Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault rises during statements in the House of Commons, Monday June 13, 2016 in Ottawa. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has named an Edmonton MP as his special advisor on LGBTQ2 issues.Randy Boissonnault will work with advocacy groups to promote equality for lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirited people – a term used broadly to describe indigenous people who identify as LGBTQ.
Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS
The federal government is working to criminalize conversion therapy, eyeing jail time and fines in a bid to ban the practice.Randy Boissonnault, Edmonton-Centre MP and special advisor to the prime minister on LGBTQ2 issues, told Postmedia his government wants to “criminalize any aspect of conversion therapy.”“The state needs to let people know that if they’re practising this, then there are serious consequences, including jail time,” he said Wednesday.“When the federal government says we’re actively examining potential criminal code reforms to better prevent, punish and deter a dangerous and discredited practice, you know we’re serious.”Conversion therapy is the widely discredited idea that psychological or spiritual intervention can change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.Summer work to ban ‘underground’ practiceBoissonnault said the federal justice department will examine the issue over the summer, which means movement on a ban could hinge on the federal election.His government is asking provincial minsters of justice to “step up their efforts” on the conversion therapy file, Boissonnault said, and he’s pushing to establish an official provincial-territorial working group to consult with experts.Boissonnault said the ban would likely involve a change to the criminal code or a new, stand-alone piece of legislation.And while he acknowledged there’s no hard data on where, how much or who is practising conversion therapy, he denied the government would be writing laws based on hearsay.“It’s harmful, it’s akin to torture and it’s underground. I’ve had letters from people, phone calls from people, telling me they went through these processes and it was deeply traumatizing,” he said.“We would not base a law on anecdotal evidence.”Governments ‘should step up’Alberta Health has received more than 280 letters and emails about conversion therapy since October 2015, according to the conversion therapy working group established by the former NDP government.That group was disbanded when the UCP took power in April.It was co-chaired by Nicole Goehring, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs, who on Wednesday welcomed the news from Ottawa and said her group is continuing with its mandate despite no formal support from the province.“The more people that are looking into this, the better. I think this is incredible news,” she said.With Canadians headed to the polls on Oct. 21, Goehring added she hopes it’s not an election ploy but a sincere effort to ban conversion therapy.Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro told Postmedia he’s interested in seeing what comes out of Ottawa.“As I’ve always said, our government opposes conversion therapy, so I’m happy to understand what the proposal is and I look forward to seeing it,” he said.Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said he is yet to receive any letters about conversion therapy from the federal government, and didn’t want to speculate on something he hasn’t reviewed.“Governments have to lead and they have to keep people safe,” Boissonnault said.“When they know there are odious, dangerous, non-scientific practices taking place behind the scenes to change people’s orientation or gender identification and expression, they should step up. They don’t have to be LGBTQ champions to keep people safe.”firstname.lastname@example.org/EmmaLGraneyListen to our Alberta politics podcast, the Press Gallery