On January 7th, 2022 Bill C-4 will become the law of the land in Canada. Christian pastors, parents, counsellors and mentors may all be affected. Canadian Christians need to understand this law and they should be prepared for coordinated action. This brief summary has been created to serve that end and should not be understood or construed as legal counsel.
Background And History
A similar Bill known as Bill C-6 was first introduced in October 2020 and was last discussed in the 2nd session of the 43rd Parliament which ended in August 2021. Bill C-6 did not receive final approval. Concerns were raised about the definition of ‘conversion therapy’ contained in the Bill, which was considered by many to be exceedingly broad. The definition set out in the Bill read as follows:
“a practice, treatment or service designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual, to change a person’s gender identity or gender expression to cisgender or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour or non-cisgender gender expression.”
The effort to pass the Bill was ultimately set aside in light of the election called by the Prime Minister for September 20th 2021. Although the election did not significantly strengthen the Prime Minister’s hand, Bill C-4, an expanded version of Bill C-6, passed through the entire parliamentary process, including affirmation by the Senate, on Tuesday, December 7th 2021 without a single dissenting vote. Bill C-4 received Royal Assent on December 8th and will become the law of the land on January 7th, 2022. The proposed changes to the Criminal Code by Bill C-4 are summarized as follows:
This enactment amends the Criminal Code to, among other things, create the following offences:
(a) causing another person to undergo conversion therapy;
(b) doing anything for the purpose of removing a child from Canada with the intention that the child undergo conversion therapy outside Canada;
(c) promoting or advertising conversion therapy; and
(d) receiving a financial or other material benefit from the provision of conversion therapy.
It also amends the Criminal Code to authorize courts to order that advertisements for conversion therapy be disposed of or deleted.
The definition of ‘conversion therapy’ set out in Bill C-4 reads as follows:
320.101 In sections 320.102 to 320.104, conversion therapy means a practice, treatment or service designed to
(a) change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual;
(b) change a person’s gender identity to cisgender;
(c) change a person’s gender expression so that it conforms to the sex assigned to the person at birth;
(d) repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour;
(e) repress a person’s non-cisgender gender identity; or
(f) repress or reduce a person’s gender expression that does not conform to the sex assigned to the person at birth.
For greater certainty, this definition does not include a practice, treatment or service that relates to the exploration or development of an integrated personal identity — such as a practice, treatment or service that relates to a person’s gender transition — and that is not based on an assumption that a particular sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is to be preferred over another.
The definition of ‘conversion therapy’ in Bill C-4 is very similar to the definition in Bill C-6, though expanded so as to expressly forbid practices, treatments or services designed to change or repress a person’s gender expression to align with their biological sex.
Concerns About Bill C-4
In 2020, The Gospel Coalition Canada asked the Parliamentary Committee to clarify the definition of conversion therapy association with Bill C-6. The concern was that the overly broad definition could lead to conversations between parents and children, or between pastors and congregants being criminalized. We further asked the Committee to clarify specifically what is meant by the terms “practice, treatments and service.” The wording of the approved Bill C-4 provided no such clarification.
As such, it remains unclear to parents, pastors, counsellors and mentors how these terms ought to be understood. Assurances by lawmakers have been provided to constituents that the Bill only seeks to criminalize coercive efforts and coercive practices, treatments and services and that it would not apply to a person who sought out a pastor or mentor for help to live a chaste sexual lifestyle or to live in alignment with their biological sex. However, no such assurances appear in the language of the actual Bill.
It is not uncommon for Parliament to pass vaguely worded legislation with the expectation that the specific application and limitation of the law will be determined by the courts. In the meantime however, pastors, parents, counsellors and mentors will be operating without any clear assurance that their good faith efforts to teach and commend a Biblical and historically Christian perspective on sex and gender will proceed without legal interference.
Many Christians are also concerned about the metaphysical bias that is clearly expressed in the preamble to the Bill as passed. It reads as follows:
Whereas conversion therapy causes harm to the persons who are subjected to it;
Whereas conversion therapy causes harm to society because, among other things, it is based on and propagates myths and stereotypes about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, including the myth that heterosexuality, cisgender gender identity, and gender expression that conforms to the sex assigned to a person at birth are to be preferred over other sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions;
And whereas, in light of those harms, it is important to discourage and denounce the provision of conversion therapy in order to protect the human dignity and equality of all Canadians;
Now, therefore, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:
As I wrote in an earlier article from December 8th, 2021:
“The idea that gender equates to biological sex would have been taken for granted by every generation of Canadians prior to this one. To enshrine the spirit of the age as the law of the land is an act of hubris. To refer to the beliefs once held universally and still held broadly by many Canadians, as “myths” and “stereotypes” is an act of blatant intolerance. The net result will be legal exposure and authorized harassment of pastors and churches.”
Regardless of the concerns expressed by many, as of January 7th, Bill C-4 will be the law of the land; the precise application of the law, is at this point unclear. It is possible that pastors and counsellors may find themselves harassed by overzealous law enforcement personnel and Crown prosecutors, at which point the matter will enter the legal system, possibly making its way to the Supreme Court where the appropriate limits and application of Bill C-4 will be formally adjudicated.
The Canadian Charter Of Rights And Freedoms
Many legal experts, Christian and otherwise, were surprised by the language adopted by Bill C-4. It does appear to overreach the line established clearly in the Canadian Charter of Rights And Freedoms. The preamble and opening section of the Charter reads as follows:
Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:
Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms
1 The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
2 Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.
