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Could Calgary ban conversion therapy?

Calgary city councillors lobby for ban on conversion therapy
WATCH: Mayor Naheed Nenshi and four Calgary city councillors want the city to ban conversion therapy. As Jill Croteau reports, survivors of the controversial so-called treatment say it's long overdue.

Calgary’s mayor and four city councillors will be asking for a ban on conversion therapy at a city council meeting next week.

Conversion therapy is the practice of counselling people in an attempt to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. 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: Edmonton city council moves to ban conversion therapy

On Tuesday, a notice of motion will be brought forward at a meeting of the priorities and finance committee, asking city administrators to draft a bylaw prohibiting the practice, including a fine for those or advertise or offer conversion therapy services within Calgary.

The notice of motion is from Ward 3 Councillor Jyoti Gondek, Ward 7 Councillor Druh Farrell, Ward 8 Councillor Evan Woolley, Ward 9 Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra and Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

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“I was raised in a loving household by two women,” Woolley explained in a Friday news release. “Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, it was impossible for them to be open about who they were, and is still the case for many of our citizens today.

“I want to raise my child in a city that is welcoming of all people regardless of who they love.”

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Gondek, meanwhile, said councillors have a responsibility to send a message that conversion therapy has no place in Calgary.

“In the modern age, where educated and enlightened societies understand that one’s identity is one’s own business, we shouldn’t have to fight against harmful practices that promote shame, self-doubt and self-harm,” Gondek added.

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

The motion also asks the city to urge the provincial government to end the practice across Alberta.

While the Federal Justice Minister has been instructed by the Prime Minister’s Office to amend the Criminal Code to ban conversion therapy, the Government of Alberta has not yet taken action, the news release states.

“This issue is too important to sit and wait for action from other levels of government,” Farrell said. “Having city council ban conversion therapy will send an important message to our LGBTQ2 community [that] conversion therapy is abusive and it simply doesn’t belong in Calgary.”
Lethbridge advocate pushes for province-wide conversion therapy ban
Lethbridge advocate pushes for province-wide conversion therapy ban

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

The city of St. Albert, north of Edmonton, moved to ban the practice in July, making the city the first Alberta municipality to do so. Edmonton then banned conversion therapy in December.

Global News reached out to the UCP government to ask for a response to the notice of motion. The press secretary for the justice minister and solicitor general forwarded a letter previously sent to the federal government in August.

In it, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer stated that Alberta’s UCP government shares the federal government’s concern for “vulnerable populations, including LGBTQ2+ youth.”

“As members of this government have stated many times, the Government of Albertan has been clear that we oppose and condemn conversion therapy,” Schweitzer said.

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.”

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BELOW: Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer’s letter to the federal government

Brandon Beavan is a survivor of conversion therapy. He said when he was a teenager, his grandparents took him to a Christian-based counsellor. Beavan said it nearly cost him his life.

“He would tell me things like, if I followed down this lifestyle of being gay, I would never be loved by anybody and I would die early from AIDS,” Beavan said. “He would tell me to pray and resist the urge and I would get over it.”

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Beavan was treated by this therapist for over a year.

“It was traumatic. I had years of internalized homophobia. I had anxiety, depression, I was suicidal and I was cutting,” Beavan said.

“I felt like I was alone because that was my only messaging brought to me weekly, so I believed it and I felt like there was something wrong with me. I felt like I was dirty and disgusting and I felt horrible.”

Brandon Beavan is a survivor of conversion therapy.
Brandon Beavan is a survivor of conversion therapy. Jill Croteau/Global News

He said the therapist is still practising.

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“He still has an office, he sees people, sexuality is listed on things they treat at that clinic.”

READ MORE: Alberta’s dismantled conversion therapy working group leading Calgary Pride Parade

Beavan is a proud gay man now and feels compelled to use his voice to condemn the practice. He said he’s relieved to see politicians taking steps to have it banned.

“It is the right thing to do. While this is an area where we might await leadership from the provincial government, we have certain bylaws and authorities to prevent those kinds of businesses from getting licenses and from them operating within the city of Calgary,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu met with the mayor on Monday, and said she was happy to see the city taking this initiative.

Hajdu said the federal government sent letters to all provinces last summer asking them to ban conversion therapy, but hasn’t heard back from Alberta, where the United Conservative government last summer disbanded a working group that was tasked with coming up with a strategy on the issue.

“I can tell you that in speaking with people who have experienced conversion therapy … that it is incredibly harmful, especially for young people, but really at any stage of a person’s life or development,” Hajdu said.

“To be told that the way that they are is so essentially wrong, that they have to take active steps to change their core identity — it’s an incredibly disrespectful … harmful practice that needs to end.”

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Hajdu and Nenshi acknowledged it may not be easy to force an end to the therapy, especially if church groups are involved.

“If you’re charging for it, you need a business licence. If people are doing this sort of thing in their basement, without charging people for it … that’s where we need the province and the federal government to act,” Nenshi said.

“It’s enmeshed sometimes in faith organizations. It may be a practice that they offer for families. It may be a private practitioner that is not advertising widely,” added Hajdu.

— With files from The Canadian Press