Calls for change to Regina city council meetings after hours-long conversion therapy ban debate

·4 min read
After hours of debate, council voted unanimously on Wednesday to bring forward a bylaw on a potential conversion therapy ban for a vote in July.  (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
After hours of debate, council voted unanimously on Wednesday to bring forward a bylaw on a potential conversion therapy ban for a vote in July. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

At the end of the an hours-long city council meeting focused on a proposal to ban conversion therapy in Regina, Coun. Dan LeBlanc concluded debate with an apology to the city's LGBTQ community.

"I'm sorry that you're not part of this city council that's deciding fundamental rights about you," he said. "And apologies that these are the sorts of indignities that you have to suffer, without you here."

The Wednesday meeting focused on a city administration report around the widely discredited practice of conversion therapy, and a proposal that the city create a bylaw to ban the practice.

After hours of debate, council voted unanimously to bring forward a proposed bylaw for a vote in July.

In an interview with CBC, LeBlanc said the debate gave hate a platform, and opened a debate about the rights of LGBTQ people. That's deeply disturbing, LeBlanc said, and LGBTQ voices need to be heard in the future.

A spokesperson for Queen City for All says that kind of experience can be traumatizing.

"It brings up every instance of transphobia or homophobia or discrimination we've ever felt or faced," said Kent Peterson, a queer man living in Regina. "It reminds us that we are not safe here."

Kent Peterson is a spokesperson for Queen City for All and a queer man living in Regina.
Kent Peterson is a spokesperson for Queen City for All and a queer man living in Regina. (Submitted by Kent Peterson )

Peterson said conversion therapy happens in the shadows in Regina and hurts local people.

A number of special interest groups spoke at Wednesday's online meeting, trying to sway councillors with harmful rhetoric, he said.

"I feel for the trans members of my community who, for their own self-preservation, don't feel like it's safe for them to present their story," he said. "City council has to do better."

Regina lawyer Barton Soroka, who addressed council at Wednesday's meeting, said the fact Regina city council meetings are being held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to misinformation being shared.

Delegations told council a ban on conversion therapy would interfere with parental or religious rights and be taken to court. Soroka said it's rare that legislation isn't challenged in court by some groups and that judges would interpret the bill.

"That's how the system works," Soroka said. "Do I think that it's going to be challenged? Absolutely. Do I think that that means it's bad legislation? Absolutely not."

'Suddenly everyone can get in'

Soroka said the virtual meetings put city council in a tough spot.

"I don't think that they had ever planned to have virtual council when their rules were made, and that means that now suddenly everyone can get in," Soroka said.

People from the Calgary organization Free to Care and Toronto's Parents as First Educators — both of which have spoken out against the federal government's conversion therapy ban — as well as delegations from British Columbia and the United States spoke at Wednesday's meeting against a conversion therapy ban.

The overwhelming number of delegations from Regina were in favour of a ban.

Peterson said only affected local people should be able to address council, and out-of-province special interest groups should be allowed only to make written submissions.

"I think that would make the overall process less harmful to queer and trans people, and it would make it more efficient and timely so that we can get to passing the bylaw," Peterson said.

Regina Mayor Sandra Masters says council will look at ways to 'manage more appropriately the input into Regina city council decisions.'
Regina Mayor Sandra Masters says council will look at ways to 'manage more appropriately the input into Regina city council decisions.'(Matthew Howard/CBC)

In a news conference, Mayor Sandra Masters said she and councillors have much to learn on this issue and council will discuss procedural options.

"What I suspect is that we'll be looking at some mechanism to perhaps — I don't want to say limit free speech or presentation to council, but to perhaps manage more appropriately the input into Regina city council decisions," Masters told reporters.

LeBlanc said he's conerned about well-organized, well-financed right-wing groups focusing their attention on Regina for a brief moment in time, in an effort to derail and wear down councillors.

"I would certainly support a change to our procedure bylaw that says nobody from outside of Regina, or certainly outside of Saskatchewan, gets to talk unless we specifically ask them to," he said. "I'm not especially interested in hearing from what everybody from Ontario to B.C. thinks of this."

Coun. Andrew Stevens said he doesn't want to get into the business of restricting who can and cannot speak, but that he wouldn't be able to endure another meeting like Wednesday's, which began at 1 p.m. and ran well into the night.

"To be clear, there was a traveling roadshow that came to Regina over last night, and they take this discussion across Canada," he said. "That's a concern."

Stevens said council will discuss how to handle delegations not only based on location but also their content.

He said council meetings should not be an open platform for people to talk about their opinions on sexuality and gender transitioning, and off-topic conversations should be shut down.