October 28, 2020
Listen to an audio opinion on the same themes.

In 1982, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau instituted a Charter of Rights and Freedoms for people in Canada. His son, Justin Trudeau, proposes to abrogate that charter by his government’s Bill C-8, criminalizing “conversion therapy” — and Christian practice.

According to the bill, first read in Parliament March 9, “conversion therapy means a practice, treatment or service designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour.”

Most importantly, the bill criminalizes causing a minor to receive such counselling and providing such therapy (to an adult or child) professionally, each with the penalty of a prison term. Neither of these provisions is limited: the one would apply to, say, a pastor providing spiritual counsel to an adherent struggling to live according to the faith he has chosen. And a faithful parent is the most likely individual to seek — and herself to provide — such counsel for her son or daughter. 

Without batting an eyelash, then, the bill would imprison those who continue to teach questioning children and adults — potentially even their own sons and daughters — principles on human sexuality Christianity has espoused for two millennia.

This is a terrifying prospect for conservative Christians in this country.

It’s unclear how such a law could be reconciled with the Charter guarantee — its first guarantee — of “freedom of conscience and religion,” nor with the intuitive rights of people to obtain help and parents to raise their children without the invasive constraint of a watching, policing state.

There are readers who will find it unfathomable that a parent or pastor or anyone else could object to expressing a non-cisgender identity or a non-heterosexual orientation, alleging that to teach one’s children so or advise an adult so is a remorseless cruelty.

There’s a lot that could be said about this philosophically, but for the purposes of law-making it’s sufficient to say that this is one (incredibly recent) perspective. Before an unbiased law, as well as intellectually, conservative Christians are more than justified in holding that transgenderism and homosexuality are moral wrongs. To them, these wrongs reflect fundamental misunderstandings of human nature, to the immense physical, spiritual and psychological harm of those who practise them.

It’s true that religious folks don’t have a right to impose these views on others, except those it’s their responsibility to teach. But they do have a right, under the Charter and inherent human morality, to offer those views to others, to teach those they care for and to speak those views publicly.

Conversely, advocates for transgendered or homosexual people and, most importantly, the government itself do not have the right to impose their opposition to these views on those who hold to them — least of all by jailing them. That’s dystopian and morally colonial. It’s also unsecular.

Secularism is, of course, the high principle of modern democratic societies that no belief system may be favoured over another, that neither state nor faith may oversee the other. It’s the basic mechanism by which society ensures that, in all the roil of competing opinions and beliefs, no one gets to trample on another by marginalizing or penalizing or even criminalizing what they think. It’s the golden rule of a free society: “respect my right to my way of life as I respect yours.” So we avoid wars, inquisitions, witch hunts, theocracies, pogroms and the simple, old-fashioned oppression of minorities by others who dislike or are appalled by them.

It’s how we reconcile the fact that we think each other blatantly and obviously and utterly and sometimes maliciously wrong with the reality that we live together and mustn’t hurt one another. It’s how we get along with no ultimate arbiter here to judge between us, and when we’ve recognized we can’t make our government our arbiter, because our government is us, flawed men and women who too often do wrong as well as right and who can never be unbiased.

It’s the principle the present Liberal government seems to have forgotten in its zeal for liberal ideologies. If that zeal isn’t checked now in Parliament or the courts, it will see Christians and others jailed, separated from their children, denied a normal life for practising their sincerely held beliefs. History, unless it turns in darker circles, will not look on it with favour. Our children’s children will mourn it as we do the excesses of our own past. And for as long as this law is enforced, it will rend families, shatter lives and suppress freedoms Canadians have cherished.

So let the bill die.

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