Rocky Mountain House moving to ban conversion therapy

Several Alberta municipalities prohibiting controversial sexual orientation conversion practice

The Town of Rocky Mountain House has moved to ban the controversial practice of conversion therapy.

Council unanimously passed a motion that would make conversion therapy — a widely discredited practice that tries to use counselling and therapy to change a person’s sexual orientation — a prohibited business under the town’s bylaws.

Council also directed administration to write the federal and provincial governments in an effort to have the practice banned.

Last month, Edmonton city council’s community and public services committee agreed to draft a bylaw prohibiting the licensing, practise and promotion of conversion therapy.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson called the therapy a form of psychological abuse.

Edmonton MP Randy Boissonnault, who is gay, is lobbying to have the practice declared a criminal offence. St. Albert has also passed legislation prohibiting conversion therapy within its borders, and Rocky Mountain House town council had previously asked administration to see how the other community had handled it.

Council debated Aug. 20 whether to wait to see how the provincial and federal governments — which are both looking at conversion therapy — handle the issue before changing municipal regulations.

“Conversion therapy. I can’t believe we’re actually talking about this,” said Mayor Tammy Burke. “It’s absolutely disgusting.

“But I’m just wondering, as our municipality, what is the best thing to do?”

Coun. Merrin Fraser said when the new provincial government dismantled a working group set up by the NDP, it was clear the issue was not going to be addressed soon.

St. Albert’s move to ban conversion therapy sent a message that it is an important issue to its community and other Albertans, she said.

“To me, I like that St. Albert took a step and said ‘it’s not a priority of the provincial government, (but) it’ still a priority for us.’ ”

Burke said taking action on conversion therapy helps the town show it is an inclusive community.

“I think we need to tackle this provincially and federally. I don’t think we need to stop with just our bylaw.

“I don’t want to just push it into someone else’s backyard if somebody’s considering doing this practise.”

Town chief administrative officer Dean Krause suggested the town amend the business bylaw to indicate conversion therapy is prohibited, rather than trying to change the land use bylaw, which is due to be updated soon anyway.

Administration will bring back proposed business bylaw changes to its Sept. 17 meeting.

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