Calgary plans to withhold business licences to stop conversion therapy

CALGARY — The mayor of Calgary says a motion to ban the "insidious" practice of conversion therapy is to be brought before a council committee early next week with a vote expected sometime in February.

"It is the right thing to do," Naheed Nenshi said Friday after a meeting with federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu.

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"It is a practice that does extraordinary harm, particularly to vulnerable young people, and it is time to ban it now."

Conversion therapy aims to change an individual's sexual orientation through counselling or religious teachings. It has been discredited as psychologically damaging.

A number of Canadian cities, including Vancouver, Edmonton and St. Albert, Alta., have already banned the practice.

Nenshi said Calgary has ways to stop or discourage groups from using the therapy.

"We do have certain bylaw authority ... to prevent those kind of businesses from getting licences and from them operating within the city of Calgary."

Hajdu said the federal government sent letters to all provinces last summer asking them to ban conversion therapy, but hasn't heard back from Alberta.

However, a spokesman for the province's Justice Department provided a copy Friday of a letter that was sent in response.

"We would welcome the opportunity to collaborate on specific proposals to ensure Albertans and Canadians are safe from coercive 'therapeutic' practices like conversion therapy, which is already banned by all relevant professional licensing bodies in Alberta," the letter said.

"As members of the government have stated many times, the government of Alberta has been clear that we oppose and condemn conversion therapy."

The United Conservative government last summer disbanded a working group that was tasked with coming up with a strategy on the issue.

"I can tell you that in speaking with people who have experienced conversion therapy ... that it is incredibly harmful, especially for young people, but really at any stage of a person's life or development," Hajdu said.

"To be told that the way that they are is so essentially wrong, that they have to take active steps to change their core identity — it's an incredibly disrespectful ... harmful practice that needs to end."

Hajdu and Nenshi acknowledged it may not be easy to force an end to the therapy, especially if church groups are involved.

"If you're charging for it, you need a business licence. If people are doing this sort of thing in their basement, without charging people for it ... that's where we need the province and the federal government to act," Nenshi said.

"It's enmeshed sometimes in faith organizations. It may be a practice that they offer for families. It may be a private practitioner that is not advertising widely," added Hajdu.

Conversion therapy is opposed by the Canadian Psychological Association, World Health Organization and Amnesty International.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2020

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