Email from Alberta health minister offers mixed message on conversion therapy group’s status

Tyler Shandro, Minister of Health is sworn into office, in Edmonton on Tuesday April 30, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Global News has obtained an email from the province’s health minister that raises questions about how the work of a group tasked with brainstorming ideas for banning the controversial practice of conversion therapy in Alberta will continue.

“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,” reads an email sent from Health Minister Tyler Shandro to the working group late Friday afternoon. “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.”

A page on the Alberta government’s website says conversion therapy “can include any treatment, counselling or behaviour modification that aims to change someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.”

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READ MORE: Banning conversion therapy: Alberta creates working group to make recommendations

WATCH BELOW: (From September 2018) Alberta LGBTQ2 advocates are elated following news the provincial government could end conversion therapy. 

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LGBTQ+ advocates cheer NDP bill banning conversion therapy

The practice has been roundly condemned as harmful by LGBTQ2 advocates. On Thursday, a rally was held at the Alberta legislature that saw people in attendance call on the the province’s UCP government to allow the conversion therapy group to continue its work. Meanwhile, in Alberta’s largest city, Calgary Pride is calling on citizens to write to their ward councillor in support of a ban on the practice there.

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READ MORE: Calgary Pride calls for city ban on conversion therapy as Albertans rally outside legislature

WATCH BELOW: (From June 6, 2019) Albertans raise their voices about the controversial practice known as conversion therapy.

Click to play video: 'Calgary Pride calls for city ban on conversion therapy'
Calgary Pride calls for city ban on conversion therapy

In a separate email obtained by Global News on Friday, the working group’s co-chair, NDP MLA Nicole Goehring, told other working group members that while Shandro “does not directly state this… it is clear that his ministry will not be supporting the working group going forward.”

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The co-chair said she has already discussed Shandro’s email with other group members and that the group plans to continue meeting.

“We will continue to gather information as per our mandate and complete a report with recommendations,” Goehring said. “The details of how this will progress are not yet determined, however, we are committed to ensuring that this important work continues.”

READ MORE: B.C. Greens introduce legislation to ban conversion therapy for minors

Shandro said he met with members of the working group on a pair of occasions, most recently on Tuesday.

“The deep concern of the group’s members was obvious, and I want to emphasize that I share that concern,” Shandro’s said in Friday’s email. “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.

“The issue is not the working group itself, but the welfare of people struggling with issues around their sexual and gender identity,” the email goes on to say. “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.”

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The conversion therapy working group was created in February.

–With files from Global News’ Cami Kepke

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