Conversion therapy is happening in Calgary and should be dealt with, say opponents
Alberta government statements about gay conversion therapy called 'irresponsible'
Opponents of conversion therapy say it continues to happen in Alberta and are calling on the provincial government to immediately restore a working group tasked with finding a way to ban the practice.
Conversion therapy tries to change people's sexual orientation, gender identity or expression through counselling, medication or religious practices. The controversial practice is opposed by the Canadian Psychological Association.
"There has to be a recognition that [gay conversion therapy] happens," said Pam Rocker in an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener.
Rocker serves as director of Affirming Connections in Calgary, a group that supports inclusive ministries and faith organizations. She was responding, in part, to comments made by government officials earlier this week.
As reported by Postmedia on Monday, Steve Buick, press secretary to the minister of health, Tyler Shandro, said conversion therapy "is not practised in Alberta and it cannot be, because no health professional regulator would permit it."
That statement was directly challenged by Rocker on CBC Radio.
"I meet somebody almost every week who has undergone this form of practice in Alberta," said Rocker on Wednesday.
In a press release, Friends of Medicare echoed the same message and asked the Alberta government to follow other provinces such as Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba in banning conversion therapy.
Working group's 'mandate ended'
A working group to look at ways to ban conversion therapy was appointed in February by former NDP health minister Sarah Hoffman. Members included an Anglican archdeacon, the executive director of the Edmonton Pride Centre, a theologian and a survivor of conversion therapy.
They had five months to come up with recommendations.
On Monday, Shandro wouldn't answer reporters' questions on whether the working group was scrapped.
In a statement later that day, his press secretary said the minister didn't take action to end the group but that its mandate ended with the recent election.
And in the legislature on Monday, Shandro said the UCP government did not support conversion therapy in Alberta.
"The focus for our government is that we, as a government, do not condone this practice in any form," said Shandro, according to the Hansard record.
Rocker's position is that it's not enough to oppose the practice if you aren't taking action to prohibit it.
"You can be against something, but if you deny that it exists in your own backyard … that's really irresponsible," said Rocker, who points out conversion therapy organizations often do not use the word "gay" or will say they aren't "seeking to change sexual orientation."
Rocker says they use references to believing in the "biblical viewpoint on homosexuality" or "traditional interpretation of marriage." She is calling for the working group to be reinstated immediately.
"It's really critical if they want to send the message to the LGBTQ community … that they understand it actually is happening and not deny it," said Rocker.
In a press release, Friends of Medicare pushed for similar actions, asking Shandro to objectively evaluate and follow the working group's recommendations, followed by tabling legislation to prohibit conversion therapy in Alberta.
On Twitter, Shandro said "if the NDP working group wish to continue to meet, that's up to them," but he did not elaborate on whether the group would continue to receive funding if that were to occur.
With respect, from the rest of Mr. Buick’s statement and my answers to your questions, it is obvious it was not disbanded by me or our government. And, third time, if the NDP working group wish to continue to meet, that’s up to them. <a href="https://t.co/bwkTavUaUB">https://t.co/bwkTavUaUB</a>—@shandro
The NDP co-chair of the working group said its future is still unclear, even after meeting with Shandro.
Nicole Goehring, MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs, co-chairs the committee with Glynnis Lieb, executive director of the Institute of Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta.
Both women met with Shandro on Wednesday morning about the working group, but Goehring said the minister still couldn't give her an answer about what he plans to do.
With files from the Calgary Eyeopener and Michelle Bellefontaine.