"Religious exemption" becomes sticking point in conversion therapy ban

·3 min read

A proposed bylaw that looks to ban conversion therapy in the Kingston area has been deferred until up to January.

The proposed bylaw would see city council sending letters in support of Bill C-6, and would put measures in place that would create a stronger support system for the LGBTQ2S+ community and direct city staff to draft a bylaw prohibiting any form of conversion therapy.

A motion presented by Councillor Doherty will now see council consider feedback on the bylaw from Tuesday’s delegates and reconsider certain points of the bylaw by the beginning of next year.

Doherty said that the bylaw is too important to too many people to not take the time to get right.

Ben Rodgers, a survivor of conversion therapy at the hands of Third Day Worship Church and the driving force behind the bylaw, said ahead of the city council meeting that his expectation was for the bylaw to be passed, and that there should be “no other outcome if they (council) do what is right!”

In his presentation to council, Rodgers said this bylaw could, and almost certainly would, set a precedent for other municipalities in Ontario.

“Right now I know for a fact that there are other municipalities just waiting for a bylaw to come into play,” Rodgers said.

“You guys are going to create a trickle effect for places like Ottawa where the mayor literally said this could not be done.”

Rodgers also specifically noted that passing such a bylaw would show a commitment to change from Mayor Paterson, a former member of the Third Day Worship Church.

Other delegates speaking on the bill however have swayed council to delay their decision on the bylaw, with a major issue being the space allowed for religious exemptions.

Seth Perry, a pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, expressed his disappointment in the lack of support from other institutions, noting that St. Mark’s is one of only four Kingston area Christian churches that would act as a resource for the proposed bylaw.

Perry says asking an LGBTQ person to live celibately, like the Catholic diocese does, is a form of conversion therapy.

He added that banning conversion therapy needs to stop being conflated as an attack on religion.

“This law is not about punishing churches, it’s about the survivors, and it isn’t a political issue,” Perry said to council.

“This is a human rights issue, this is a mental health issue, this is a public health issue, and it’s a matter of compassion and justice.”

Council also heard from Nick Schiavo of No Conversion Canada and Ashley Perna, a local woman who identifies as queer, who both asserted the need to remove a religious exemption from this bylaw.

Schiavo noted that similar conversion therapy bylaws across Canada have not included the exemption which he says provides some wiggle room for religious institutions to consider conversion therapy as a legitimate treatment.

He says across the board, abuse should be considered abuse.

“It’s really important that everyone is covered by this bylaw, and that if you are committing abuse, you are committing abuse and the city stand behind that,” Schiavo said.

Schiavo added that the notion of pastors facing legal action simply for conversations around sexuality is based mainly in fear-mongering.

Muhammad Ahsan, the city’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, says council’s willingness to actually listen to the delegates is important.

He added that the deferral will allow staff to review and potentially strengthen the bylaw, while ensuring it can stand up to any legal implications.

City staff will look to see if the bylaw can be strengthened between now and January.

Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, YGK News

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