Calgary could join the growing list of cities banning the practice of conversion therapy with a motion being brought to council next week, which some municipal leaders also hope will spur the Alberta government into action.
Conversion therapy, which aims to change someone’s sexual orientation through counselling or religious teachings, is psychologically damaging and needs to be banned, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said. A vote at council is expected in February to ban the practice, with the city contemplating stripping business licences from anyone offering conversion therapy.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Nenshi told reporters on Friday. “It is a practice that does extraordinary harm, particularly to vulnerable young people, and it is time to ban it now.”
Along with Vancouver and a number of Canadian cities, four municipalities in Alberta have banned the practice, most recently Fort McMurray this week. Edmonton and two of the capital city’s suburbs approved prohibitions last year.
Religious leaders in Fort McMurray opposed the ban and warned that council might be infringing on their religious freedom by restricting what advice pastors could give their congregants during counselling.
Calgary councillor Gian-Carlo Carra said there’s no room for conversion therapy. “So-called therapists who think they can change peoples’ wiring by making them feel bad about themselves are wrong-headed and destructive and aren’t welcome in our community,” he said.
Mr. Carra is putting forward the motion with Mr. Nenshi and three other councillors. He conceded Calgary has been slow to pursue a ban compared with other cities. However, Calgary’s move could help prod the province into taking action, he said.
“It took us a while to get there in Calgary. There was a dream we could do something more substantive than symbolic, but after a deep dive we found that our colleagues in other municipalities got it as right as we can at our level,” Mr. Carra said.
Calgary is not yet contemplating following Edmonton’s example and levying fines on businesses that break the rules. According to Mr. Carra, other orders of government have the powers to make real change. “We expect this message to trickle to other orders of government who have more power to shield Albertans and Canadians from this,” he added.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has directed Justice Minister David Lametti to prepare changes to the Criminal Code to ban the practice across the country. Premier Jason Kenney’s government has been reluctant to follow with similar changes at the provincial level. Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer insisted in a note to his federal counterpart in August that the practice is already illegal in Alberta and provincial legislation is unnecessary.
Mr. Schweitzer was unavailable for comment on Friday, but his office said the Justice Minister is not contemplating provincial legislation. “The Criminal Code is under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Ottawa has indicated that they are planning legislation,” spokesman Jonah Mozeson said in a statement.
Glynnis Lieb, the executive director for the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, said conversion therapy is happening in the province, despite Mr. Schweitzer’s assurance that the practice is illegal.
“Conversion is not just one thing. Psychologists can’t bill for conversion therapy, but they can bill for depression and anxiety, and then tell their patients that their sexuality is the reason for their depression,” she said. During council debates in Edmonton, psychologists admitted to engaging in what Dr. Lieb considers conversion therapy.
“Conversion therapy is not illegal at all, we need to find a standard definition and make it illegal,” she added.
Soon after taking office last year, Mr. Kenney’s government disbanded a conversion therapy working group created by the previous NDP government. Dr. Lieb, who was the co-chair of the group, said they were working on finding a definition of the practice, something that doesn’t exist today.
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