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Liberal justice minister ‘committed’ to criminalizing conversion therapy, says Edmonton MP

Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault speaks in Edmonton on Thursday. .
Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault speaks in Edmonton on Thursday. . Global News

Attendees at a government roundtable in Edmonton on Thursday were assured that Ottawa is still exploring the possibility of making conversion therapy a Criminal Code offence.

Edmonton Centre MP Randy Boissonnault, a special adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on LGBTQ2 Issues, confirmed to reporters that a pledge to explore making the practice a criminal offence came from Justice Minister David Lametti.

“We need all orders of government to step up and stamp out conversion therapy, full stop,” Boissonnault said.

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“[International Development and Women and Gender Equality] Minister [Maryam] Monsef and I were with Minister Lametti at the roundtable earlier today, and he is committed to seeing us criminalize these behaviours.”

READ MORE: Canada is exploring Criminal Code reforms to halt conversion therapy

Kristopher Wells, the Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth at MacEwan University, also attended the roundtable and told Global News that Lametti vowed to take another step.

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“The federal government also spoke about the possibility of revoking charitable status,” he said. “For example, churches [and] faith communities that continue to use or promote conversion therapy. I think all of these tools are really important.”

Both Boissonnault and Wells said they will be at Edmonton City Hall next Wednesday when a motion being put forward by Coun. Aaron Paquette to debate the issue is reviewed.

A report on the issue from the City of Edmonton’s administration was released earlier this month. It suggested that anything the city can do to ban conversion therapy would be largely symbolic.

“It would not necessarily be effective at preventing conversion therapy from happening entirely, but rather would prohibit the practice as a business activity,” the report reads. “As this practice is largely clandestine, enforcement may be challenging.”

The city is limited in using its licensing powers as tools for banning the practice because religious and spiritual organizations are not businesses. Psychologists and other mental health practitioners fall under provincial jurisdiction and private counsellors are soon to fall under the provincial umbrella as well.

READ MORE: Lethbridge advocate pushes for province-wide ban on conversion therapy

Even with changes to federal legislation, Boissonnault said there are still gaps, which is why he’ll urge city council to make changes.

“There are some things we can do as a federal government,” he said. “There are some gaps that we can’t close, so we need municipalities like Vancouver that stood up and banned this practice.

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“We need provinces to step up. So when a… (Premier Jason) Kenney government cancels the working group on conversion therapy, that’s a backward step. So we’re going to be heading headlong into this.

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

“You can pull somebody’s licence. You can pull somebody’s health-care licence if there’s a report in their licence. But the reason you criminalize conversion therapy is so that we stamp it out, in the basements, in the backrooms, in the places where it’s happening unlicensed, so that people know that if you’re trying to change somebody’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, you’re breaking the law and you should go to jail.”

Wells said he’ll present that same message to Edmonton city councillors.

“The ultimate goal is to ensure that conversion therapy is put into the Criminal Code of Canada, so no matter where you practise it, and if you are practising it, whether that’s in a basement or in a church, you’re going to go to jail because of this,” he said.

“It’s that harmful and it’s that dangerous.”

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St. Albert city council was recently believed to be the first municipality in Alberta to try to ban conversion therapy. Councillors in the jurisdiction also urged Ottawa to enact legislation on the issue.

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READ MORE: St. Albert City Council unanimously passes motion to crack down on conversion therapy

Watch below: (From July 2019) St. Albert city councillors voted on Monday to crack down on conversion therapy that aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Sarah Komadina reports.

City of St. Albert takes steps to crack down on conversion therapy
City of St. Albert takes steps to crack down on conversion therapy

Since then, other municipalities in Alberta have also expressed interest in finding a way to ban conversion therapy.

READ MORE: Spruce Grove City Council unanimously passes motion to explore conversion therapy ban

On Thursday, Boissonnault also announced $1 million in federal funding for three national LGBTQ2 organizations: Enchanté, the 2Spirits in Motion Foundation and the Canadian Rainbow Coalition for Refuge.

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