Even with federal legislation in the works to criminalize conversion therapy, Saskatoon city council has voted to ban the practice as a business activity.
Conversion therapy is the widely-discredited practice of seeking to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s often carried out under the facade of religious therapy and can include spiritual or psychological tactics.
In March, the federal government tabled Bill C-8 that, if passed, would criminalize numerous aspects of conversion therapy, including putting a minor through it, advertising the practice and profiting from it.
A report from city administration said the City of Saskatoon’s powers only allow it to ban conversion therapy from the business perspective. Such a move is “largely symbolic,” according to the document.
Council voted 9-2 in favour of the ban with Coun. Randy Donauer and Coun. Troy Davies casting the dissenting votes.
“My only concern with this is that I don’t think municipal council was ever meant to deal with these types of issues,” Donauer said during Monday’s teleconference meeting.
Donauer said no one should be subjected to a process that violates their rights, and the federal government is the proper body to decide whether conversion therapy is prohibited.
He also said administration didn’t provide any expert evidence or research on the issue.
Saskatoon joins Saint John, New Brunswick, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and numerous other Alberta municipalities who have taken steps to ban conversation therapy through a bylaw.
Grosvenor Park United Church brought the request before city council in February. Charlie Klassen, a church member who identifies as non-binary and bisexual, addressed councillors.
Klassen called Monday’s decision “positive affirmation” for young people.
“It’s a terrifying experience and nobody should go through any form of conversion therapy,” Klassen said in an interview Monday.
During Monday’s vote, councillors also resolved to write to other levels of government to express the city’s support for Bill C-8.
Council received at least four letters opposing a ban on conversion therapy, which cited concerns including violations of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The harm done by forced conversion therapy far outweighs those concerns, according to Rachel Loewen Walker, executive director with OUTSaskatoon.
She said the federal government’s intention to criminalize conversion therapy doesn’t prohibit municipalities from “taking a stand.”
“I’m excited by the leadership our community has taken.”
Saskatoon city staff’s next step is to draft a bylaw and bring it to councillors for final approval.