Vancouver has become the first Canadian city to ban the controversial, discredited, and anti-queer practice of conversion therapy.
Today (June 6), city council voted unanimously for a prohibition bylaw that will prevent businesses from offering conversion therapy, or the pseudoscientific attempt to change the sexual orientation of a person from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual. (Conversion therapy is also known as reparation therapy or the ex-gay movement.)
Prior to voting on the motion, several city councillors had raised concerns about a stipulation that the bylaw be restricted to minors.
In response to Coun. Tim Stevenson's request for the rationale for the age restriction, deputy city manager Paul Mochrie explained that based on advice from city staff and legal department, the bylaw would be vulnerable to constitutional challenges if applied more broadly. Previous examples in other jurisdictions such as in Ontario, which banned it in 2015, have been limited minors and cases in the U.S. that weren't age-specific have been legally challenged.
Mochrie added that council can also address the conduct of such businesses through the business prohibition bylaw.
However, Coun. George Affleck felt that the motion needed to go further and ban conversion therapy outright. His recommendation for an amendment was supported by Coun. Stevenson, who identifies as gay.
Coun. Elizabeth Ball agreed with Affleck and pointed out that conversion therapy is a "fraudulent practise" and therefore would have legal support.
A series of speakers discussed issues about conversion therapy, including LGBTQ2-plus Advisory Committee co-chair Jen Donovan, who talked about the importance of taking a public stance to reinforce the paradigm shift occurring about conversion therapy and sending a message to the public that Vancouver is a city that "doesn't tolerate hate or oppressive acts to its citizens".
Local author Peter Gadjics talked about his experience of six years in conversion therapy in Vancouver in the 1990s which he detailed in his 2017 memoir, The Inheritance of Shame.
"Homophobia even happens in situations of therapeutic intervention," he said. "Conversion therapy is a problem of ideology, not nationality."
He pointed out that bans can help to dissuade similar attempts in other forms of therapy that may not be identified as conversion therapy, as he himself experienced.
Vancouver city council's unanimous vote arrives on the same day that CBC News ran a report about a Vancouver-based Christian group, Journey Canada, which purports to address sexuality, relationships, and identity, and is currently running an introductory course in Vancouver until June 10.
Their website states that their beliefs include that "God’s design for marriage is a life-long covenant between one man and one woman", "God designed the gift of genital sex to be expressed within the form of heterosexual marriage", and "any sexual act outside the heterosexual expression of marriage (such as oral sex or mutual masturbation, pornography use, compulsive masturbation) breaks the boundaries God has set for sexual expression".
In a statement on their website addressing concerns about conversion therapy, the organization states "we do not promise, or even make it our goal, to change participants’ sexual orientation". However, the statement goes on to say that the majority of participants "experience a reduction in the strength or power of same-sex attraction/orientation and increased hope, strength, desire, and ability to live in accordance with their personal beliefs regarding sexual ethics".
CBC News reported that a weeklong intensive retreat the organziation was planning to be held on July 22 in Rothesay, New Brunswick, has been cancelled after criticism from LGBT activists.
Conversion therapy has been banned in several U.S. states and cities. Manitoba became the first province in Canada to ban conversion therapy in 2015, followed by Ontario in the same year. Neither British Columbia nor Canada has prohibited it yet despite petitions calling for bans.