Spruce Grove city council passes motion to explore ban on conversion therapy
Spruce Grove city council unanimously passed a motion Monday, ordering city officials to research the possibility of banning the controversial practice known as conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy, the practice of counselling people in an attempt to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, was briefly debated at a city council meeting in the community just west of Edmonton Monday night.
While some city councillors are said the practice isn’t happening in the community, others are not so convinced it’s not.
Coun. Erin Stevenson, who put forward the notice of motion last month, told CTV News Edmonton she’s spoken with at least six people who’ve personally experienced some form of conversion therapy.
“I have residents who have emailed me explaining how difficult and how dangerous the conversion therapy was for them when they were put through it here in Spruce Grove,” Stevenson said.
Conversion therapy was banned in St. Albert this year, in Manitoba in 2015 and in Nova Scotia in 2018.
A Senate of Canada bill (S-260) defines conversion therapy as, “any practice, treatment or service designed to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity or to eliminate or reduce sexual attraction or sexual behaviour between persons of the same sex.”
Spruce Grove Coun. Wayne Rothe told council, though he supports the motion, he doesn’t believe conversion therapy is happening in the community.
“I’ve had conversations now with five pastors and the principal at Living Waters Christian Academy and all six of those individuals, none of them practice conversion therapy,” Roth said.
The councilor said he wants clarification on what exactly conversion therapy means, acknowledging differing opinions on defining the practice may be to blame for the divide.
“If the pastor, with the permission of the parents, prays over that (gay) child, and prays with the child, and prays for the child, is that conversion therapy? And I don’t believe that it is,” Rothe said.
CTV News Edmonton later read the proceeding quote to Kristopher Wells, Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth at MacEwan University. Wells disagreed with Rothe’s assessment.
“There’s no need for them to pray for that (gay) child or find some salvation,” Wells said.
Wells said there are documented cases of conversion therapy happening all across Alberta, although he wasn’t aware of any specific cases in Spruce Grove.
The report ordered Monday in Spruce Grove is due back in October.
Stevenson says she already supports a ban, but hopes the report provides information that will help her build consensus on council and beyond.
“I wish it was just symbolic…it’s a hard enough time to be struggling with your sexuality. But to be put through that type of torture is absolutely dangerous…if there’s something we do so that others don’t have to go through that, that’s the most important thing to me,” Stevenson said.