Canada’s Conversion Therapy Ban Commits Six Secular Sins (Part 1 of 2)

  • Hendrik van der Breggen, Author
  • Retired Associate Professor of Philosophy, Providence

Canada’s Bill C-4, which became law January 7, 2022, bans “conversion therapy” (any therapy to change gender identity, sexual attractions, etc.). But the bill sins against democracy, freedom, truth, reason, and other goods. I count at least six secular sins.

In this instalment of my blog, I set out a couple preliminary clarifications and four sins. Next time I will set out the two other sins.

Preliminary clarifications

Criticism of Bill C-4 is not phobic. A phobia is an irrational anxiety or fear or hatred concerning X. But one is not phobic if one has reasonable evidence-based concerns or questions about X. Setting out reasonable criticisms about a ban on conversion therapy is not homophobic or transphobic.

Discredited, involuntary, coercive “therapies” that harm people (e.g., electroshock therapy, torture, etc.) should be illegal. But Bill C-4 bans much more. In doing so it incurs six serious problems – six secular sins.

Sin #1: Democracy sidestepped

Canada’s Bill C-4 is a sin against democracy. The bill wasn’t given due process. The bill didn’t receive second reading, second reading debate, committee study, etc. None of this occurred in either the House or the Senate. The bill received no scrutiny.

This is a violation of democratic due process – the sin of passing a bill without sober-minded second thought, deliberation, discussion, and public input from stake holders. Canada’s loyal opposition failed to do its job, in other words.

Former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker provides important insight into the proper role of parliament’s opposition: “It must scrutinize every action by the government and in doing so prevents the shortcuts through democratic procedure that governments like to make.”

Whatever one’s political stripes, the Canadian government failed on Bill C-4. Our government sinned against democracy. Bill C-4 violates democratic due process.

Sin #2: Infringement on freedom of consenting adults

Anna Nienhuis, a policy and research coordinator at Association for Reformed Political Action astutely observes the following:

Bill C-4 bans any practice that has a goal of changing someone’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual or gender identity from transgender to cisgender. It remains legal to counsel a cisgender or heterosexual individual to become transgender or homosexual, but it is illegal to try to persuade in the opposite direction.

In other words, Bill C-4 is a one-way street that infringes on the freedom of consenting adults to choose – with the help of legitimate non-coercive therapies – to go the other way.

Bill C-4 only allows “consent” in a way that embraces pro-LGBTQ+ ideology. But this restricts the freedom of people who might not agree with pro-LGBTQ+ ideology, including but not limited to people who identity as LGBTQ+, people who wish to choose otherwise.

This is an infringement on – a sin against – the freedom of consenting adults.

Sin #3: Discrimination

Closely related to its infringement on adults’ freedom to choose counselling, Bill C-4 also discriminates unjustly. It discriminates against persons who have non-heterosexual attractions or who engage in non-heterosexual behaviour yet wish – and choose – to get help to reduce such attractions or behaviours.

Think of, say, a gay man or lesbian woman who has a gay porn addiction and who would like help to overcome the addiction (i.e., they wish to change their behaviour so they do not watch porn). Bill C-4 would disallow such help.

Why? Because this would “repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour” (Bill C-4, section d), so helping this gay man or lesbian woman is illegal, according to Bill C-4. But, and significantly, if a heterosexual man or woman with a heterosexual porn addiction wished to receive help, he or she could receive help. This means Bill C-4 favours heterosexuals but unjustly discriminates against gays and lesbians.

Unjust discrimination is a sin, so Bill C-4 sins, again.

Sin #4: Infringement on freedom of religion and conscience (and not just religious consciences)

Several major religions in Canada deem that sexual acts outside of marriage between one man and one woman are wrong morally – truly wrong. And so, according to these religions, heterosexual relations within marriage are to be preferred over all other sexual relations. And so, too, religious leaders teach a sexual ethic that reflects their religion’s doctrine and they counsel accordingly. And many Canadian adherents of the respective religions would agree.

But Bill C-4’s preamble dismisses such views as “myth,” and Bill C-4’s definition of “conversion therapy” renders such teaching and counsel as criminal. Significantly, this infringes on the freedom of religion and religiously formed conscience of Canadian imams, rabbis, priests, pastors, and parishioners.

Bill C-4 also infringes on the moral consciences of non-religious Canadians who agree with some of the core sexual ethics of major religions and who may have good secular reasons for thinking this is a reasonable – not mythical – position to hold. (This is called a natural law tradition in ethics, i.e., ethics are a part of the fabric of the universe, discernible by all people, whether believers in God or not.)

Also, and this seems totally unnoticed by the proponents of Bill C-4: the bill’s use of the concept of “gender identity” infringes on the rational consciences of many people, whether religious or not, who believe that gender identity is itself a myth. Indeed, it would seem that gender identity is more of a myth than its ideological adherents would probably care to admit, which is a problem for Bill C-4. Why is it a candidate for myth? Because, very apparently, gender identity has come to mean something wholly subjective and not tied to anything objective – major characteristics of myth, surely.

This observation seems very much to be supported by the ever growing number of gender identities that has skyrocketed in recent years – think of Facebook’s 70+ gender identities. My point here is that the rational consciences of those Canadians who disagree with Facebook are infringed upon by the language of Bill C-4.

Bill C-4 employs the phrase “gender identity” at least five times and does so without definition, clarification, or defence. The notion of gender identity, then, especially when it has vague and/or apparently countless meanings based on feelings untethered to biological facts seems very much to be more of an ideological/ mythical notion than a truth.

If one is a thinking person whose goal is to be reasonable and to ground beliefs in objective truth, then the lack of clear definition of “gender identity” – a clear definition of a physical something that is objectively true and publicly verifiable – is yet another problem with Bill C-4.

Bill C-4, then, infringes on freedom of religion and conscience. And not just religious conscience, but the rational conscience of thinking persons whether they adhere to a religion or not.

Stay tuned for sins #5 and #6.


An earlier and longer version of this article, complete with references, can be found at “Canada’s conversion therapy ban commits six secular sins: And if there is a fiery pit for bad bills, Bill C-4 should be thrown into it.” (link)

Critics are encouraged to consult the longer version of the article before offering criticism.

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is a retired philosophy professor who lives in Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada.