The former head of a child and youth gender identity clinic who was accused of practising conversion therapy at Canada’s largest mental health centre, said the clinic’s approach “to reduce a child’s gender dysphoria” included encouraging patients to be comfortable with their biological sex and assigned gender at birth. Dr. Kenneth Zucker is seen in an October 8, 2018, handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Kenneth Zucker, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Former CAMH psychologist defends his work at youth gender identity clinic

Dr. Kenneth Zucker defended himself against criticisms of the clinic at the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

The former head of a youth gender identity clinic at Canada’s largest mental health centre is defending the work he performed at the now-shuttered facility, including encouraging patients to be comfortable with their biological sex and assigned gender at birth.

Dr. Kenneth Zucker defended himself against criticisms of the clinic at the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, which was the subject of an external review that led to his dismissal in 2015.

The review was sparked by assertions that the clinic, which Zucker led for some 35 years, was practising a form of conversion therapy on transgender youth. The controversial practice, which has been banned in a handful of Canadian provinces, essentially works to forcibly change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

RELATED: Vancouver’s ‘conversion therapy’ ban more than symbolic: experts

Zucker said the clinic actively tried to encourage young patients to accept their biological sex in a bid to “reduce a child’s gender dysphoria,” but rejected the notion that this approach amounted to conversion therapy.

“The term has been inappropriately expropriated from the way the term was used to critique clinicians who were treating mainly adult homosexual men who didn’t want to be gay — and it was also used coercively in some instances,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“So I object strenuously to using that term when we’re talking about young children who have gender dysphoria.”

The independent reviewers said in their report that they were unable to ascertain whether the clinic was in fact practising conversion therapy.

Reviewers did find, however, that the clinic focused on intensive assessment and treatment in lieu of more modern approaches. It said today’s best practices favour watchful waiting, as well as educating and supporting parents to accept a child’s gender expression.

After the review was published, CAMH announced it was “winding down” the clinic’s services. Zucker said he was “fired” about an hour before the review was made public.

Years later, the Centre acknowledged errors in its handling of the review.

In a settlement announced last week, CAMH apologized to Zucker and agreed to pay him more than half a million dollars. The centre acknowledged that the external review erroneously described his interactions with patients and noted that the report was made public without his review or comment.

Conversion therapy, sometimes called reparative therapy, has been used by some practitioners to encourage heterosexuality and to discourage those who identify as transgender from embracing the gender they identify with.

Zucker said the method he practised at the clinic attempted to make a child feel comfortable with their sex and gender identity assigned at birth. It included urging the child to form “stronger friendships with same-sex peers” and “play therapy, where one can understand better a child’s internal world and why they might feel that it’s better to be of the other gender,” he said.

RELATED: Battle over sex education in B.C. sparks #SOGIis4Me campaign

Zucker contested the idea that there is a “best practice” approach to treating kids with gender dysphoria, asserting there is limited data and research on the topic — specifically on whether the dysphoria will persist into adolescence and adulthood.

Several major international medical and human rights bodies, including an arm of the World Health Organization, have said there is considerable evidence to support the notion that conversion therapy is harmful.

Organizations that roundly denounce the practice, such as the Canadian Psychological Association, have decried conversion therapy as an unethical approach that can inflict long-term damage on those who go through it.

“Scientific research does not support the efficacy of conversion or reparative therapy,” the association said in its 2015 policy statement on the issue. “(It) can result in negative outcomes such as distress, anxiety, depression, negative self-image, a feeling of personal failure, difficulty sustaining relationships, and sexual dysfunction. There is no evidence that the negative effects of conversion or reparative therapy counterbalance any distress caused by the social stigma and prejudice these individuals may experience.”

Canada’s approach to conversion therapy has been piecemeal, with laws and regulations varying widely by jurisdiction.

Ontario’s 2015 law, for instance, slapped an outright ban on doctors performing such treatments on those under 18 and struck it from the list of insurable services covered for adults.

Nova Scotia’s recently tabled bill, meanwhile, allows a provision for “mature minors” between 16 and 18 to consent to conversion therapy. Manitoba is the only other province to have explicit legislation dealing with the issue.

Zucker said that while he tried to encourage children to accept their birth sex, he supports people making the transition to the gender they identify with if they continue to experience gender dysphoria into adolescence.

He said he believes it’s best for a patient to start medical treatments, such as hormonal treatments and sex-reassignment surgery, if gender dysphoria continues past childhood.

“I’m supportive, when they’re older, of gender-confirming surgery,” he said.

Zucker said the clinic also used other approaches with young patients — aged two to 12 years old — experiencing gender dysphoria, including watchful waiting and a “social transition” where children changed their names and pronouns.

“There wasn’t a one-size-fits-all policy,” said Zucker. “I’ve always accepted where parents are at and what’s in the best interest of their child.”

Alanna Rizza and Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Second Stage Players present laughter and love in We Are Family

Get your tickets early to see the Evergreen Club’s Second Stage Players’… Continue reading

Verdict gives murder victims’ parents sense of closure

A guilty verdict delivered earlier this week was “like a weight lifted off the chest.”

Thieves break into mailboxes overnight in Courtenay, Comox

Thieves in Comox were busy overnight on March 17, breaking into more… Continue reading

Man convicted of Courtenay couple’s murder

Michael Philip Simard, 45, was charged with two counts of second-degree murder.

‘Full worm super moon’ to illuminate B.C. skies on first day of spring

Spring has sprung, a moon named in honour of thawing soil marks final super moon until 2020

Comox Valley Hospice Society finds new Ocean Front home

Comox Valley Hospice Society (CVHS) recently announced plans to construct a new… Continue reading

Bodies of two missing teens recovered in reservoir along Kootenay river

Volkswagen Beetle drove off the road down a steep embankment and into the Pend d’Oreille River Sunday

Extensive training makes Island man powerlifter a national champ

Age no barrier to bouncing back from nagging back injuries in the past

40 records broken across B.C. as hot streak continues

Abbotsford hottest spot in Canada on Tuesday

B.C. wildfire prevention budget bulked up as dry spring unfolds

Night vision goggles tested for early detection effort

Vancouver driver ticketed twice within 6 minutes for same offence

The man was written up by two different officers for using an electronic device

B.C. teacher reprimanded after incident with Grade 11 student in school gym

Gregory Norman Brock was teaching at a high school in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District

B.C. man ‘parks’ horse during liquor store pit stop

As long as animal wasn’t jaywalking, no problem, says Parksville official

Most Read