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Ward 8 - Evan Woolley

City Council Bans Conversion Therapy

Calgary City Council has voted in favour of a ban on conversion therapy. I’m proud that the notice of motion I co-sponsored passed unanimously at Committee and was followed by a near-unanimous vote at Council.

Conversion therapy is a barbaric practice that many cannot believe still existed in our country. Unfortunately, the unprecedented number of written submissions and people who spoke publicly at Committee let us know that the practice was still occurring in our city.

I’m very thankful for the work of City of Calgary Administration on this file. Banning conversion therapy prompted many, including some of my colleagues, to question if a ban was needed or if it was even within the City’s jurisdiction to ban it. Our legal team and other staff worked hard on the wording of the bylaw, which was passed with no amendments. You may read the bylaw  here. Some have expressed concern about the wording of the bylaw and Administration has put together a helpful summary to answer any questions of clarification. The community engagement strategy is outlined here.

Some of you have asked to read my speech from the May 13 Standing Policy Committee on Community and Protective Services. Here it is in full:

The last couple of days have been very difficult but very important. We have heard stories about the lives of citizens that we don’t often hear. A lot of these stories really broke my heart. I had a long night last night, reflecting on my own religious and spiritual history and perspective and I kept on going back to the words of Pam Rocker, who said that faith organizations should support us to be more of who we are, not less. This is why I am really honoured to move the bylaw that’s before us.
Over and over again, speaker after speaker came forward yesterday to say how important it was to support those in our LGBTQ2+, how love and support were critical. Then very often we heard a “but” or a “however”.
I struggle to understand how you can truly love someone if you hold a set of beliefs that posit that another person’s form of love is immoral, sinful, and evil in the face of your God that will, if uncorrected, end with eternal damnation because of that love.
The basis of that love and support underlies an effort to change someone’s sexual orientation to conform to a set of religious beliefs or tenants written by men over two thousand years ago.
500 years ago, these efforts played out in burning members of the LGBTQ2+ community at the stake. I was interested to know the basis of the derogatory term “faggot”, explained to us yesterday. In World War II we saw these efforts send tens of thousands of members of the LGBTQ2+ community, on trains with millions of Jews and other ethnic, cultural and social minorities to their horrific deaths in concentration camps.
20 years ago these efforts this included electro-shock therapy, chemical castration, and lobotomies.
As we have heard, today’s efforts in conversion therapy are often more subtle and included reversion therapy, regressive/gender role-play, fasting, isolation, and even exorcism.
Moreover, today we have heard that having a conversation is not the above things. Nevertheless, words can be weapons that may torture an individual to the point of taking their own life. We heard many stories recounting this tragedy. Words also have the power to destroy.
We are evolving as a secular society and this is a good thing. Women are able to vote and make choices about their bodies despite the religious beliefs that groups or organization can and do hold. Members of our Gender and Sexually Diverse community are able to love and marry who they want despite the protected right of religious groups and organizations to oppose this. And many of those who spoke against the proposed bylaw oppose the right of two men or two women or two people who love each other to make a commitment to love each other. All of these steps have made our country and community more free not less just as supporting this proposed bylaw will create more freedom, not less.
We are building a better world.
I believe that there was a significant lack of understanding and misrepresentation of the definition presented to us. So much of the conversation by speakers opposed to it presented the belief that this definition would undermine religious freedom, your ability as a parent to have conversations with your children, and many other concerns that are no way included in this bylaw.
There are many more laws protecting religious freedoms than there are laws protecting those vulnerable members of the LGBTQ2+ in our community who would be harmed by the practice of conversion therapy.
However, taking religion completely out of this, as someone who endeavors to make decisions that are evidence-based, and in the public interest, for me this is a public health issue. Our role is to provide safe and viable communities. It is the foundation of our job.
You can hold a belief; you can preach it from the street or the pulpit, to an individual or a group. This bylaw in no way threatens that fundamental right nor should it.
This bylaw does say and is very specific that you cannot undertake a treatment, therapy, or practice that we know to be dangerous to the individual participating in it.
You cannot go to a doctor and demand an treatment that has been determined by the scientific and medical community to be dangerous and harmful. So why should permit an untrained individual to do so under the frame of religious freedom?
This bylaw is very specifically crafted and very intentionally written so as not to limit the concerns that we heard it might, and to instead zero-in on what has been identified as dangerous and harmful.
There is broad consensus in the scientific and medical communities that supports our efforts to end therapies that have and continue to take a significant toll on mental and physical health of many citizens in our community.
At a time when our medical professionals are our heroes in protecting us from a pandemic that is challenging the foundations of the world in which we live. With this, it is no different. There is a consensus from these same heroes that are supporting us in ending this harmful practice.
This wording is strong, Committee, and we asked administration unanimously to work towards, but this is not our unique definition. This definition has been evolving and is being defined in this manner by many other governments in Canada and around the globe.
Our jurisdiction may be small but it is ours and with committee and Council support we will be exercising that jurisdiction in building a more safe and inclusive community for our citizens. There broader and deeper jurisdictions in our partners in the provincial and federal governments. The province has stopped all work related to ending this practice and the federal government in its minority form may be years away from this.
I am asking you from the bottom of my heart, Committee, to support these recommendations. When we promote hatred, it is labelled a crime. When we promote self-hatred, it is labelled a “therapy”. Promoting self-hatred is not therapy, it is simply the promotion of hatred.

Thank you.

Categories: Community, Councillor’s initiatives, Safety

This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Ward Councillor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.