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Edmonton-area municipality becomes Alberta’s first to ban conversion therapy

Edmonton-area municipality becomes Alberta’s first to ban conversion therapy
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ST. ALBERT, Alta. — An Edmonton-area community has voted to ban conversion therapy — the practice of attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity through counselling or religious teaching.

City council in St. Albert voted unanimously on Monday to approve a motion that would eliminate the controversial practice through bylaw amendments. It calls for a $10,000 fine for anyone who advertises or performs the therapy on minors in the city.

Coun. Natalie Joly, who introduced the motion in May, said there’s no indication conversion therapy is conducted in St. Albert, but she wanted to show that it’s not welcome there.

“For me, it’s a statement to our youth that says we have their backs, that we love them just the way they are and that we want to make sure they have safe spaces and to know there are safe places in their community,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

Similar bans exist in Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Vancouver.

Kristopher Wells, a Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth at MacEwan University in Edmonton, said it’s a positive step for St. Albert to move forward with a ban.

“It’s part of a larger trend that we’re seeing not only across Canada, but North America — this movement to end conversion therapy, which many consider to be a form of psychological torture and abuse,” he said.

Wells said it’s particularly important in Alberta, where the United Conservative government recently disbanded a working group tasked with outlining the province’s strategy on the issue.

In St. Albert, several speakers addressed council about conversion therapy before the vote was taken Monday. A brief celebration erupted in the public gallery after the result of the vote was announced and Mayor Cathy Heron told onlookers “you can clap.”

“A motion like this is not about the year 2019. It probably should have been done many years ago,” Heron said following the meeting.

“I think many people thought this doesn’t occur any more, so I think this brings to light that it does in certain jurisdictions and we need to put an end to it.”

The motion also encourages the federal government to make conversion therapy a criminal offence. City administrators advised against the ban, saying it should be left to higher levels of government.

St. Albert is believed to be the first municipality in Alberta to pass such a ban.

Wells said Calgary, Edmonton and Sherwood Park, Alta., are also considering a similar bylaw.

“It’s hugely important that these messages get out that this does not represent the values of Albertans and I think municipalities are going to have an increasing role to play in creating these kinds of welcoming and inclusive and supportive communities,” he said.

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

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