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This article was published 10/3/2020 (196 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Federal legislation to crack down on anti-gay conversion therapy could weed out Manitoba church groups sending children to Mexico for that practice.
The federal Liberals tabled a bill Monday that would ban counselling children to change their gender identity or sexual orientation, and advertising such services to adults.
It would also expand Criminal Code provisions which already bar taking children abroad to be married or put into sex work, to include a ban on sending them abroad for conversion therapy.
Winnipeg’s Rainbow Resource Centre wrote to the federal government last summer, when the Liberals solicited feedback on banning conversion therapy.
At the time, the centre said it wasn’t aware of counselling happening within modern-day Manitoba. But RRC had heard from Manitobans who were sent to Mexico.
The centre said it was aware of a handful of recent cases, and that the office of the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth investigated at least one.
The advocate herself, Daphne Penrose, wouldn’t get into specifics.
"I can confirm that our advocacy services program has received a referral regarding conversion therapy," she wrote.
"We would encourage any child, youth, young adult or concerned community member to contact our office for support if they are aware of, or themselves are being subjected to, conversion therapy."
Penrose added that she was encouraged by the new federal legislation, as the practice "can lead to significant mental illness, and increases risks of self-harm and suicide."
In 2015, the former NDP provincial government banned Manitoba Health from paying for the practice; provinces like Nova Scotia have followed suit.
Karen Busby, a constitutional law professor at the University of Manitoba, said there have been few convictions under Criminal Code charges that bar sending children abroad for practices like child marriage, as it’s hard to gather evidence and prove motive.
However, she said it’s important to have those laws on the books, including to bar sending kids abroad for conversion therapy.
"Most people don't want to violate criminal law, so it's important to have this section," she said.
"The fear of prosecution keeps people from doing the act."
She said the new bill would likely pass a Charter challenge, because it still allows adults to undergo the practice if they consent to it. Otherwise, the legislation could have been challenged on the grounds of personal autonomy or free speech.
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