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Ches Crosbie calls for conversion therapy ban in Newfoundland and Labrador

Provincial PC Leader Ches Crosbie sat down for a candid talk with Telegram reporter David Maher recently.
Provincial PC Leader Ches Crosbie - File photo by David Maher

It’s unclear if gay conversion therapy happens in N.L., but government is willing to ban the practice

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie wants to ban gay conversion therapy in Newfoundland and Labrador, but it’s unclear whether the practice is currently taking place in the province.

Gay conversion therapy is the practice of trying to change a person’s sexuality using psychological and spiritual intervention. The Canadian Psychological Association released a statement in 2015 opposing the practice, stating “scientific research does not support the efficacy of conversion or reparative therapy.”

The therapy was banned in Ontario and Manitoba in 2015, preventing those provinces’ doctors from billing the practice to the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.

Crosbie wants to take the same approach, saying protecting children from the practice is paramount.

“I’ve been told that it’s more a matter of people being sent for so-called treatment in other places. I think that’s the problem,” said Crosbie.

“They will not be paying out of public funds for such therapy to be practiced. If they’re not going to pay for it in Ontario or Manitoba, that’s one thing. The other thing is they’ve effectively made it a disciplined offence, in the regulated health professions legislation.”

Crosbie says if this province bans public funds from being spent on anything related to gay conversion therapy, then that should prevent referrals to other jurisdictions that have not outlawed the practice.

Whether or not formalized conversion therapy happens in Newfoundland and Labrador is a tricky question to answer. There is evidence that a similar program was administered out of the Waterford Hospital in decades past, but there’s little evidence to suggest the practice is currently happening in the province.

Some local churches carry links and references to conversion therapy on their webpages — including St. Stephen the Martyr Anglican Church in St. John’s. But there’s no evidence to suggest the churches are administering such programs on local youth.

Susan Rose, vice-president of Egale Canada, says the problem is less about doctors or therapists administering the therapy, and more about what’s needed in schools to protect LGBTQ2S+ youth, where negative attitudes toward queer youth can be seen.

“If Mr. Crosbie is serious about addressing this issue, I think the first thing he would be talking about is the education system implementing and rolling out LGBTQ2S+ required curriculum. That’s the only way,” said Rose.

“It’s easy to say that we don’t agree with conversion therapy, but if we’ve got people in our education system that think it’s not OK to be gay, then that’s an issue.”

Rose says prayer circles that see students praying for queer youth is something Egale is researching.

NDP Leader Gerry Rogers says she’ll support any ban on gay conversion therapy, but more study is needed on how large an issue it really is in this province.

“I would absolutely support legislation that would ban any kind of conversion or reparative therapy — it’s very odd that it would even be called therapy,” said Rogers.

“In the research that we have done, we’ve never heard it being covered by MCP.”

Rogers agrees with Rose that the issue could lie in schools across the province.

“Government has to root out where it is happening. We’re hearing rumours about some schools about prayer meetings,” said Rogers.

“It’s on government to root that out. It’s bullying, it’s abuse, it’s intimidation. We have to call it for what it really is. Government has a responsibility to get to the bottom of things, if it’s happening in our schools.”

In a statement, the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development says the government is more than willing to look at introducing a ban on the practice.

“It is our understanding that gay conversion therapy is ineffective at best and also extremely harmful to the mental well-being of people within the LGTBQ2+ community,” reads the statement.

“While action has not been taken to date to ban gay conversion therapy in Newfoundland and Labrador, our government is completely opposed to this approach and is open to discussing and reviewing necessary change in collaboration with the LGTBQ2+ community.”

david.maher@thetelegram.com

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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