Calgary councillor raised by 2 moms to bring forward motion to ban conversion therapy

A Calgary city councillor is bringing forward a motion calling for conversion therapy to be banned in the city.

Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley, along with Councillors Druh Farrell, Gian-Carlo Carra, Jyoti Gondek, Peter Demong and Mayor Naheed Nenshi plan to bring forward the notice of motion to committee on Monday.

Conversion therapy is a practice that aims through counselling or religious teachings to change an individual's sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender, which means a person who identifies with the sex assigned to them at birth. 

It's discredited by most major expert bodies as psychologically damaging, opposed by the Canadian Psychological Association and World Health Organization which has stated conversion therapy poses a "severe threat to the health and human rights of the affected persons."

Woolley said in an emailed release that the issue is one close to his heart, as he was raised by two moms. 

"Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s it was impossible for them to be open about who they were, and this is still the case for many of our citizens today," he said. "I want to raise my child in a city that is welcoming of all people regardless of who they love. Conversion therapy works to counter that ideal and we as a community must stand against this hurtful practice."

Vancouver, Edmonton and St. Albert city councils have passed motions to ban the practice, and in Edmonton businesses face a $10,000 fine if found guilty of breaking that rule.

In December, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent a mandate letter to Justice Minister David Lametti, asking that the Criminal Code be amended to ban the practice and take other steps to end conversion therapy in Canada.

But despite a likely federal ban on the way, Farrell said the issue is too important to wait for other levels of government to take action.

"Having city council ban conversion therapy will send an important message to our LGBTQ2 community. Conversion therapy is abusive and it simply doesn't belong in Calgary," Farrell said in the release.

The councillors also plan to ask the city to advocate for the practice to be banned across Alberta.

The marshals of Calgary's 2019 pride parade were members of a dismantled working group that had been studying how to end conversion therapy in the province.

The informal working group was set up by the former NDP government and cancelled by the governing UCP.

Brandon Beavan, one of the members of that group and a conversion therapy survivor, spoke to CBC News at the time. 

"It was probably the most traumatic points of my life to have people tell me I am going to die early, I am never going to be loved that I'm never going to have anyone that cares about me — for years on end," he said, adding that it hurts to think children are still being forced to go through what he went through.

On Friday, federal Health Minister Patty Hadju was in Calgary and said she did not receive an answer from the Alberta government when Ottawa asked the provinces to ban conversion therapy. 

In response, a spokesperson for Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer forwarded a letter dated Aug. 20, 2019, addressed to Hadju's predecessor. 

It says the power to amend the Criminal Code is solely within federal jurisdiction and that conversion therapy is banned "by all relevant professional licensing bodies in Alberta."

"While the federal government has not presented us with any proposals for changes to the Criminal Code, we would welcome the opportunity to examine any proposals the federal government puts forward to criminalize conversion therapy," reads a portion of the letter, signed by Schweitzer.

Beavan said in September the man who practised conversion therapy on him is still operating in Calgary.

The next council meeting is scheduled for Feb. 4.