Working group to end conversion therapy ‘disbanded’

By Catherine Griwkowsky May 28, 2019

An NDP-created working group to ban the practice conversion therapy has been “disbanded,” but the minister of health denies responsibility.
Steve Buick, press secretary for UCP Health Minister Tyler Shandrotold the Edmonton Journal the working group was disbanded with the change of government, stating there is no need to study conversion therapy because “it’s not a valid health service.”
“It’s not practiced in Alberta and it cannot be, because no health professional regulator would permit it. Any regulated health professional — doctor, nurse, psychologist, etc. — would be found guilty of unprofessional conduct if they practiced it,” Buick said in a statement to the newspaper.
The committee was formed in February and was scheduled to meet for five months culminating in a written report to the government. Its co-chairs were NDP MLA Nicole Goehring and advocate Glynnis Lieb.
Conversion therapy, a practice to attempt to modify sexual orientation or gender identity through therapy or counselling, has been banned in Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba. The practice has widely been debunked and is considered harmful.
Shandro told the Edmonton Journal his government is opposed to conversion therapy.
“Our priority is always to make sure nobody is forced to do anything, especially children,” Shandro said. “Children deserve to be living in a caring environment.”
Shandro took to Twitter to contest the Journal article, saying there was no ministerial order to appoint the group, nor was it an official government committee.
“This headline is untrue and not at all represents what I or my office told [Journal reporter Emma Graney],” Shandro said, linking to the article. “We cancelled nothing. We disbanded nothing.”
“If the NDP’s “working group” wants to continue to meet, they’re welcome to do so. I’m happy to hear what they have to say,” Shandro wrote.
The NDP’s LGBTQ critic Janis Irwin called on the UCP government to reconsider its decision.
“Banning conversion therapy is about more than ending a harmful practice,” Irwin said. “It’s about the type of society we want. A ban would reinforce the message that there’s nothing wrong with being #LGBTQ, and would also show that we’re valued.”
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said axing the group is “heartbreaking,” noting her former government received more than 280 pieces of correspondence on the subject since 2015.
“I will take the word of those victims over a [government] who did not consult with the group before cancelling it,” Notley tweeted.
While the NDP government had hinted at legislation to ban conversion therapy last fall, then-health minister Sarah Hoffman determined more consultation was needed.
At the time, the Alberta Liberals warned delaying legislation until after the election would put vulnerable youth at risk.
MacEwan University associate professor Kristopher Wells, who specializes in sexual and gender minority youth, education and culture, said Buick’s assertion that conversion therapy does not happen in Alberta is inaccurate.
“It is completely wrong to say that conversion therapy is not occurring in Alberta” Wells tweeted. “Has anyone from the new government actually talked with experts or the LGBTQ community?”
The working group’s membership included MLAs, academics, community advocates, faith leaders, LGBTQ+ community members, people with lived experience, professional representatives, and subject matter experts.
Meanwhile, B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver tabled a private member’s bill yesterday to ban the practice in his province.