City of Calgary votes to ban conversion therapy

The City of Calgary has passed a new bylaw banning conversion therapy. File / Global News

Calgary city councillors voted on Monday to ban the controversial practice of conversion therapy.

A committee recommended to city council earlier this month that a bylaw should be passed prohibiting conversion therapy as a business. The bylaw would also ban advertising, and come with a possible fine of $10,000 and a year-long prison term.

The bylaw was passed in a 14-1 vote following a day of debate.

“With this, the City of Calgary initiates new regulations to protect Calgarians, regardless of gender and sexual orientation, to continue to be a city that is welcoming for all, committed to supporting equality and human rights,” the city said in a release.

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Calgary joins six other Alberta municipalities in banning conversion therapy, including Edmonton, St. Albert, Strathcona County, Wood Buffalo, Rocky Mountain House and Spruce Grove.

The bylaw has nearly the same definition as the ones included in bans passed in both Edmonton and St. Albert, which reads:

“Conversion therapy means a practice, treatment or service designed to change, repress or discourage a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour. For greater certainty, this definition does not include a practice, treatment or service that relates (a) to a person’s social, medical or legal gender transition; or (b) to a person’s non-judgmental exploration and acceptance of their identity or development.”

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the ban is a step in “an incredibly important civil right struggle” that is not yet over.

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“This isn’t about someone seeking out advice, someone questioning their identity, this is not about talking to your pastor, it’s not about meeting with people who have gone through a journey in advance — regardless of the outcome of that journey,” Nenshi said.

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“What this is about is banning the coercive, inhumane practice of forcing you to be someone that you are not.”

Shone Thistle, board president for Calgary Pride, said the vote is a reflection of the city’s values, and that Calgary is a place of welcoming and belonging.

“It means that when we stand along the parade route and people are cheering as diverse groups are passing through the streets, that that’s a real thing,” she said.

“It’s validation that this is a practice that has been happening here in Calgary. It is a victory for survivors and it’s a testament to those we’ve lost along the way.”

Thistle said the group’s focus will now shift to encouraging higher levels of government to take a tougher stand against conversion therapy.

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The vote was celebrated by many city councillors, who took to Twitter to share their support for the new bylaw.

“We made history today,” Councillor Evan Woolley said, adding the ban makes Calgary a “more tolerant and loving city.”

Councillor Druh Farrell tweeted that she was “especially proud to be a Calgarian” after the historic vote.

“Calgary city council successfully bans conversion therapy, to love without judgement and conditions,” she wrote.

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The vote started out with unanimous support, however, after a proposed amendment from Councillor Joe Magliocca to have the city’s ban more closely aligned with proposed federal legislation was rejected, he voted against the final reading of the bylaw.

Provincial Opposition Leader Rachel Notley also tweeted a celebratory message to the city on Monday afternoon.

“Big congratulations to the City of Calgary for banning the harmful practice of conversion therapy!” she said.

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