A discussion is underway in Regina concerning banning conversion therapy, a practice where an attempt is made to forcibly change one’s sexual orientation.
“We’re looking for the most appropriate venue and working to have it on the agenda at some point this spring,” said Ward 3 Councillor Andrew Stevens, who is also Chair of Regina’s Community Wellness Committee (CWC).
After the city of Saskatoon passed a bylaw banning the practice earlier this week, Regina Mayor Sandra Masters suggested the newly formed CWC would be the best place to move the conversation forward in the Queen City.
“I’m against the practice. I would be in favour of a ban,” Masters said at City Hall Thursday. “This is exactly the issue that should go before this committee. They should review it, hear from delegates on both sides of the argument and then make a recommendation into council.”
The Community Wellness Committee meets once a month. Their next meeting is March 10th, though Stevens says it’s unlikely the item can be formalized and put on the agenda by then.
“The committee is ideally the best place to have this start and to talk about this,” he said, while cautioning that bringing an issue to the committee level before council comes with the risk that it won’t make it to a lawmaking stage.
Kristopher Wells is an Associate Professor at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton and the Canada Research Chair in Sexual and Gender Minority Youth Issues.
He’s done extensive research on conversion therapy and said there have been numerous long-term negative effects associated with the practice.
“It can lead to long-term PTSD, clinical depression, anxiety, self-hatred and even suicide.”
He said that historically, the practice has used such barbaric techniques as shock therapy, lobotomy and chemical castration.
In modern times, he said conversion therapy, which is sometimes labeled “ex gay”, “reparative” therapy, can still involve fasting, gender coaching, talk therapy and even exorcism.
He says he also heard of cases of people being forced to read scripture, drink anointing oil or do gender regressive role-play.
“It is a completely fraudulent, unscientific and dangerous practice,” Wells said. “It’s not based in any science or health care.”
He says an underlying theme of all conversion therapy, regardless of technique used, is an anti-LGBTQ2S+ ideology.
“You believe that LGBTQ people are broken, disordered pathological, immoral or sinful,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with being an LGBTQ person. There’s nothing broken to be fixed. LGBTQ people have existed throughout time in every faith, culture and community in our society.”
He adds that he thinks all government levels should take legislative action against conversion therapy in order to send the strongest message against it.
“Municipal legislation and prohibition bylaws are extremely important and effective. Number one, they make a statement of support to the community, that they’re normal and beautiful the way they are. Number two, they work as a deterrent. They say that if you’re going to practice this there are going to be consequences.”
If Regina were to follow Saskatoon’s lead, it would join a growing list of governments banning conversion therapy by law.
Vancouver became the first Canadian municipality to take such action in 2018.
Since then, such cities as Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge have passed laws banning the practice to some extent.
Several laws have been passed at the provincial level as well, including in Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and the Yukon.
At the federal level in Canada, meanwhile, the Liberal government introduced Bill C-6, which would amend the Canadian Criminal Code to make putting a child through conversion therapy, among other actions, a criminal offence.
Several countries, including Malta, Brazil, Germany, Taiwan and Ecuador, have passed nationwide legislation.
Queen City Pride expressed their support for a ban as well.
In a statement, Co-Chair Dan Shier said “Regina Pride supports a municipal ban on the practice commonly referred to as ‘conversion therapy’ and by other names. These practices are based on the belief that being gender or sexually diverse (identifying as 2SLGBTQIA+) is wrong and that people need to be changed or ‘cured.’”
He goes on to point out that many of those performing the practice “are often those in authoritative positions over youth and children.”
He also points out that even with a law or bylaw banning conversion therapy, the practice will not necessarily disappear.
“We need to have the means to support our community and continue to denounce it,” he said.
There is support for banning conversion therapy within the faith community as well.
Last year, the Living Skies Regional Council, which represents Saskatchewan’s United Church of Canada communities, passed a resolution to see the organization advocate for the banning of conversion therapy in the province.
“In the United Church we have been embracing the last few years ‘PIE’, which is being publicly, intentionally, and explicitly welcoming of LGBTQ,” said Eastside United Church Minister Russell Mitchell-Walker.
“Most people outside of the church would assume the church is still homophobic and not welcoming. The more we can be open and progressive and welcoming, and supportive of other social justice issues, the more people will realize that the church is not what they think it is.”