Edmonton

Conversion therapy group's mandate lapsed with end of NDP government, minister says

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro says the mandate of a working group tasked with studying a possible ban on conversion therapy in Alberta lapsed with the end of the NDP government in April.

'He's, in essence, cancelling the working group,' says committee co-chair

Protesters urged the government to ban conversion therapy during a rally at the Alberta legislature on Thursday. (Trevor Wilson/CBC )

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro says the mandate of a working group tasked with studying a possible ban on conversion therapy in Alberta had lapsed with the end of the NDP government in April. 

"The group's informal nature and lack of official status means that whatever mandate it had effectively lapsed with the change of government," Shandro said in a letter sent late Friday afternoon to Nicole Goehring, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs.

The conversion therapy working group was appointed in February by the previous NDP government with a mandate to come up with recommendations 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.

"He's, in essence, cancelling the working group," Goehring said. "He claimed in the email that it had lapsed at the time of the election which is inaccurate.  

"He's stopping it. He's preventing the working group from going ahead by not supporting it."

The group was given five months to present a report to the health minister. 

Nearly two weeks ago, Shandro took issue with a media report, based on information from his own press secretary, which said the group had been disbanded. But he was reluctant to clarify what the group's future is under the UCP government.

Earlier this week, about a half dozen members showed up at the legislature so Shandro agreed to meet with them. He promised to give them an answer on their future by the end of the week.

Dozens attended a rally on Thursday on the steps of the Alberta Legislature urging the government to ban conversion therapy treatment. 1:32

The letter does not address a request by co-chairs Goehring and Glynnis Lieb, the executive director of the Institute of Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, for the support of ministry staff, space for meetings and travel costs of some out-of-town members.

While Shandro said he welcomed any recommendations or input from the group, Goehring doesn't think he'll take it seriously, since he sees the group as informal.

"This is not what we had asked for," Goehring said about letter. "He is still continuing to be vague, unclear and just not committing to the fact that he is stopping the working group from proceeding."

Earlier this week, about a half dozen members showed up at the legislature so Shandro agreed to meet with them. He promised to give them an answer on their future by the end of the week.

Goehring says Shandro's letter lacks the clarity they were demanding.

"He is still continuing to be vague, unclear and just not committing to the fact that he is stopping the working group from proceeding," she said.

Despite this setback, Goehring said the group will continue to meet because she feels the work is too important to abandon.

Text of the letter from Health Minister Tyler Shandro:

Dear Ms. Goehring:

I am writing to thank you for your service on the conversion therapy working group and for your ongoing commitment to the welfare of vulnerable Albertans, especially the LGBTQ community.

I appreciated the opportunity to meet with members of the working group on two occasions, most recently on June 4, 2019. The deep concern of the group's members was obvious, and I want to emphasize that I share that concern. I also want to reiterate the fact that our government opposes the coercive practice of conversion therapy, and are especially concerned that children are raised in a safe, caring, and loving environment.

As you know, the working group was an informal body named by the former NDP Minister to meet over a period of five months and then provide advice. While the group's informal nature and lack of official status means that whatever mandate it had effectively lapsed with the change of government, I have nevertheless invited you to submit your advice to me, including any recommendations or other input that you want to bring forward at the end of the five-month period.

I hope we would all agree that the issue is not the working group itself, but the welfare of people struggling with issues around their sexual and gender identity. If you want to recommend measures that you believe will stop the practice of conversion therapy in Alberta, I can assure you that I will give them full consideration, bearing in mind that conversion therapy already is not a recognized health service and cannot be provided by any regulated health professional in Alberta.

As I have stated publicly, I urge any Albertan with concerns that conversion therapy is occurring in violation of existing regulatory prohibitions to bring those forward to the proper authority, e.g., a school board, Children's Services, College of Physicians and Surgeons or other professional regulator, or myself or any other member of our government.

Thank you once again, and I look forward to your advice.

Sincerely,

Tyler Shandro

Minister of Health