'It's very courageous': St. Albert moves to ban conversion therapy

St. Albert is on its way to becoming the first city in Alberta to ban conversion therapy.

City could become first in Alberta to ban the practice

St. Albert city council passed a motion Monday to ban conversion therapy, which tries to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity through counselling, behaviour modification or medication. (Sam Martin/CBC)

St. Albert is on its way to becoming the first city in Alberta to ban conversion therapy.

The widely discredited practice tries to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity through counselling or religious teaching.    

City councillors passed a motion against it unanimously Monday afternoon — and got a round of applause when they did.

Coun. Natalie Joly, who brought the motion forward, said conversion therapy is not known to happen in the city just northwest of Edmonton, but council is making a statement.

"We're saying that this kind of practice is unwelcome in St. Albert," she said.

City staff can now begin drafting amendments to land-use and business licensing bylaws to effectively ban the practice.

The amendments will block businesses from obtaining a licence if they perform conversion therapy. People caught advertising or offering those services to minors could also be fined $10,000.

In a background report, city administration noted the business licencing provisions could cause legal challenges. Despite that, all six councillors and the mayor voted in favour of Joly's motion.

Coun. Natalie Joly says council wanted to make a statement about their desire to keep the LGBTQ2S community safe. (Sam Martin/CBC)

"If it means that one kid feels safe, then that risk is absolutely worth it," she said.

The city has flown the Pride flag and adorned itself with rainbow crosswalks in an effort to make LGBTQ2S community members feel welcome. Councillors said the bylaw, which is expected to be ready for review by the end of the year, is a concrete step toward creating a more inclusive community.

"We need to keep making sure that we're making youth safe, and it doesn't stop with one particular action," Joly said.

In June 2018, Vancouver became the first city in Canada to ban businesses from offering conversion therapy services. Councils in Edmonton and the nearby community of Sherwood Park also have plans to explore banning the practice.

'I'm not broken'

Kevin Schultz of Edmonton spent years in conversion therapy.

"The bottom-line message that they gave was that we were broken. That because of our sexuality, we were broken people before God. They taught us that nobody is born gay," Schultz said.

"It took me a long time to realize I'm not broken."

Conversion therapy groups still exist in Alberta, he said, though it's hard to tell how many, as they often change names and their messaging is ambiguous.

Kevin Schultz says conversion therapy groups exist in Alberta, but it's hard to say how many. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault spoke to council Monday about the significance of banning conversion therapy, which he said happens underground.

"It's not going to be on the front page of the news tomorrow or on Facebook, but it does happen," said Boissonnault, who is an advisor to the prime minister on LGBTQ2S issues.

"Making sure that we have police and bylaw officers that are able to enforce these bylaws is really important."

All levels of government 'need to work together'

Schultz hopes to see government action against conversion therapy move up from the municipal level.

"We have to start somewhere, so I'm very thankful for St. Albert stepping in and saying 'this is wrong, this needs to stop' and start the ball rolling," he said.

While St. Albert's ban is a municipal action, council wants to see conversion therapy criminalized federally.

"If you have three levels of government pushing for the same, ultimate result, you're going to get way more success," said St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron.

The provincial and federal governments can also make moves against conversion therapy, Boissonnault said.

"We need to work together as federal, provincial and municipal governments to stamp out the practice," he said. "It's very courageous what the city council here in St. Albert and Coun. Joly have put on the table."

About the Author

Anna McMillan


Anna McMillan is a reporter at CBC Edmonton. You can reach her at anna.mcmillan@cbc.ca

With files from Jordan Omstead and Raffy Boudjikanian