CAMH clinic on College Street. Tosin Maiyegun/THE VARSITY

Editor’s Note – February 11, 2016: This material is subject to legal complaint by Kenneth J. Zucker. This article was published based on the content of an external review, the results of which were published by The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) on December 15, 2015. That report has since been removed from CAMH’s website and replaced with an executive summary. 

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is winding down services at their Child Youth and Family (CYF) Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) for children and youth.

Reparative therapy, or conversion therapy, is an outdated practice that aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It is illegal to perform conversion therapy on children in Ontario.

Dr. Kwame McKenzie, a medical director at CAMH and professor of psychiatry at U of T, said that the review was not intended to investigate whether or not conversion therapy was taking place. “Our clinicians have always said, and still say that they do not practice reparative therapy. The review made it clear that it could not say that reparative therapy was taking place. But it could not say that it was not. Our position is that this should not be an issue,” he said, adding that he was satisfied with the way in which the investigation was conducted.

CAMH released a report on the review’s findings on December 15, 2015. The report made mention of several complaints submitted to Dr. Kenneth Zucker, the former functional clinical and research team leader at the CYF GIC.

Marissa Hetherington, a former patient at the GIC, said that she was happy to hear the clinic was winding down. “As a former patient, it was…really not a positive experience, and my opinion of it has only degraded over time,” she said.

Hetherington said that she was repeatedly deadnamed — referred to by the name given to her at birth instead of her chosen name — and that the views and principles held by the clinic caused her to break down crying during her interviews.

“[The] basic ideology practised was one completely lacking in empathy. It was, at best, only interested in potential research, and if you’re to ask me, it came from a thoroughly bigoted view that posited that just by existing as who I am, I was sick,” Hetherington said.

Zucker worked at the clinic for 30 years and is also a psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto. After the release of the report, Zucker was released from his position at CAMH.

Hetherington, who interacted with Zucker during her time at the clinic, said that sacking Zucker was the step towards any possible reconciliation, if CAMH is to continue services.

When asked what Zucker’s termination at CAMH meant for his position at U of T, Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T’s director of news and media relations, said that the university does not comment on personnel matters.

“The diversity of our students, faculty and staff is a mark of quality and a source of strength. The University respects and supports all of its faculty, staff and students, including those in the transgender community. Specifically, we offer a range of services through the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office,” said Blackburn-Evans.

Jades Swadron, an organizer with the Trans Inclusivity Project at U of T, said that Zucker should have no place teaching at a university. “How can an institution where critical thinking is purported to be taught wash [its] hands of blame in situations like this so easily without looking into its impact?” she asked. “The university is playing dumb, while mistreating trans students in many ways.”

CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto as a teaching hospital. According to Blackburn-Evans, the institutions support each other’s research.

The report states that the clinic operates in isolation from CAMH and its resources, such as legal and public relations, the University of Toronto Division of Child & Youth Mental Health Services, as well as community agencies such as schools and child/youth organizations. Additionally, there were no opportunities for clients, family, or stakeholders to contribute to the direction or services of the clinic.

The report did not recommend that the current approach be sustained, acknowledging, “The GIC and CAMH in general, are not seen as a “safe space” for gender questioning & transgender populations.”

McKenzie said that he was pleased with the approach that the clinic took. “What was different in January 2015 was a group of community partners, including Rainbow Health Ontario, came forward in an organized way and with evidence. We met with them, we examined their evidence and we decided to have an external review. I’m proud of the way we approached this. The community came to us, we listened and then we did due diligence by looking to the international literature and taking evidence before acting,” he said.

According to McKenzie, CAMH hopes to improve and rejuvenate its approach. “Our overall interest and motivation is to determine the best approach for kids with gender identity issues, and it’s important that this process continues to be open and collaborative. Our next step is to consult with our community partners and have their input on to see what role CAMH can play to best serve these young people,” he concluded.

Hetherington said that she would like to see CAMH’s services closed down entirely. “[Including] a gender identity clinic at an organization for mental health is already making some highly questionable connections, and the way it has been cast as a central authority allows for abuse to occur with little oversight,” she said, adding that a move to an informed consent model with general practitioners rather than a centralised gatekeeping authority would be the only method that would provide appropriate services to clients.

“The difference between my experiences with CAMH and the informed consent model, which ended up being my path to actually getting a prescription for [hormone replacement therapy], was impressive,” Hetherington said.

“I spent somewhere close to ten months or a year waiting between my referral to CAMH and my first appointment, whereas after searching out a general practitioner that practised informed consent, I managed to start HRT a month after my first appointment, with only a two week waiting time between looking for a doctor and that appointment.”

Correction (Monday, January 11th): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that CAMH is winding down services at their Child Youth and Family Gender Identity Clinic for children and youth after an internal review reported that the clinic was practicing reparative therapy. In fact, the review, which was conducted by external experts, did not find that any clinician was practicing reparative therapy.

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