It’s perfectly normal for someone to question their sexual orientation or gender identity, or even to feel some fear or anxiety about this. People in this situation often seek help or support. But it’s illegal and dangerous to try to change or repress someone because they aren’t heterosexual or don’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. This type of practice is called “conversion therapy”. Help is available to victims of this practice.
Getting the right help
Someone who’s questioning their sexual orientation, their gender identity or their gender expression could feel the need to seek help and support. This is completely normal.
Many resources are available to help people explore their identity and get support without judgment or pressure. These resources are legal and can be very beneficial.
Medical treatments, interventions and services that allow someone to transition to the gender they identify with are also legal.
But someone looking for help could end up being the victim of practices, treatments or services that are meant to change or repress who they are rather than help them understand and accept their identity. These practices may qualify as conversion therapy.
What is conversion therapy?
Conversion therapy is based on the assumption that people should be heterosexual and cisgender. Someone who is cisgender identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Conversion therapy aims to change, repress, or diminish a person’s
- sexual orientation,
- gender identity, or
- gender expression.
For example, these practices may claim to help “cure” a person’s homosexuality. They may also imply that not being cisgender is caused by trauma that can be healed.
Conversion therapy can take many forms. For example, it can be presented as a medical treatment, psychological service, or a spiritual or religious practice. This means that it can happen in different settings, including the health care system, religious communities, or even self-help groups.
No matter what form it takes, conversion therapy is illegal. The law considers that these practices seriously harm a person’s dignity and well-being. It doesn’t matter if they’re offered for free, or if the victim chooses to go through them voluntarily.
Different options for victims of conversion therapy
Victims of conversion therapy have different rights and options.
Reporting a crime to the police
Conversion therapy became a crime on January 7, 2022. A person who went through conversion therapy on or after this date can report it to the police.
It’s important to know that someone who goes through conversion therapy can’t be accused of a crime. This person is considered to be a victim, even if they go to conversion therapy of their own free will.
It’s a crime to cause someone else to go through conversion therapy. It’s also a crime to
- advertise or promote conversion therapy,
- profit from conversion therapy, financially or otherwise,
- cause a child to go through conversion therapy in another country (even when this country allows these practices), or
- ask a person to perform conversion therapy on someone else.
If someone is found guilty of one of these crimes, they could be sentenced to pay a fine or go to prison.
If you’ve witnessed or been the victim of conversion therapy, you can report it to the police. There’s no time limit for reporting a crime.
Asking for compensation in civil court
Victims of conversion therapy can sue the person who harmed them in civil court for financial compensation. Victims can ask to be compensated for harm like depression, anxiety, lost income and psychological treatment fees.
This is an option even for victims who never reported the crime to the police. This is because civil cases and criminal cases are two separate processes with different sets of rules.
Unlike with criminal complaints, victims of conversion therapy usually have a time limit to file a civil lawsuit. They must take action within 10 years from the moment they became aware that their suffering was caused by conversion therapy. However, there’s no time limit if they went through conversion therapy when they were under 18.
You can contact a lawyer if you want to file a civil lawsuit.
Filing a complaint with a professional order
When conversion therapy is performed by a licensed professional, victims can file a complaint with this professional’s order, like
- the Ordre des psychologues du Québec (psychologists),
- the Ordre professionnel des sexologues du Québec (sexologists, in French only), or
- the Ordre des travailleurs sociaux et des thérapeutes conjugaux et familiaux du Québec (social workers and couple or family therapists, in French only).
A licensed professional who is found guilty of performing conversion therapy can be disciplined by their professional order. For example, they may have to pay a fine and could even lose their right to practice.
There’s no time limit for filing a complaint with a professional order.
Professional orders are institutions that oversee certain professions in Quebec. Their main role is to protect the public. You can contact them if you have questions or doubts about services you’re receiving from a licensed professional.
Asking for compensation through government programs for crime victims
Victims of conversion therapy can also get financial compensation through the government program IVAC (Indemnisation des victimes d’actes criminels, or crime victim compensation). IVAC can cover costs like
- lost income,
- psychotherapeutic or psychosocial services, and
Victims can only apply to IVAC if they went through conversion therapy on or after January 7, 2022. They have three years to apply from the moment they become aware that their suffering was caused by conversion therapy. However, there’s no time limit if they went through conversion therapy when they were under 18.
Victims can apply to IVAC even if they never reported the crime to the police.
Are fees related to conversion therapy covered by insurance?
No. Services, medication, and other fees related to conversion therapy aren’t covered by insurance.