St. Albert to debate motion on conversion therapy ban

St. Albert city councillors will debate Monday whether to move ahead with a possible ban on conversion therapy.

‘I think municipalities have the opportunity right now to stand up and be leaders’

St. Albert city councillor Natalie Joly is bringing a motion to council Monday that will see councillors debate a possible conversion therapy ban. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

St. Albert city councillors will debate Monday  whether to move ahead with a possible ban on conversion therapy.

Councillors will consider a motion asking administration to draft bylaw amendments banning the discredited practice, and establish a $10,000 fine for anyone advertising or offering the service to minors. 

Conversion therapy tries to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity through counselling or religious teaching.    

The debate comes a month after Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the mandate of the working group studying a province-wide ban had lapsed with the end of the NDP government.

Opposition MLAs criticized the UCP's lack of commitment to the group and demanded clarity on the government's position going forward. 

Opposition MLAs criticized the UCP's lack of commitment to the group and demanded clarity on the government's position going forward. 

The news also prompted first-term St. Albert councillor Natalie Joly to bring the motion before city council, she told CBC News on Sunday. 

"I think municipalities have the opportunity right now to stand up and be leaders," she said.

Joly said conversion therapy doesn't exist in St. Albert to her knowledge. But the motion, she said, was an opportunity to "take a strong stand" against the practice.

"It's a value statement. It's really important to make sure that our kids know that we have their backs and we want to make sure that they stay safe."

Administration warns ban a 'slippery slope'

The motion directs city staff to draft a bylaw amendment blocking a business from obtaining a licence if it practices conversion therapy. 

Vancouver was the first city in Canada to ban businesses from offering conversion therapy in June 2018. 

In a background report, St. Albert city administration said it had "reservations" about a similar ban in St. Albert. 

The move "may start a slippery slope of banning businesses in St. Albert, which may be perceived as 'business-unfriendly'," according to the report. 

But LGBTQ advocate and professor Kristopher Wells pushed back on administration's conclusion, calling them "completely wrong." 

"A bylaw like this isn't going to say that St. Albert isn't open for business, it's going to do the opposite," said Wells, who serves as Canada research chair for the public understanding of sexual and gender minority youth.

Kristopher Wells plans to speak before St. Albert city council on Monday. The professor and well-known LGBTQ advocate is pushing local governments to pass conversion therapy bans in the absence of provincial action on the file. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

"It's going to welcome organizations and businesses that value diversity, that support innovation, that support people's unique sense of who we are," he said. 

Administration cautioned that the ban could also spawn court challenges. 

Wells, who plans to speak before council on Monday, added that the discussion shouldn't pit business against human rights. 

"If our citizens don't feel safe and don't feel supported, it doesn't matter what kind of businesses we have in our community," he said. 

A national conversion therapy conversation

In the background report, St. Albert administration said its best to leave bans and restrictions to the federal and provincial governments. 

But Wells said St. Albert would be "abdicating" its responsibilities if it waited for other orders of government to act. 

"No one else should be telling us what kind of communities we want to create at the end of the day," he said. 

The motion before St. Albert city council is being discussed amid a national conversation about banning conversion therapy.

The federal government rejected a public petition, started by an LGBTQ advocate from Lethbridge, to ban conversion therapy in February. In a written response, Justice Minister David Lametti said the criminal code may apply to situations involving conversion therapy.

Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault weighed in on the topic: 

In April, Edmonton city council asked administration to look at the available options to end the practice in the city and to report back in August. 

The B.C. Green Party tabled legislation in May that would ban the practice in British Columbia. If passed, British Columbia would join Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia among the provinces who have passed anti-conversion therapy legislation since 2015. 

If St. Albert councillors vote in favour of the motion on Monday, Joly said she hopes to vote on a draft bylaw by the end of 2019. 

"We're here now, and we're the ones that can make the difference," she said. 

About the Author

Jordan Omstead is a reporter with CBC Edmonton.


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