SASAKTON -- Saskatoon is one step closer to introducing a bylaw prohibiting conversion therapy, a controversial practice of attempting to alter a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or trying to limit non-heterosexual behaviours through counselling

On Monday during a meeting of the city's Governance and Priorities Committee, the mayor and city councillors reviewed a report by the city’s legal team, advising that council could move ahead with a bylaw prohibiting the practice of conversion therapy. The report also included a draft of a potential bylaw.

A motion was put forward to send the draft bylaw to council for further discussion and approval.

Two city councillors opposed the motion, stating the city would be outside of its jurisdiction.

Ward 5 Coun. Randy Donauer expressed concerns about the city enacting the bylaw, noting how banning the practice of conversion therapy is better handled through Criminal Code amendments, which falls under the federal government’s mandate. Donauer did not discredit the concerns about the practice.

“I’ve heard those who have suffered and I believe there needs to be a solution but I don’t think the city is the solution,” Donauer said. “Some of the abuses taking place need to be addressed. We should not be stepping in on Criminal Code issues.”

Ward 3 Coun. David Kirton echoed Donauer's concerns and said he believes the draft bylaw flies in the face of the Constitution. He said the issue should be handled in Ottawa.

“We’re going to be putting in a bylaw that is not constitutional and that’s the danger,” Kirton said. “We need to understand what our jurisdiction is. This does not fall under city hall’s purview.”

Ward 1 Coun. Darren Hill said the city should take the appropriate steps to protect the citizens of Saskatoon from the “harmful practice.”

“Other provinces have done this. Municipalities have done this as a means to protect. Right now there is nothing to stop this from happening in Saskatoon,” Hill said.

Kirton and Donauer opposed the motion. All eight other committee members voted in favour.

Ward 2 Coun. Hilary Gough said people in Saskatoon have been asking for this bylaw and it’s important City Council supports it.

“It’s important that business practices in the community are intended to be supportive in their whole selves and this bylaw helps protect those rights and demonstrates what is acceptable in our community,” she said.

Jack Saddleback with OUTSaskatoon said it would be naive to think conversion therapy isn’t happening in Saskatoon, but because of awareness around the destructive practice, a lot of it is happening underground, he said.

“(The bylaw) is looking to fill the gap that currently exists when it comes to the federal bill. The federal bill will cover all of Canada but that doesn’t help us in the meantime when we look at what’s happening in our city,” Saddleback said.

In its report to the Governance and Priorities Committee the city said the federal bill amending the Criminal Code to include the practice of conversion therapy was re-introduced as Bill C-6, and the bill received second reading. Third reading of the bill could happen when Parliament resumes in January, but that is outside of the city’s control.

To date provinces including Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Yukon and some cities in Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia have introduced bylaws prohibiting the practice of conversion therapy.

In a letter to the committee, Edwin G. Ralph stated the city’s draft bylaw is too broad and potentially dangerous because “it minimizes the rights of individuals who may personally choose to seek such assistance.”

Saddleback said there are two competing narratives on this issue - consenting adults and minors.

“If someone seeking this type of therapy as a consenting adult then they should have the freedom to do so. The federal bill protects minors, 16 and under,” he said.