March 4th, 2024

Local advocate reflects on anniversary of conversion therapy bill


By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on December 14, 2023.

Local advocate Devon Hargreaves was one of the early organizers of the movement to ban conversion therapy. Herald file photo

December 7 marked two years since the bill that called for the criminalization for conversion therapy passed in the Canadian Senate.

Just a week prior, the House of Commons unanimously passed what was then known as Bill C-4, after a motion presented by Conservative Party MP Rob Moore was fast-tracked. By Dec. 8, the bill received royal assent – approval from the Governor General on behalf of the Crown – and one month later conversion therapy was officially illegal in Canada and punishable by up to two years in prison.

Canada is the fourth nation in the world to federally prohibit the “practice, treatment or service designed to: change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual; change a person’s gender identity to cisgender; change a person’s gender expression so that it conforms to the sex assigned to the person at birth; repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour; repress a person’s non-cisgender identity; or repress or reduce a person’s gender expression that does not conform to the sex assigned to the person at birth,” -as conversion therapy was defined in the documents of Bill C-4.

Canada follows only Ecuador, Malta, and Germany in establishing laws barring conversion therapy. But before the law that looks to protect members of the LGBTQ2+ community was even a bill, it was a petition started in southern Alberta at Taber Pride.

Devon Hargreaves was one of the early organizers of the movement to ban conversion therapy and says it initially started with the goal of achieving a provincial ban.

“During that process, we kind of took a step back and said ‘why stop at Alberta?’ With that, in 2018 we launched an e-petition 1833 calling on the federal government to ban conversion therapy,” says Hargreaves, who ran in the 2019 provincial election and again in the federal election of 2021 for the Liberal party.

“The biggest challenge when we launched the petition was people definitely supported the idea of it, but the biggest question we got was ‘there’s no way in the 21st century that this still happens,’ so it was definitely a lot of education and then as the movement grew. A large number of survivors came out and shared their experiences,” Hargreaves explains. “It’s not a mental disorder to be LGBTQ2+ and I think people realized that, just many people did not realize conversion therapy was legal in Canada.”

Hargreaves explains “this movement started a little differently. Most of the time legislation starts out in the House of Commons and then goes to the Senate as a chamber for second thought, but the Senate can actually move legislation themselves and then send it to the House of Commons.”

He explains that prior to bill C-4 were two similar bills that originated in the Senate, but did not pass.

“The Right Honourable Prime Minister gave me a call, I think late in March 2021, and we had a very good chat about the importance of the legislation and where it was at. He assured me it was definitely on the docket, that they did want to get it passed before that holiday break in December ’21.”

Hargreaves says that he didn’t expect the bill to move so quickly after his conversation with the Prime Minister.

“It really left us in shock, and it was incredibly to see.”

Now two years later, he reflects on the message he and his team set out to spread.

“Throughout the campaign we always said it wasn’t an LGBTQ2+ issue, it was a human rights issue.” The success of what was once known as Bill C-4 has come to represent not only the protection extended to vulnerable communities, but the power Canadians have to improve the laws and legislation.

“I think it goes to show that people are committed to making a positive change in their community and region and nation. They can step up and take action. I think that this bill and this legislation is a wonderful example of that. “

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