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Bylaw to ban conversion therapy passes Council

Last Updated Jan 15, 2020 at 5:16 am MDT

RMWB Council. Photo Supplied by Melanie Walsh. REPORTER.

Residents across the Municipality watched the first Council meeting of 2020 as the Council amended the bylaw banning conversion therapy in Wood Buffalo.

However, it was not without debate or dissenting opinion from some delegates.

Everyone agreed that the RMWB must uphold the overall safety of residents, in particular minors.

Delegates and councillors asked to what extent the bylaw would impact religious freedoms and parenting.

Councillor Verna Murphy responded to one delegate from Edmonton taking offence to his claim that homosexuality was “not healthy”.

“Sitting here as a heterosexual, Catholic woman, I found some of your comments very offensive. To somehow insinuate that being gay is not healthy, I find that offensive.”

Councillor Keith McGrath agreed with Murphy adding he likened conversion therapy to “brainwashing”.

“Me or you have no right to judge anybody on how they want to live. There are people that got harmed after receiving some of this therapy. A person [doesn’t] decide one morning if they want to choose this life or that life. I believe love is love.”

Councillor Jeff Peddle said religious freedom should also understand and accept the differences in people.

“Every one of us was designed a certain way; if a person is born this way, they’re born this way, so it’s about respecting individuals. If you want to quote the Bible, [then] I guess the biggest Bible quote is you love everybody for who they are.”

Later in the discussion, Councillor Phil Meagher questioned the bylaw’s language and if it could impact parental rights in an individual’s identity journey.

He referenced the policy statement on conversion therapy by the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA).

According to the CPA, they say conversion or reparative therapy may result in negative outcomes such as anxiety, depression, and difficulty sustaining relationships.

They also say seeking from an affirming or person-focused therapist is positive and would help to maintain one’s mental health.

Meagher asked if the bylaw would impact discussions between a parent and child.

“I know that there’s certain stories, and people have theirs that are for this or against it, but when we just make a general statement that says ‘the research shows’, it sounds nice, but what research?”

To that end, Councillor Mike Allen proposed a motion to make an exception in the bylaw.

He asked the bylaw remove the word “minor” from Article 3.1 of the bylaw, and replace it with “any person”.

Allen said the bylaw should seek to protect every person the same way, regardless of an individual’s age

Also, Allen’s motion included a definition for “conversion therapy” first outlined in Article 2.3.

This would allow certain types of affirmative services for LGBTQ+ individuals.

RMWB Council voted by an 8-2 margin to amend the changes.

Finally, when the modified bylaw came up for second and third readings, Council voted 8-2 in both instances.

Councillors Meagher and Lalonde dissented in all three votes with concerns about the bylaw’s vagueness and potential reach into the private lives and homes of residents.

Mayor Don Scott, who first introduced the motion in late October of 2019, said the spirit of the bylaw is to protect the community.

“I [have] always been a committed believer in God, but I do believe that God loves all people, and God wants to protect all people as well.”

Mayor Don Scott first proclaimed his intent to introduce the motion during Pride YMM celebrations earlier in the year.

The next RMWB Council meeting is on Jan. 28, 2020, at the Syncrude Athletic Park Clubhouse.

Regular council chambers underwent renovations in late December 2019.

So, the clubhouse will serve as the venue for meetings for the balance of 2020.