Calgary council unanimously votes to draft bylaw banning LGBT conversion therapy
'This practice is horrific and sad,' says Coun. Evan Woolley
Calgary city council has unanimously voted to support a conversion therapy ban, with many councillors sharing their personal feelings Monday on the controversial practice.
To show support for the ban, dozens of Calgarians turned out, wearing their best and brightest rainbow outfits. Supporters nearly filled council chambers as a small group of anti-ban demonstrators protested outside.
The notice of motion was brought forward to council by Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley, with Mayor Naheed Nenshi and councillors Druh Farrell, Gian-Carlo Carra, Jyoti Gondek and Peter Demong.
Conversion therapy is a long-discredited practice that attempts to change a person's sexual orientation to heterosexual, or gender identity to cisgender, through counselling, behaviour modification or religious coaching. Cisgender means an individual identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth.
The World Health Organization and the Canadian Physiological Association oppose the practice, saying it poses a "severe threat to the health and human rights of the affected persons." The College of Alberta Psychologists has banned the practice.
"This practice is horrific and sad," said Woolley, who has two mothers.
Coun. Jeromy Farkas tried to hold back tears when sharing his own experience as coming out bisexual. Coun. Sean Chu said it was "barbaric" for anyone to be forced into such therapy.
"This is something we need to fight for," said Gondek. "Let's just get this done."
The formal motion says city council would advocate to the province to use "tools within their jurisdiction to end the practice of conversion therapy," and to have administration draft a bylaw addressing the practice in Calgary. Council would then consider and vote on that bylaw later this spring, formalizing a ban.
Farrell said new bylaws will allow council to go beyond a symbolic ban.
"They demonstrate publicly what is socially unacceptable," she said.
Pam Rocker, director of Affirming Connections, helped organize the rally in support of the proposed Calgary ban. She wore one of the rainbow scarves passed out by Hillhurst United Church volunteers.
"We fully support a strict ban on conversion therapy and really enforceable bylaws to make sure that those who continue to try to do those practices actually have consequences for the harm that they're doing to so many of us in the community right here in the city of Calgary," Rocker said.
Businesses can be fined
The public conversation over the past month, she said, has increased awareness of the issue in Calgary. Across Canada, other governments have passed motions to ban the practice, including Nova Scotia, Vancouver, St. Albert and Edmonton, which has implemented a $10,000 fine for any business practising conversion therapy.
"I've seen more awareness of folks knowing that modern conversion therapy definitely still exists, and we know of many organizations who actually run out of Calgary who are active across Canada," Rocker said.
The bylaw, which Calgary administrators now must draft, would make it impossible to register a business that performs conversion therapy. Any business found guilty of advertising or offering the practice would be fined, something demonstrator Linda Craig supports.
"To convert folks, it's not right, it's not kind, it's not loving. So we need to make sure that folks can just be themselves," Craig said. "Absolutely if we need help, anybody needs help, then we can get help, but not to convert people, not to change how people are, who people are."
Craig said municipal governments are well placed to tackle this with practical steps.
Graeme Lauber, who says he's a gay man living by traditional Biblical beliefs, said anti-ban demonstrators were concerned the wording of the bylaw could "infringe on the rights for choice and for religious and conscience freedoms for certain Christians in Calgary.
"The most important thing to say is no one here is advocating for conversion therapy. Everybody understands that there's a legacy of abuse," Lauber said.
The city's legal department noted that any potential bylaw would apply to businesses, that is, those who can charge for the practice. Going beyond that, the department has said, carries the risk of being ruled unconstitutional.
Woolley said he would like the bylaw to have "as much teeth as we can."
The exact bylaws and fines would be determined later at committee.
With files from Scott Dippel, Sarah Reiger