Saskatoon city committee considers conversion therapy ban

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WATCH: Saskatoon city committee explores options around banning conversion therapy – Feb 18, 2020

A Saskatoon city committee heard an impassioned plea moments before seeking options to ban the widely-discredited practice known as conversion therapy.

Charlie Klassen, 23, who identifies as non-binary and bisexual, has never undergone conversion therapy, but said they know what it’s like to be judged.

READ MORE: United Church seeks conversion therapy ban from Saskatoon city council

“I understand a small amount of the emotional pain that it causes,” Klassen said. “But even I cannot begin to fathom the extent of the pain and damage conversion therapy causes.”

Conversion therapy is the term used to describe efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The process is often carried out under the guise of religious therapy, incorporating spiritual or psychological tactics.

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While not currently illegal in Canada, a government source told Global News a ban will be coming within the year. Mandate letters to multiple federal ministers in December 2019 from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reference amending the Criminal Code to outlaw conversion therapy.

Klassen told Saskatoon’s governance and priorities committee that they should take concrete actions and establish a bylaw, more than just receive a letter supporting a ban from Grosvenor Park United Church.

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

“We saw the motion to receive the information. That’s kind of where things go to die,” Klassen told reporters.

Instead, Coun. Darren Hill requested a report outlining how the city can ensure conversion therapy is banned or prohibited within Saskatoon city limits. The motion received unanimous support.

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If a bylaw is enacted, Hill expects it to be enforced largely through complaints from the public.

“You can’t ‘pray away the gay.’ We know that,” Hill said.

“I think people just get upset when they see youth that are being impacted negatively by people that are trying to change their life to suit their own personal agendas.”

READ MORE: How a proposed conversion therapy ban and LGBTQ2 issues are mobilizing Canada’s Christian right

Cities including Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge have established bylaws that prohibit conversion therapy. Mayor Charlie Clark said those approaches could prove helpful.

“We’re not treading entirely new ground here, but it’s good to make sure we have as much information as possible,” Clark said.

Hill, along with councillors Mairin Loewen and Randy Donauer, sought clarity on the positions of other levels of government.

Hill said he plans to speak with federal ministers about the issue, and he feels a Canada-wide ban would provide the clearest approach.

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During the 2019 federal election, the Liberal party campaigned on banning the “destructive” practice and remains committed to that objective, said a statement from spokesperson Dani Keenan from the Office of the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth.

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“Conversion therapy is a scientifically discredited practice that targets vulnerable LGBTQ2 individuals and what’s more, there is international consensus in the medical community that conversion therapy does not work,” Keenan said.

“Everyone should have the ability to be their authentic selves and we will not stop until we achieve true inclusion and equality for all.”

READ MORE: LGBTQ2 community sees gaps in health care services, calls for proper training

The Saskatchewan government considers conversion therapy an “outdated practice,” according to a justice ministry spokesperson. The province is considering options to discourage it.

Rachel Loewen Walker, executive director with OUTSaskatoon, said there are workshops and seminars in the city “geared towards not living fully as gay, lesbian, trans [or] bi.”

The organization is in favour of the city banning conversion therapy because Loewen Walker said it’s both “educational and brave.”

“We definitely support Grosvenor United Church’s move forward on this and we’re proud to see them standing up,” she said.