Coun. Jyoti Gondek said she recalled an advocacy group coming in to speak with her about Calgary’s proposed conversion therapy bylaw.
“Any time that an advocacy group comes into your office and they’re nervous about speaking to you because they don’t know what your view is going to be on something like conversion therapy, that’s frightening that we live in a society where someone had to come and visit me and they weren’t sure how I would react,” Gondek said during Monday’s council meeting.
“What kind of a message have we sent as leaders if we haven’t been vocal about this?”
Gondek’s comments received approval by the hundreds in council for the debate Monday – to the point Mayor Naheed Nenshi had to remind them outbursts weren’t allowed in chambers.
Calgary LGBTQ advocate Mike Morrison said the unanimous approval sent a message that this is more than just symbolic.
“There are a lot of comments about whether or not this is just a symbolic gesture. But as Coun. (Druh) Farrell said, all human rights movements start with a symbolic gesture,” he told LiveWire Calgary.
“It says that, despite the recent actions of the provincial government, that the City of Calgary is a welcoming place, and we’re going to keep moving forward and there’s lots that we should do to make sure that every person in Calgary feels welcome.”
Conversion therapy ban approved 14-0
Calgary city councillors unanimously approved the drafting of a bylaw to prohibit the business practice of conversion therapy, including a fine for those advertising or offering conversion therapy services within Calgary.
While this Notice of Motion, put forward by Coun. Evan Woolley and co-signed by Couns. Druh Farrell, Gian-Carlo Carra, Jyoti Gondek, Peter Demong and Mayor Nenshi, was approved 14-0, some concerns were raised in council about how they would craft the bylaw so it wouldn’t “overreach” into conversation people may have with others seeking advice.
“I support this. I think we have to be very thoughtful and careful in the construction of our bylaw to be fair to all parties,” said Coun. Ward Sutherland, who said his office received numerous calls and emails, concerned about how the bylaw would be applied, particularly in conversations around the topic of sexuality, and whether they would face punishment.
“They’re concerned as a council we might overreach our boundaries.”
Councillors also heard from city administration that it would pertain to businesses only, as that would be within their jurisdiction.
Advocacy at provincial, federal levels must be ramped up: Coun. Woolley
One big component of the approved motion was to ramp up advocacy with other levels of government to ban the practice, particularly with some concerned Calgary’s ban was symbolic. Woolley said it’s something that needed to be added to Canada’s Criminal Code.
“There’s been a lot of conversation in terms of what the city’s role is in this, and we spent a lot of time talking about that,” Woolley said.
“I’m going to be really frank. We need the federal government, changes to the criminal code, in order for us to really, really deal with this.”
He also made note of the province discontinuing a conversion therapy working group, as he believes the practice of conversion therapy is happening a lot in Alberta’s rural communities.
“City’s have actually often times been on the front line of issues, even though they don’t have all of the tools,” Woolley said in his opening.
Morrison also said the federal government needs to do more in this area.
“It feels to me like the Liberals have just coasted the last few years in terms of equality,” he said, adding there’s two things they can do: ban conversion therapy and lift the ban on gay blood donations.
Just prior to the vote, Woolley reiterated his point that once it was approved, they would come after those who continued the practice.
“If you’re an organization or individual whose undertaking this practice, hopefully after this vote, will no longer be welcome,” Woolley said.
“And we will come and use all the tools at our table to come and find you to ensure you aren’t subjecting our citizens to this awful practice.”
A bylaw is expected to come back to the city Community and Protective Services committee in March.