiatric Society have condemned the practice. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also declared conversion therapy poses a "serious threat to the health and well-being" of those affected. 

The newly-passed act in Yukon bans the practice of conversion therapy for minors, and keeps substitute decision makers from consenting to it on behalf of another person. It also ensures conversion therapy is not an insured health service in the territory.

Minister Responsible for the Women's Directorate Jeanie McLean said in the legislature Monday that she is proud the government is "moving forward to protect the safety of LGBTQ2S+ Yukoners."

"We are allies. We need to be here for them by actively working to end discrimination and any practices that aim to do them harm," said McLean.

She said approving the bill removes "threats to justice and dangerous practices" toward members of the Yukon community.

The leader of the official opposition, Stacey Hassard, said the Yukon Party supports the legislation.

"We recognize the importance of this bill and its signalling to Yukoners that the practices that this bill seeks to address are dangerous and harmful," said Hassard on Monday.

"We believe that it's important to protect vulnerable people from harm, and no person should face discrimination, intimidation, or physical harm simply because of who they are," he said.

Joe Wickenhauser, executive director of the Yukon Pride Centre, says it's a step in the right direction. (Submitted by Joe Wickenhauser)

Joe Wickenhauser, executive director of the Yukon Pride Centre, was also in the legislature on Monday to witness the bill get passed.

"It is a historic day for the Yukon. 

"It's a symbol that communicates that the government is serious about passing legislation that protects the community," said Wickenhauser.

But advocates and politicians give credit to high school students for bringing the issue forward.

In 2019, Yukon students organized a campaign, including a petition, which called on the territory to prohibit conversion therapy.

"I'm sure it's a win for those students who got to witness democracy in action, and I think the community is better for it," said Wickenhauser.

Students pose with flags outside of Porter Creek Secondary School in Whitehorse. A campaign against conversion therapy was organized in part through the school's Gender and Sexuality Alliance. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The issue is being talked about in Ottawa as well. 

In early October, the federal Liberals reintroduced a bill that would nationally ban the act of forcing children or adults to undergo therapy aimed at altering their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

It was given approval in principle at the end of last month.

Diversity Minister Bardish Chagger, who put the bill forward in the House of Commons, has called conversion therapy destructive, harmful and deadly.

Wickenhauser said though this is an important step, there are more steps to be taken including figuring out how to support people who have been through conversion therapy. 

"We're really at sort of a beginning place in terms of how we help people who've been through such a challenging and traumatic experience."