The City of Calgary is the latest Canadian municipality to ban LGBTQ conversion therapy.
The bylaw passed its first reading unanimously in council Monday, following two weeks of heated debate and discussion from Calgary’s faith and LGBTQ communities. The second and third readings passed 14-1, with only opposition from one councillor.
“Sometimes in this job, sometimes, we get to just do what’s right,” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said ahead of the vote.
Having passed the three readings with no changes, the bylaw is now officially in effect. Any business practice seeking to change someone’s gender or sexual identity is now banned in the city.
The new bylaw specifically defines “conversion therapy” as a “practice, treatment, or service designed to change, repress, or discourage a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour.”
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Businesses and individuals found to be in violation of the bylaw face a fine of up to $10,000.
The Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) condemned the practice in a policy statement in 2015, noting that it can lead to “negative outcomes such as distress, anxiety, depression, negative self-image, a feeling of personal failure, difficulty sustaining relationships, and sexual dysfunction.”
Monday’s vote followed weeks of heated discussion and debate from the city’s LGBTQ and faith communities since council initially approved a motion to begin crafting the bylaw in early February. A marathon 27-hour session of submissions last week saw vocal proponents on both sides come forward.
In an open letter, representatives from 23 organizations that serve Calgary’s LGBTQ community applauded council for the bylaw.
“This bylaw has been prepared in full consultation with all stakeholders, supported by expert researchers, lawyers, and administrators to create the strongest bylaw possible to protect Calgarians,” they wrote.
Nenshi said the process of crafting the bylaw and the conversation around it demonstrated how vital and necessary it is.
“If there’s anything that I’ve learned in these past few weeks, it’s that the battle continues,” he said. “There are forces out there of anger and hatred that our gender and sexually diverse brothers and sisters deal with every day.”
During Monday’s discussion, Councillor Jeromy Farkas gave an impassioned recount of his own experiences as an openly bisexual man, and how a friend told him he could “pray it away.”
“Today I am so fortunate to be in a position where I am loved, accepted and able to contribute in a meaningful way,” Farkas said.
“There will be some who say this is just virtue-signalling, but i think it is worth sending the signal of the kind of city we are and who we want to be.”
MacEwan University professor Kristopher Wells, whose research specializes in conversion therapy bans, called the Calgary bylaw one of the “most comprehensive” pieces of legislation in the world.
According to Wells, Monday’s vote makes Calgary the seventh municipality in Alberta and eighth in Canada to ban conversion therapy.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party included a federal ban on the practice in its election platform last fall, promising to work with provinces and territories to make changes to Canada’s Criminal Code to ban the “harmful and scientifically disproven practice, especially against minors.”
A federal bill to ban the practice was announced by the Liberal government in early March just before the COVID-19 pandemic surged in Canada.
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“Conversion therapy is premised on a lie,” Minister of Justice David Lametti said at the time.
The bill has yet to be debated in the House of Commons.
On Monday, Calgary city council left open the opportunity to rejig its exact definition to align with any federal bill that passes.
Nenshi even predicted the feds may actually opt to build their definition based off of Calgary’s “comprehensive” one.