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RMWB Council votes to ban conversion therapy

PHOTO. RMWB Council meets on Oct. 22, 2019. MYMCMURRAY/Phil Wood.

RMWB Council ruled conversion therapy would not have a place in Wood Buffalo.

Mayor and Council voted unanimously in support of a motion to ban the licensing, practice, and promotion of conversion therapy at the Oct. 22 meeting.

The administration will now draft a bylaw to prohibit what Mayor Don Scott called an unethical practice.

“It really signals [to] the entire community that we support them [and] we stand for an inclusive community.”

He added he’s proud of his fellow council members for supporting the motion.

Mayor Don Scott introduced the motion at the council meeting on Oct. 8.

Representatives from YMM Pride asked him to bring the matter to council during Pride Week celebrations in August.

City policy

Dr Kristopher Wells of MacEwan University presented to RMWB Council his findings.

Serving as the Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth, Dr Wells commended them for seeking the ban.

According to his paper, Conversion Therapy in Canada: The Roles and Responsibilities of Municipalities, scientific and medical communities discredit conversion therapy.

He added no trustworthy evidence exists that states anyone can change another’s sexual orientation or prove it requires changing.

Also, he found its victims suffer from anxiety, depression, PTSD, suicide or suicidal thoughts, and other psychological and social disorders.

Dr Wells said youth and young people are often the targets of conversion therapy, which may reside underground in Wood Buffalo.

Though not a victim, YMM Pride representative Mitchell Bowers said he faced similar pressures as a closeted member of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Although not personally enrolled in a conversion therapy program, I have experieinced many of the same pressures and psychological tortures that are experienced by those that have. This pressure came from my family, my church, my teachers [and] peers. I often was subjected to physical harm as punishment for any behaviour that was deemed abnormal.”

Bowers pleaded with the Council to support the motion.

“We have little control over what happens in the homes of our community, [but] we do have control over public institutions. I encourage council to ban conversion therapy for all the queer youth currently living in the Municipality, and for those that come in future.”

Challenges and opposition

Council had initial questions about policy criminalizing faith or culturally-based groups.

However, Dr Wells said there were many groups, particularly faith-based groups, working with the LGBTQ+ community toward acceptance.

He suggested any drafted bylaw should not target psychotherapies that promote one’s sexual orientation and gender identities.

Then, the discussion around the horseshoe centred on the challenge of enforcing a complaint-based bylaw.

Dr Wells made three recommendations to the council.

First, a far-reaching city policy could prohibit the use of facilities or funding.

For example, the municipality of Sherwood Park, Alta. uses such a policy against conversion therapy.

He also suggested amendments to the land use bylaw and a fine of $10,000.

Once complaints come forward, the Municipality could enforce and deter current or future practitioners.

Finally, support from the federal government could sway or deter conversion therapy.

Dr Wells said three of the four major federal parties had criminalizing conversion therapy in their platforms.

In the end, the bylaw mechanism would show residents the RMWB cares and the process for addressing complaints.

“I was so glad to hear people talk about what is really an unethical and unscientific practice.” Mayor Don Scott said. “We need to make sure that people are kept safe.”

The administration should return to the mayor and council with their draft by the end of the year.