Conversion therapy is now officially banned in Calgary

Conversion therapy is now illegal in Calgary.

Businesses that break the ban face fines up to $10,000

A banner at the 2019 Calgary Pride Parade calls for a ban on conversion therapy. On Monday, city council voted in favour of a bylaw banning the practice. (Michaela Neuman Photography)

Conversion therapy is now illegal in Calgary.

Calgary city council voted 14-1 Monday afternoon to approve a bylaw that bans the practice. Businesses that break the bylaw by offering the practice for a fee will face fines up to $10,000.

"There are forces of anger and hatred that our gender and sexually diverse brothers and sisters have to deal with every single day. Sometimes in this job, sometimes we get to just do what's right," Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.

Coun. Evan Woolley, who initially brought forward the motion, asked councillors to carefully consider before the vote what side of history they'd like to be on.

Coun. Joe Magliocca supported the first reading of the bylaw, but voted against the second and third readings.

Conversion therapy aims through counselling or religious teaching to change an individual's sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender, which means a person who identifies with the sex assigned to them at birth. The practice is discredited by most major expert bodies as psychologically damaging.

Five provinces and eight other Alberta municipalities have taken steps to ban the practice, and a federal ban is also in the works.

Janis Irwin, the Opposition critic for women and LGBTQ2S+ issues, called on the province to also ban the practice following Calgary's decision.

"Now that many Alberta municipalities have stepped up to show leadership, and Ottawa has taken action, too, it's time for Jason Kenney and the UCP to do the same. If not, I ask them, what are they waiting for?" she said in an emailed statement.

Earlier in May, more than 100 calls and 1,500 written submissions were received by a council committee, with many people sharing deeply personal perspectives on the bylaw.

Survivors of conversion therapy called in to say the so-called therapists who had practiced on them were still offering the service in Calgary. Some detractors called in from as far away as Ontario to ask council not to support the ban, citing concerns it could impact religious freedoms. 

However, dozens of faith leaders wrote to council in support of the bylaw, disputing those concerns.

"This is not about someone seeking out advice, someone questioning their identity. This is not about talking to your pastor," Nenshi said.

"What this is about is banning the coercive, inhumane practice of forcing you to be someone you are not."

Coun. Jeromy Farkas shared his experience of coming out as bisexual and said he received emails suggesting he is unfit for office because he supports the ban.

"Today, I am so fortunate to be in a position where I am loved, accepted and able to contribute in a meaningful way.… I think [the bylaw] is meaningful, and I think it is worth sending a signal about the kind of city we are and the kind of city we want to be," he said before the vote.

'Exhausting and heartbreaking': one man's fight against conversion therapy

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Victor Szymanski looked like he had everything. But starting the summer after Grade 11, he was coerced into 'reparative therapy' sessions aimed at 'curing' his homosexuality. Now he's pushing for legislation that 'rightfully addresses conversion therapy as a form of emotional and psychological abuse.' 5:41

Following the first reading of the bylaw, council debated two amendments that would have seen a stricter definition for conversion therapy or that would allow for conversion therapy if a client provided informed consent — changes that Nenshi said would gut the bylaw's effectiveness.

Those amendments failed, with just councillors Magliocca and Sean Chu voting in favour.

A third amendment was set to be brought forward Monday afternoon, but Chu called it down after discussion with his colleagues, saying his intention wasn't to create a loophole in the bylaw.

"I have always supported the LGBTQ+ community and one of my best friends is also from that community," he said.

It's estimated as many as 47,000 LGBT Canadians have undergone a form of conversion therapy, according to a Community Based Research Centre study, which was presented to committee earlier this month.

It's opposed by the Canadian Psychological Association and the World Health Organization, which has stated conversion therapy poses a "severe threat to the health and human rights of the affected persons."

"People who delivered these so-called services perpetuated and profited off self-hatred and pain. No more, not in our city," said Shone Thistle, board president of Calary Pride, in an emailed statement. 

The bylaw does not ban practices or therapies relating to a person's gender transition or to a non-judgmental exploration and acceptance of their identity or development.

With files from Scott Dippel