Spruce Grove takes step toward conversion therapy ban

Staff to compile report by mid-October

A Spruce Grove city councillor's plan to ban conversion therapy is moving forward.

Erin Stevenson initially asked city staff to look at the logistics of banning the practice, which involves trying to change someone's sexual orientation by using counselling or medication.

At last night's meeting, staff committed to a deadline of October 15, to have a full report back in front of council.

Stevenson says that while she hopes council also engages with other levels of government, she believes the municipality is within its jurisdiction to act.

"The thing is right now, is someone tomorrow can come and set up in Spruce Grove and open Conversion Therapy Inc. And people can go and experience this therapy by people who aren't necessarily trained, they're not the professionals, they're not understanding the trauma that they're causing - and there's no recourse for these people," she said.

"There's no legislation, there's no way for (people) to come forward and say 'I've experienced this.' So we have to really make sure that what we're trying to get down to is - who are we protecting?"

The report is set to include potential changes to the Land Use and Business License bylaws, along with fine and enforcement options.

It'll also detail any potential legal challenges, as well as have information on what's being done in other Albertan communities.

Councillor Wayne Rothe said that along with wanting a clearer definition of what conversion therapy is, he's consulted with multiple local religious leaders, and doesn't believe that conversion therapy is happening in Spruce Grove as a result.

Stevenson says that goes against everything she's been told.

"While I appreciate he spoke to one side of things, that's why it's important to have that report come forward, because you need all sides. And you need to make sure that just because someone said one thing, that doesn't mean it didn't happen. And it doesn't mean that it's not happening," she said.

"We have some brave souls that have come forward and shared those emails and their stories with me, and I believe them. I believe them when they say that they have experienced conversion therapy in Spruce Grove."

Stevenson first proposed the ban at a meeting in July, after St. Albert council was the first to vote to ban the practice earlier this summer.

She says a debate on whether it's happening or not shouldn't be the focus.

"When you go and speak to those that have been accused of doing conversion therapy, and they say no, the answer isn't 'case closed.' The answer isn't 'it's not happening.' That's like someone coming forward and accusing someone of rape, and the police going to the rapist and saying 'did you rape her?' And them saying no. And (then) it's like good enough, case closed. You don't do that."

Along with St. Albert, a similar ban is being explored by Edmonton and Strathcona County.

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