Nova Scotia

N.S. moves to ban conversion therapy but exemption for minors raises concerns

The provincial government’s bill to ban conversion therapy was tabled Tuesday at Province House, although not all aspects of the legislation received resounding support.

Bill would ban practice for young people, but allow 'mature minors' to consent to treatment

Justice Minister Mark Furey introduced his government's bill to ban conversion therapy on Tuesday. (CBC)

LGBTQ allies and opposition parties in Nova Scotia are expressing concern that a new government bill banning conversion therapy also includes a provision that would allow some minors to consent to the controversial treatment.

Justice Minister Mark Furey said the Liberal bill, tabled Tuesday at Province House, was partly in response to outcry over a planned appearance by U.S.-based advocates for conversion therapy at a Bible camp this summer in Pugwash, N.S. 

Conversion therapy is a discredited practice that seeks to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

"I think most Nova Scotians were concerned, even appalled, to be quite frank," Furey told reporters. "These harmful practices have no place in Nova Scotia."

Like bills from the opposition introduced last week, the government legislation would ban the use of or advocacy for conversion therapy for minors.

It would make it an uninsurable practice for adults and prevent public funds from going to organizations that provide or advocate for the intervention. Furey said he's unaware of any group in the province that fits that description.

The bill would also prohibit regulated health professionals or people in a position of trust from providing such services or promoting them to people younger than 19.

Kate Shewan is executive director of the Youth Project in Halifax. (CBC)

While the bill, like the two from the opposition parties, was welcomed by members of the LGBTQ community, one difference in the government bill did cause some unease — a provision that allows "mature minors" between the ages of 16 and 18 the ability to provide consent for the practice.

Kate Shewan, executive director of the Youth Project in Halifax, said people in that age bracket have likely already been exposed to homophobia and transphobia and might be feeling like "their identity is a problem or something that does need to be fixed."

Shewan said she's troubled over the idea someone in that situation would be in a position to consent, noting there are groups in Nova Scotia that either provide or promote conversion therapy.

She said research has shown the treatment creates feelings of self-hatred and can lead to depression and even suicide.

Interim Progressive Conservative Leader Karla MacFarlane and NDP Leader Gary Burrill said they're glad to see the bill from the government, but each expressed concern about the mature minor exemption.

While Furey referred to the practice as a "discredited and illegitimate intervention," he said the provision is a recognition that some people are able to make their own decisions around consent.

"There [are] Supreme Court of Canada decisions that speak specifically to mature minors," he said.

"I think it's important to recognize that we don't want this therapy applied in any circumstances anywhere, but at the same time balance that with an individual's right."

Read more articles from CBC Nova Scotia

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca