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Prohibited Businesses Bylaw

On Monday, May 25 Calgary City Council voted to pass the Prohibited Businesses Bylaw to ban the practice and promotion of “conversion therapy”. With this, The City of Calgary initiates new regulations to:

  • protect Calgarians, regardless of gender and sexual orientation, and
  • to continue to be a city that is welcoming for all, committed to supporting equality and human rights.

“Conversion therapy” has been deemed a harmful and unscientific practice. The bylaw prohibits the business practice of “conversion therapy”, which includes a fine for those advertising or offering “conversion therapy” services within Calgary.

All levels of government have a role to play in protecting Calgarians from the harms associated with it. Calgary City Council may pass bylaws for municipal purposes respecting the safety, health and welfare of people. The City of Calgary has the authority to pass bylaws concerning businesses, ensuring citizens’ expectations for safe and ethical business practices are met.

Filing a complaint

To report suspected non-compliance of the Prohibited Businesses Bylaw, or if you have questions about the bylaw, contact 311.

Penalties and enforcement

The bylaw carries a $10,000 fine for any person found to be contravening any provision of the bylaw.

The bylaw will operate on a complaint basis - individuals or businesses known or suspected to be engaged in this process can be reported by calling 311. Every call will be taken seriously and will be investigated.

The bylaw would not apply to those businesses that provide support services for a person’s social, medical or legal gender transition; or to a person’s non-judgmental exploration and acceptance of their identity or development.

Background information

In addition to government organizations major medical and human rights organizations also oppose the practice. The Canadian Psychological Association opposes the practice of “conversion therapy” stating that it can result in negative outcomes such as distress, anxiety, depression, negative self-image, a feeling of personal failure, difficulty sustaining relationships, and sexual dysfunction. As such, the College of Alberta Psychologists amended the Standards of Practice in October 2019 to prohibit psychologists from providing any treatment, counselling or behavior modification techniques with the objective of changing or modifying the sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of an individual. Multiple Canadian and international medical organizations also support ending the practice.

The federal government has also taken steps to ban the practice. The Federal Minister of Justice has been instructed by the Prime Minister’s Office to amend the Criminal Code to ban the practice of “conversion therapy” and take other steps required with the provinces and territories to end “conversion therapy” in Canada. In March 2020 the Federal Government introduced legislation to criminalize “conversion therapy”-related conduct in Canada. The legislation proposes five new “conversion therapy” related, Criminal Code offenses.

The Government of Alberta has yet to take any action to ban this practice. Calgary is the seventh municipality in Alberta to have passed a bylaw prohibiting the practice and promotion of “conversion therapy”, following Edmonton, St. Albert, Strathcona County, Wood Buffalo, Rocky Mountain House, and Spruce Grove.

Questions about the Prohibited Businesses Bylaw

Why was the creation of a bylaw necessary for The City of Calgary if the Federal government has taken action to amend the criminal code to ban “conversion therapy”?

The federal legislation is likely a year or more away from being enacted and until the final reading of Bill C-8 occurs, The City of Calgary won’t fully know the impact to this bylaw.

There is a possibility that this bylaw will mirror that legislation and Law has advised that if this is the case The City would look to make any changes required to the bylaw.

Is The City of Calgary’s work in line with the provincial government?

The Government of Alberta has not yet taken any formal legislative action to ban ”conversion therapy”.

What citizen feedback informed the Prohibited Businesses Bylaw?

Administration engaged with targeted stakeholders on bylaw definitions.

An online survey to ensure clarity of the definitions of business, “conversion therapy”, and fines and violation was provided to 58 organizations.

The organizations were selected based on the potential impact of the bylaw to their overall organization, and consisted of both faith and LGBTQ2S+ organizations.

The following 58 organizations were engaged:

  • 44 were faith based groups or organizations (or 76%)
  • Eight were LGBTQ2S+ organizations (14%)
  • Six were organizations such as a mental health organization or an aboriginal student centre (10%)

How was feedback from the groups and organizations used?

The feedback included a recommendation to provide additional wording and some refining for the definition of “conversion therapy”, and clarification of the difference between trying to change someone’s identity and supporting their identity exploration.

Administration has taken stakeholder input and clarified parts of the bylaw, and will use the feedback to inform both the bylaw public education component, and the training of the peace officers.

How was the final definition of “conversion therapy” decided on for the bylaw?

The definition was established as a result of:

  • Extensive research and input from professionals in the field;
  • Other definitions which have withstood legal challenges;
  • Input from “conversion therapy” survivors;
  • Best practices of other municipalities and alignment to the proposed federal definition, and;
  • Feedback from the stakeholder engagement.

Will the bylaw apply to clergy and church organizations, such as synagogues, mosques and other faith-based organizations?

Yes, the Prohibited Businesses Bylaw includes not-for-profit organizations such as faith groups that provide practices/services designed to change, repress or discourage a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour.

Is there a way to protect a business (as defined) that is providing general counselling services?

If referring to the proposed definition of “conversion therapy” within the bylaw, general counselling services will be protected if the services are providing non-judgmental exploration and acceptance of a person’s identity or development.

Does The City have the authority to regulate any service activity provided by any association of persons (i.e. activities in a church)?

The Prohibited Businesses Bylaw does not prevent or restrict religious thoughts or beliefs, nor does it prevent the right to worship.

This bylaw places reasonable limits on any practice, treatment or service attempting to change, repress, or discourage a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour.

Have any of the other municipalities in the province had legal challenges to their bylaws?

To date no other provincial municipality with a similar bylaw has had a legal challenge. It is important to note that all bylaws are still relatively new.

How will conversation therapy operations be reported to The City of Calgary?

The bylaw will operate on a complaint basis – individuals or businesses known or suspected to be engaged in this process can be reported by calling 311.

How will The City of Calgary confirm this is taking place once a business has been reported?

Every call will be taken seriously and will be investigated.

Why was $10,000 recommended as the fine amount?

The specified penalty amount for an offence under this bylaw is $10,000. Administration recommended this fine amount after careful consideration of other Alberta jurisdictions that have imposed the same fine amount, as well as the egregious nature and inherent harm of the practice.