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But in reality, Alberta is simply applying a corrective to “progressive” left gender-affirming ideology

John SikkemaThe leading objection to Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s policy announcement that “gender-affirming” surgeries will not be permitted in Alberta before age 18 and puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones will not be allowed before age 16 is that politicians should not politicize or interfere in personal health care decisions.

That objection is rich coming from the “progressive” left, which has been pressuring governments, universities, hospitals, and medical associations and institutions to exclusively support a “gender-affirming” approach to helping children experiencing gender dysphoria.

In his preface to Lost in Trans Nation by child psychiatrist Dr. Miriam Grossman, Jordan Peterson rightly describes the consequence of this persistent and pervasive political pressure: “In many jurisdictions in the Western world the theory that sex and subjective ‘gender identity’ are separate is now enforced by law, and therapists and medical professionals are therefore compelled to ‘affirm’ the subjective identity claimed by their clients and patients in preference to their – in the terrible lingo of the times – ‘sex assigned at birth.’”

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Take, for example, Ontario’s Bill 77 in 2015, which prohibited all health professionals from engaging in any “efforts to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person,” also known as conversion therapy. Were health professionals in Ontario engaging in conversion therapy in 2015? Depends on how you define it. The context of Ontario’s 2015 bill, like its name – the Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Act – shed light on its ideological objectives.

Earlier in 2015, government-funded activists at Rainbow Health Ontario complained about Dr. Kenneth Zucker, a world-leading child psychologist specializing in the care of children struggling with gender dysphoria. At the time, Dr. Zucker was the head of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.

His sin? Dr. Zucker did not sufficiently affirm young people’s transgender identities. Dr. Zucker favoured a wait-and-see approach, trying to help patients feel comfortable in their bodies and not rushing to transition. After all, gender dysphoria resolves through puberty in most cases, and medical interventions have serious side effects. For his methods, Dr. Zucker was accused of practicing “conversion therapy.”

Bill 77 was introduced during the Dr. Zucker controversy. A few months after the bill passed, Dr. Zucker was fired. Hundreds of experts from around the world signed an open letter to CAMH supporting Zucker after he lost his job, but he never got it back.

In 2018, CAMH paid Dr. Zucker $586,000 as part of a settlement and issued an apology. All the same, the episode with Dr. Zucker reflects a rapid cultural shift from seeing gender dysphoria as a mental health issue toward seeing it as revelatory of a true and innate inner identity, making the natural but “misaligned” body the problem to be dealt with.

Several provinces followed Ontario’s lead. Then, in 2021, the federal government criminalized any “practice, treatment, or service” intended to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual or their gender identity to cisgender or that seeks to reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour or non-cisgender gender expression. Note the ban only applies in one direction.

There is no other crime like this in Canadian law – attempting to persuade someone to do something that is entirely lawful to do. Changing your sexual conduct or your gender expression – and yes, even your sexual or gender identity – is perfectly legal. Inventing new kinds of crime, however, is just one symptom of the pervasive political pressure in Canada and its health professions to affirm “gender-affirming care” and silence its critics.

That said, many practices that fall under the umbrella term “conversion therapy” – especially such practices as aversion therapy, shock therapy, medications, or shaming rituals to attempt to change a person’s sexual attractions – should indeed be banned. That is because such practices do far more harm than good. This is also true of today’s “gender-affirming care.”

Alberta stands accused of politicizing a healthcare issue. But in reality, Premier Smith’s proposed policy is a corrective for an already highly-politicized field of medicine of self-selected specialists, whose skeptical colleagues have been silenced.

John Sikkema is Director of Law and Policy for ARPA Canada.

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