Lethbridge city council passes bylaw banning conversion therapy

WATCH: After hours of discussion at Lethbridge's city council meeting Monday, a bylaw banning conversion therapy was passed by a vote of 7-2.

Lethbridge has become the latest city in Alberta to ban conversion therapy.

The practice has already been banned in a handful of other municipalities in the province — including Calgary, Edmonton, St. Albert, Strathcona County, Wood Buffalo, Rocky Mountain House and Spruce Grove — and on Monday, Lethbridge joined that list.

The second and third readings of the bylaw passed in a 7-2 vote following lengthy discussion from city council.

The bylaw defines the prohibited business as follows:

“No person may engage in or operate a business that provides the offering or provision of counselling or behaviour modification techniques, administration or prescription of medication, or any other purported treatment, service, or tactic used for the objective of changing a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or gender preference, or eliminating or reducing sexual attraction or sexual behaviour between persons of the same sex, not including: (1) services that provide acceptance, support, or understanding of a person or that facilitate a person’s coping, social support, or identity exploration or development, or (2) gender-affirming surgery or any service related to gender-affirming surgery.”

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Before council even got to the bylaw, which was up for a second and third reading, it first dealt with a motion from councillors Blaine Hyggen and Joe Mauro. The submission requested that the city host a public hearing on conversion therapy before moving ahead with a bylaw.

Mauro says he felt the move was necessary after council received hundreds of emails on the topic over the last two weeks.

“When I have 500 people that pay my wage — pay all of us — to be here, to listen, we always seek engagement, we want the community (to engage), we get frustrated and angry when we have issues and we ask and beg the community to engage and nobody comes,” he said. “And now, they are knocking on our door, and we’re going to say no to them? It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Mauro’s sentiment was only shared by Hyggen and Coun. Ryan Parker, as the motion was defeated by a vote of 6-3.

Coun. Rob Miyashiro voted against the motion. He says his decision was based on his belief that public engagement wouldn’t be productive and that it could potentially force victims of trauma to relive past experiences.

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“I’m one of the few people on council that truly believes we’re elected to make decisions,” Miyashiro said. “Judging by the hundreds and hundreds of emails we got, there’s no way that a public hearing would accomplish anything.”

The meeting then moved on to second and third readings of the bylaw, with second reading including a lengthy debate surrounding language.

A proposed amendment from Hyggen was voted down, and half of an amendment from Mayor Chris Spearman was passed, which added language recognizing freedom of conscience and religion.

The second reading passed in a 7-2 vote, and just minutes later, the third reading also passed 7-2, with Hyggen and Mauro the only councillors opposed.

Hyggen says it wasn’t the content of the bylaw that determined his vote but, rather, how it was written.

“It was the language,” Hyggen said. “I’m against conversion therapy, I struggle with the way the bylaw was written, as many of us were. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been hours of discussion.”

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Even after the bylaw passed, there still wasn’t agreement on how or if the bylaw will be enforced within Lethbridge.

Mauro says he is under the impression that the bylaw won’t hold up in a court of law.

“I just don’t believe it has any teeth, as most of our bylaws don’t have any teeth,” Mauro said.

But Miyashiro says he believes the bylaw is clear.

“Oh, there’s teeth in it,” he said. “I mean, a $10,000 fine.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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