By Jack Graham
TORONTO, March 9 (Openly) - Canada's move toward a nationwide ban on gay conversion therapy could help set a precedent for other countries that permit what one top official called "a cruel practice," rights supporters said on Monday.
The Canadian federal government introduced legislation to criminalize conversion therapy, a practice that attempts to change the sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of LGBT+ people.
If the bill passes, Canada would become the fourth country in the world to make conversion therapy illegal.
"Conversion therapy is a cruel practice that can lead to life-long trauma, particularly for young people," Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti said in a statement.
"If passed, this bill would make Canada's laws on conversion therapy the most progressive and comprehensive in the world."
Conversion therapy has been discredited and denounced by experts around the world, he said.
Despite the controversy, only Brazil, Ecuador and Malta have introduced national bans on conversion therapy as have several local governments within Canada, the United States and Spain.
Canada's governing Liberal Party promised to introduce a national ban in its 2019 platform and, while it now heads a minority government, the bill is expected to pass with support from the New Democrats (NDP) and Green Party.
The legislation's proposed amendments to Canada's Criminal Code include offenses such as causing a person to undergo conversion therapy and advertising and profiting from conversion therapy.
The practice has been found not only to be ineffective but to cause severe mental health problems including anxiety and depression.
A survey in the United States found LGBT+ youth who had undergone conversion therapy, which can include a variety of behavioral, psychoanalytic or spiritual interventions, were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who had not.
"This bill is an important first step in that it's shining a light on the practices," said Travis Salway, a social epidemiologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.
"It's really sending a clear message, particularly to parents and guardians and teachers, that this is not compatible with Canadian values."
As many as 47,000 LGBT+ men in Canada are estimated to have undergone conversion therapy, according to a survey by the Community-Based Research Centre, an organization that promotes LGBT+ health.
LGBT+ rights activists said they hope consideration of the measure will lead to support for those who have undergone the therapy.
"There are still areas that need to be addressed," said Helen Kennedy, executive director at Egale Canada, a leading LGBT+ advocacy organization. "How are we going to support those folks who have endured such treatments?"
Initiatives and bills addressing conversion therapy are under debate in at least 10 countries at a national level, including Chile, Mexico and Germany, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, an advocacy group.
(Reporting by Jack Graham, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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