On Tuesday, the Edmonton City Council celebrated International Human Rights Day by unanimously approving a by-law prohibiting conversion therapy in Alberta’s capital.
Edmonton mayor Don Iveson called conversion therapy “psychological abuse” and “a violence” against the very people it purports to help, since it’s rooted in the idea that there’s something inherently wrong with LGBTQ people.
Now businesses, individuals, and groups reported to be peddling conversion — which has been roundly discredited by experts — could face up to $10,000 in fines and may also lose their business license.
The by-law covers both profit-driven and not-for-profit organizations, containing language specific to faith groups and churches to ensure that they aren’t able to claim special status as grounds for exemption. While it makes room for evidence-based therapeutic efforts to support people in exploring and coming to terms with their LGBTQ identities, the by-law specifically targets:
… counselling or behaviour modification techniques, administration or prescription of medication, or any other purported treatment, service, or tactic used for the objective of changing a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or gender preference, or eliminating or reducing sexual attraction or sexual behaviour between persons of the same sex.
This isn’t Western Canada’s first conversion therapy ban, but according to associate professor Kristopher Wells, who advised council during the by-law’s development, it is the most comprehensive of its kind in all of Canada.
This bylaw will be a model not just for municipalities in Canada, but across the world. What makes this bylaw so powerful is that it captures all forms of conversion therapy, whether they are medical, spiritual, or religious. Council has sent a strong and powerful message that conversion therapy has no place in our community and will be punished by the full extent of the law.
It’s an important model to be sure, since several other Alberta communities are considering their own by-laws against the practice of conversion therapy, including Calgary, St. Albert, and Fort McMurray.
Councillor Aaron Paquette, who brought the by-law forward, argues that the change will have positive implications that reach well beyond the LGBTQ community, emphasizing the economic benefits:
This provides assurance for potential investors that we’re in step with the rest of the world when it comes to human rights. That’s a positive thing. We have seen investment flight in this province already over a lot of different social issues, and we’ve seen social issues — especially around the LGBTQ community — have led to negative investment effects in states like Georgia or North Carolina. We can’t afford that. There are multiple levels to this, of course: the primary one is human rights, but the second one is how the world reacts to our commitment to human rights.
Naturally, social conservatives who oppose the by-law have couched their objections in the same “religious freedom” arguments we hear so often from Christians who are sure they’re being persecuted, as exemplified by Pastor Ray Baillie, speaking on behalf of the Edmonton Area Ministerial Association:
We’re concerned that the end result of these initiatives is to develop a Canada where those who believe something other than the current pansexual narrative find themselves as Canada’s prisoners of conscience.
Earlier this year, Baillie described the proposed ban as “creeping totalitarianism,” which he seems to find an apt phrase for when you want to bully and abuse a marginalized community and the government says it’s not allowed.
The reality is that no one can stop pastors like Baillie from believing whatever they like, however far they stray from “the current pansexual narrative” or the findings of evidence-based science. The by-law just exists to ensure that his ilk can no longer use that belief as a cudgel against LGBTQ people and call it a therapeutic practice.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Lorne for the link)