‘A value statement’: Strathcona County considers motion to ban conversion therapy

Strathcona County has joined the growing list of Alberta municipalities hoping to ban the widely discredited practice of conversion therapy. 

Councillors will vote on a motion on July 23 asking administration to prepare a report on the county’s options for a ban. If the motion passes, administration will have until September to draft a report.

Coun. Robert Parks gave notice of his intent to file the motion at Tuesday’s council meeting.

“Passing the motion on the 23rd sends a clear message that those practices — if they are still happening in basements and dark places — that they stop, that they’re not welcome here anymore,” Parks said.

Conversion therapy tries to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity through counselling or religious teaching.

Parks’ notice of motion came a day after St. Albert city council voted unanimously to move ahead with a possible conversion therapy ban.

“I want to applaud them for having the courage of their convictions and making a stand,” he said.

Other municipalities considering ban

St. Albert and Strathcona County aren’t the only Alberta municipalities considering a ban.

In April, Edmonton city councillors asked administration to look at options for barring the practice and report back in August.

Calgary councillors Gian-Carlo Carra and Druh Farrell took to Twitter earlier this month to say their offices are also looking into it.

Following the vote in St. Albert, Spruce Grove city councillor Erin Stevenson tweeted that she’s bringing forward a motion against conversion therapy in August.

Professor and LGBTQ advocate Kristopher Wells said its “heartening to know that there’s these kind of progressive leaders working in our municipalities.”

“Conversion therapy is still occurring in our country. And I think people are saying that even if we’re not seeing this in our own community, it’s important that we’re taking action because this is also about a value statement,” said Wells, Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth. 

“It’s about signalling that LGBTQ people are welcome and will be fully included and protected in our own community.”

The local push comes after the United Conservative Party government pulled back support for a working group studying an Alberta-wide ban.  In June, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the group’s mandate had lapsed with the end of the NDP government.

Professor and LGBTQ advocate Kristopher Wells helped councillors in St. Albert and Strathcona County draft motions about banning conversion therapy. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

Wells is calling on the provincial government to reconsider its position in light of the push for bans at the municipal level.

“It should send a message to individuals like Jason Kenney that they’re out of step and out of alignment with the beliefs of the vast majority of Canadians,” said Wells, Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth. 

The federal government now says its considering changing the Criminal Code to deter conversion therapy, after rejecting a petition earlier this year calling for a national ban.

Strathcona County Coun. Parks said he hopes provincial and federal legislation will eventually make bans at the municipal level redundant.

“But failing that, I think we still have to move forward,” he said.