In the Canadian legal system, Charter rights are considered supreme rights, against which no law can be made. The Charter identifies freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression and freedom of media communication as fundamental freedoms. Therefore, it is difficult to see how a charge against a pastor for preaching on Genesis 1:27 or Galatians 5:22-23 could withstand a Charter challenge.
If the teaching, or expression is stated in terms of it being a tenet of religious belief it would appear to be protected. That being said, the Charter does stipulate that all these fundamental freedoms are subject to “reasonable limits prescribed by law” that can be “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” Thus, it will be the responsibility of the court to determine how precisely to balance the freedom of the parent or pastor to teach and commend Biblical sexual ethics and identity with the freedom of the individual to pursue a life of sexual liberty and gender fluidity. Many legal experts expect the language and reach of the Bill to be eventually curtailed.
Canadian Evangelical Responses
There are a number of responses being planned by evangelical churches and leaders across Canada. The one that I am most familiar with, and the one that most of my colleagues are participating in, is being driven by The Canadian Religious Freedom Summit. In this initiative, pastors are being encouraged to read the following statement in their services on January 9th, 2022, two days after Bill C-4 becomes law:
This past week marked a monumental change in Canadian law and society with the enactment of federal Bill C-4, which amends the Criminal Code.
The law’s stated purpose is to outlaw “conversion therapy”. We strongly oppose the coercive and unscientific therapeutic practices the Bill was introduced to address. We appreciate and affirm the desire of parliamentarians to protect the vulnerable. However, we are deeply concerned that the effective reach of the legislation could be extended far beyond its stated purpose. Because its definition of “conversion therapy” is vague, many are concerned that it could capture parents, pastors and counsellors who teach a biblical understanding of sexuality in a variety of situations. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees our freedoms of religion, conscience, thought, belief, expression and association. It is our prayer that the law will be applied – and clarified as needed – in such a way as to honour these Charter protections.
We recognize that the greatest danger facing the Canadian church is not that we might face criminal prosecution, but rather that we might compromise in our teaching of the Word of God or fall silent in our proclamation of the gospel. Along with church leaders of like conviction across Canada, we stand before you today to pledge that we are committed to obeying God above all others (Acts 5:29). With the Lord’s help, we will continue to proclaim the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) without fear or favour. This includes God’s life-giving design for human beings, made in His image, male and female (Genesis 1:27), with sexual intimacy reserved for the covenantal union of a man and a woman (Genesis 2:24). We will continue to issue the call to repent of all kinds of sin and to believe the gospel, knowing that we all have sinned (Romans 3:23), and that salvation through Jesus is the one true hope for the world (Acts 4:12). We will continue to love and serve all people in our community, without distinction, in Jesus’ name. As we press on in the work of ministry, we will trust our Heavenly Father to guard us and keep us, and to work out His greater purposes for our good and His glory.
We continue to pray for our government, and to plead with the Lord to have mercy on our needy land.
Those reading the affirmation are encouraged to indicate their having done so via the form attached to the bottom of the statement.
Many Canadian pastors are also aware of an initiative being championed by Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in California. I have tremendous respect for Pastor John and rejoice in the fact that there are a number of initiatives intending to peacefully protest the potential abuse and misapplication of Bill C-4. However, while many pastors will no doubt participate in this particular initiative, others will have concerns due to the fact that the statement associated with this initiative concedes illegality. MacArthur’s letter quotes his Canadian co-sponsor Pastor Andrew DeBartolo as saying:
“On January 16, 2022, faithful men across this country (and many in the United States as well) will be preaching on God’s design for marriage and a biblical ethic of sexuality. We will be doing so illegally, declaring to the State that there is one God and one Lord over His church, and that Christ alone gets to both define marriage and dictate what is required in the pulpit.”
It is not clear that preaching on Biblical passages espousing a biblical ethic of sexuality is now illegal. That matter has yet to be adjudicated in the courts. Bill C-4 nowhere uses that language and all initial assurances are that it does not intend to criminalize religious expression in any of the contexts suggested in the letter. Furthermore, there are robust protections in the Canadian Charter that would seem to make such an adjudication by the court extremely unlikely. The possibility is there, to be sure, but as of now, not the reality. Many would suggest that the concession of illegality at this point in the process is unhelpful.
The statement suggested by the Canadian Religious Freedom Summit specifically makes use of language drawn from the Charter and also makes it clear that there is no desire whatsoever, on behalf of the participants and signatories to endorse or engage in coercive or abusive practices. The MacArthur statement expresses no such sentiment.
While I cannot speak for all pastors in Canada, I for one am hopeful that the church will not be drawn into an adversarial posture toward the LGBTQ community. These are people created in the image and likeness of God that we are called to love and to treat with respect and dignity. I want to extend to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which includes a sincere belief that the grace of God in Christ provides both forgiveness and the power to change. That is the same Gospel that saved me and that continues to give me hope today. I am praying for the wise application or emendation of Bill C-4 such that abusive or coercive practices are forbidden while “speaking the truth in love” continues to be permitted.
Nevertheless, I fully recognize that a day may well come when there is a heavy price to pay in this country for faithfully preaching what the Bible has to say about human sexuality and gender. If it comes – when it comes – I will count it an honour to suffer on behalf of Christ. Until that time, and as long as the Lord gives me life and breath, I will continue to use every opportunity I have to reach out in love and Gospel concern to my fellow Canadians.
And may God alone be glorified!
Rev. Paul Carter
To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. To access the entire library of available episodes see here. You can find his personal blog, Semper Reformanda, by clicking here.