Growing chorus calls for Alberta to ban conversion therapy
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said the government is firmly opposed to the practice and no public funding is provided for it in Alberta
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The provincial government is not considering new legislation to specifically outlaw reparative or ‘conversion’ therapy in Alberta, but the option remains open if needed, the deputy premier said.
The Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group (LPIRG) recently launched a letter writing campaign to have the practice, which attempts to change or ‘repair’ someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, banned in Alberta.
The form letter which people can edit or add their own comments to asks the government to create specific legislation that makes conversion therapy ineligible for health care funding and ban any treatment that seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person under 18 years of age.
LPIRG administrative coordinator Pirate Jen Takahashi told Metro she knows the practice is happening in Alberta.
“Some of the conversion therapy is pretty straightforward, you know, talk therapy, meeting once a week, that kind of thing – but it will run the gamut all the way up to physical torture, sexual abuse and rape,” Takahashi said.
The group’s evidence is all anecdotal, but Takahashi said those subjected to the practice are usually too traumatized or afraid of potential consequences they’d face for speaking out.
“I know survivors who will never speak publicly (about their experiences with reparative therapy) because of the backlash they and their family will face from their church or community if it comes out,” Takahashi said.
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said the government is firmly opposed to the practice and no public funding is provided for it in Alberta.
“If any Albertan is aware of this practice occurring, I would encourage them to contact my office,” Hoffman told Metro.
She said the ministry has consulted with Alberta’s healthcare regulatory colleges on the matter and the colleges are not aware of any regulated members performing reparative therapy.
“These professional colleges have accountability mechanisms in place to discipline members if they were to learn otherwise,” Hoffman added.
Takahashi admits introducing legislation to ban the practice would be mostly symbolic, but said it would give victims a path to recourse and send a strong message.
“It’s illegal for a certified professional to offer this treatment, but there’s nothing to stop it, no way for someone to pursue civil action against organizations that do this,” Takahashi said.
“A lot of (introducing legislation) really is a gesture of the government, and of Albertans, saying we will not abide by torture.”
Manitoba became the first province to introduce legislation banning reparative therapy in 2015.
Ontario passed a similar law later that year in response to 17-year-old Leelah Acorn’s suicide.
In a suicide note, Acorn, a trans youth, blamed her death on experiences with conversion therapy she was forced into by her parents.
Dr. Kris Wells, faculty director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, said there ‘isn’t a shred of evidence’ to support the idea reparative therapy can change a persons sexual orientation or gender identity.
“We know there’s no research that supports any of it. It’s not only harmful and unethical, but should be illegal,” Wells told Metro.
“The big concern is these kinds of practices may be happening to young people, because they often can't consent to this treatment, and it has life-long consequences.”
Those consequences include drug and alcohol abuse, self-harming behaviours and ultimately suicide, according to Wells, who said modern forms of reparative therapy tend to be underground and typically exist under the notion of religion.
“It’s not something that’s well advertised, the language used is cloaked,” he said.
“These practices are becoming harder to detect, which is why people are encouraging the government to make the statement that they are not only harmful but illegal in Alberta and encourage people to actively report it if they find this is happening (in their community).”
On Tuesday, in the Edmonton Public School Board’s last regular meeting before the Oct. 16 civic election, trustee Bridget Stirling proposed a four-part motion to lobby Education Minister David Eggen to amend the School Act to further protect the rights of LGBTQ students.
The minister is currently meeting with officials and school trustees in Alberta to discuss possible changes to the School Act.
In addition to asking Eggen to prevent parents from being notified if their child joins a gay-straight alliance at school, Stirling’s motion called for the School Act to explicitly prevent staff from referring students to any type of service or so-called therapy attempting to change or ‘repair’ a student’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
Currently, the EPSB does not make such referrals.
Fellow EPSB trustee Michael Janz, who voted in favour of the motion, recently put forward a petition on his website calling for similar amendments.
“Sexual orientation or gender identity is not a behaviour to be punished or a deficit to be fixed no more than a child’s ethno-cultural background is,” Janz wrote in a blog post titled ‘I will never support "outing" LGBTQ students.’
“Furthermore, I support the current practice that EPSB staff will not refer students to programs or services that attempt to change or repair a student's sexual orientation or gender identity, such as reparative or conversion therapy. This is not only unethical, it is wrong and harmful,” he said.