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Edmonton city council moves to ban conversion therapy

Click to play video 'Debate at Edmonton City Hall over how to address conversion therapy' Debate at Edmonton City Hall over how to address conversion therapy
WATCH: (Aug. 21, 2019) A debate was held at Edmonton City Hall on Wednesday over how to address the practice of conversion therapy.

Edmonton city councillors moved to ban conversion therapy in a unanimous vote Tuesday.

Dr. Kristopher Wells is the Canada Research Chair for Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth at McEwan University. While speaking on 630 CHED Afternoons, Wells told host J’lyn Nye this bylaw is a “major accomplishment.

“It makes our community a safer, much more inclusive place to be,” Wells said. “To really end the practice of conversion therapy once and for all, no matter who does it or where it occurs, it’ll be banned in the city of Edmonton.”

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Conversion therapy is the practice of counselling people in an attempt to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. According to Wells, it is a “discredited, dangerous practice [that] suggests you can fix or cure a person’s sexual orientation.”

Over the years, treatment has ranged from electric shock to chemical castration or even lobotomies. Modern tactics might include aversion therapy or talk therapy.

READ MORE: Spruce Grove council to debate possible conversion therapy ban

In certain faith or cultural communities, “there’s still this strong anti-LGBTQ belief that it’s a sin or that the other person’s disordered,” Wells said, adding, “to gain any acceptance in their faith community [they] have to change.”

“And so, unfortunately, we know that this is still happening and it’s usually young people or young adults that are the most frequent targets.”

LISTEN BELOW: Dr. Kristopher Wells joins 630 CHED Afternoons

Other local municipalities have also moved to ban the practice. St. Albert city council unanimously moved to do so in July, making the city the first Alberta municipality to start making moves to do so.

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In October, Spruce Grove council voted 6-1 to move toward banning the practice.

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

Edmonton’s bylaw will operate on a complaints basis, allowing people who know or suspect someone is performing conversion therapy to report that to the city.

“No one can really consent in something that’s proven not to work,” Wells said. “There’s there’s no scientific basis or validity behind this notion of conversion therapy.”

The motion was first brought forward at Edmonton council in August.

Edmonton MLA Janice Irwin is the only openly gay MLA in Alberta and was a member of group set up by the former NDP government to look at conversion therapy. She said she gives “kudos” to the City of Edmonton for banning the therapy, but wants to see more leadership from the provincial government as well.

“Our NDP government started to make some progress on the conversion therapy working group and it was cancelled abruptly by the UCP government. And so we’ve continued to do some of that work,” she said.

“I’m hoping from this that the UCP and Jason Kenney see the importance of this, to see that other municipalities or other jurisdictions are on board.”

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LISTEN BELOW: Janis Irwin joins 630 CHED Afternoons

630 CHED reached out to the UCP government to ask for a response to Irwin’s comments. The press secretary for the justice minister and solicitor general forwarded two letters: one previously sent to Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer in November and a letter sent to the federal minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, the minister of health and Randy Boissonnault, special adviser to the prime minister on LGBTQ2 issues in April.

In both letters, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer states that the government of Alberta shares both Veer and the federal government’s concern for “vulnerable populations, including LGBTQ2+ youth.”

“As members of this government have reiterated many times, the government of Albertans (sic) has been clear that we oppose and condemn conversion therapy,” Schweitzer wrote in the letter to Veer.

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Schweitzer went on to say that even though Alberta does not have specific legislation directed toward banning the practice of conversion therapy, Alberta “does support other provinces who have joined us in speaking out against conversion therapy.”

He also stated the provincial government “welcomes the opportunity to examine any proposed changes to the Criminal Code put forward by the federal government to criminalize conversion therapy.”

Introducing changes to the Criminal Code would fall under federal jurisdiction.