Saskatoon city councillors move conversion therapy ban forward

On Monday, city councillors in Saskatoon voted in favour of bring forward a bylaw that would ban city businesses from practicing conversion therapy.

Bylaw would ban controversial practice from Saskatoon

Saskatoon city councillors will be discussing a ban on conversion therapy at a committee meeting on Monday. (miroslav110 / Shutterstock )

On Monday, city councillors in Saskatoon voted in favour of bring forward a bylaw that would ban city businesses from practicing conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy aims to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity through counseling or behaviour modification by using aggressive or coercive tactics. Many cities across the country, including Vancouver, Edmonton and Lethbridge have already banned the practice.

The bylaw will now be presented at a future city council meeting for an official vote.

The federal government is currently in the process of bringing a nationwide ban on conversion therapy, but it's not clear when that will occur.

Councillor Darren Hill said he was not interested in waiting for that process.

"Right now, there's nothing to stop this from happening to youth within the city of Saskatoon," he said.

"This is the only thing until the federal government gets their law in place. And I can't wait until that happens." 

However, two councillors, including Coun. Randy Donauer, opposed the ban. Donauer was concerned that the bylaw overstepped the city's authority and the issue should be handled by other governments.

"I hear those who have suffered and have concerns about abuse, and I believe that there needs to be a solution for that," said Donauer.

"But I don't think the city is the solution for everybody's issue. The Constitution lays out authority within Canada, and there are certain things that the federal government and the provincial government are responsible for and we're responsible for running a city."

Donauer was also concerned about the bylaw running into issues with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, especially where religious rights are concerned. 

"I think anytime the City of Saskatoon struggles with trying to write something that tippy-toes to fit within the charter, we are in danger and we shouldn't be doing that," he said.

"In the past, we have not done that. Anytime we've gotten anywhere near charter issues, whether it was panhandling or adult services or cannabis, we've avoided it and stayed away from it."

Potentially harmful

One transgender person who advocated for the ban, Charlie Klassen, said the effects of conversion therapy can be very harmful to people.

"It's so incredibly damaging," said Klassen.

"You're essentially telling someone that this part of themselves is wrong."

Charlie Klassen wants Saskatoon to ban conversion therapy, and is hopeful the ban will move forward. (Submitted by Charlie Klassen)

Klassen, who spoke in favour of the ban at council last year, is hopeful the ban will be brought into the city. Klassen said the therapy used to be practiced in large group settings, but is now usually done on a one-on-one basis.

"It's something that takes place a lot behind closed doors now," they said. 

"So to enforce it, you have to have people saying, 'Hey, this is happening.'"

The draft bylaw would give individuals a fine not exceeding $10,000 — and up to $25,000 for corporations — with more fines compounding for repeat offenders.

With files from Saskatoon Morning