Calgary city council voted unanimously Monday to draft a bylaw to prohibit the practice of conversion therapy.
The practice aims to change a person’s sexual orientation through counselling, behaviour modification and religious teachings.
Long discredited, the College of Alberta Psychologists amended its standards of practice in October 2019 to prohibit psychologists from providing any treatment, counselling or behaviour modification techniques with the objective of changing or modifying the sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of an individual.
Several municipalities in Alberta have passed bylaws prohibiting the practice, and by late May the City of Calgary will have one as well.
Led by Evan Woolley, council voted unanimously to have administration draft a bylaw that will prohibit someone from getting a business licence for or advertise conversion therapy services. The ward 8 councillor said while a bylaw may be largely symbolic, it will be designed to be as tough as possible.
“We will bring teeth. One of the pieces I and our friends in law have been working on is: how can we give this as much teeth as we possibly can? So if you are practising this in our city, we will come after you with everything we’ve got.”
“There’s absolutely no place for conversion therapy for any city, let alone Calgary,” said Jyoti Gondek, one of five councillors who, along with Mayor Naheed Nenshi, brought the item forward to the council table.
“For people who think we’re being social justice warriors or people who think we’re just doing something symbolic, maybe we are, but this is something we need to fight for.”
Wearing brightly coloured rainbow scarves, more than 100 people showed up at council chambers to show their support for the ban.
“These practices are happening right now and they’re happening underground and by people who might live down the street from us,” said Pam Rocker, director of the group Affirming Connection.
She was thrilled with the decision of Calgary city council and will help advocate to the province and federal government that conversion therapy needs to be banned.
“We need all levels to really care about this and to be able to eradicate it. I work with hundreds of survivors every year and this is something we need to do now to make sure there are less victims of these horrible practices.”
Besides asking administration to draft a bylaw that will include fines for those advertising and offering conversion therapy services, city council has asked the mayor to advocate to the province and the federal government to ban the practice.
Graeme Lauber, who identifies as a gay man living by traditional Biblical beliefs, says it will be important that the city get the wording of the bylaw right so as not to infringe on the rights of religious freedoms.
“I want to make sure my ability to seek spiritual support and counselling that’s consistent with my values and my religious faith is respected in whatever bylaw comes about.”
He said he’s not opposed to a ban on conversion therapy but wants the city to reach out to the faith community and ensure the wording of any bylaw works for all Calgarians.
The draft bylaw will come back to a city hall committee on May 13.