Edmonton

Conversion therapy ban group will learn fate by week's end

Members of a working group on banning conversion therapy in Alberta have been told they will learn on Friday whether their work can continue under the new United Conservative government.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro asked to give decision in writing to avoid confusion

NDP MLA Nicole Goehring is one of the co-chairs of a working group on banning conversion therapy in Alberta. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC )

Members of a working group asked to study a possible ban on conversion therapy in Alberta have been told they will learn on Friday whether their work can continue under the new United Conservative government.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro agreed to meet with them Tuesday afternoon after about a half of the group's dozen members showed up at the legislature for question period.

The minister agreed to give them an answer by the end of the week, said co-chair Nicole Goehring, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs.

"We had asked that it be done formally because there has been so much vagueness about this and lack of clarity," she said. "So he's committed to providing it to us by the end of the week."

Goehring said the group asked Shandro for continued support from government staff to help them complete their work. She said she is even open to having a government MLA appointed to sit on the working group in her place.

Shandro said in the legislature Tuesday that the government opposes conversion therapy.

Since 2015, the Alberta government has received 280 letters from people concerned about the practice in Alberta, she said.

Tuesday's meeting is the latest in a bizarre situation that started a week ago, when Shandro took issue with a media report, based on information from his own press secretary, which said the group had been disbanded.

However, Shandro has been reluctant to clarify what the group's future is under the UCP government.

Last week, Goehring and fellow co-chair Glynnis Lieb, the executive director of the Institute of Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, couldn't get a clear answer from Shandro.

His inability to provide an answer culminated in a media scrum where he gave the same scripted reply to reporters' questions: that he would get back to Lieb and Goehring "in due course."

In the legislature, Shandro and Government House Leader Jason Nixon have said when the NDP were in government they claimed the practice never occurred in Alberta — a contention the now-opposition party said is false.

Life and death matter 

Lieb said she wants the government to stop claiming conversion therapy isn't an issue in Alberta and that the working group was a political stunt by the NDP.

She said government needs to make a stronger stand against conversion therapy and clearly affirm there is nothing wrong with people regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

"(Otherwise) we're going to have a base of Albertans who believe that these folks, the folks we serve, are broken and we're going to continue to have people dying on us," she said.

"This is a matter of life and death. It's not just a casual group that the NDP threw together at the end to look good before the election."

The group 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.

The group was given five months to come up with recommendations for the minister of health on how to ban the discredited and psychologically damaging practice, which tries to change people's sexual orientation, gender identity or expression through counselling or religious teaching.