'It’s very damaging': Council explores how Saskatoon can ban conversion therapy
SASKATOON -- Led by Coun. Darren Hill, Saskatoon City Council will look closer at the role it can have in banning the controversial practice of conversion therapy.
"It was not anything I'm familiar with but I do know people who have experienced it and I agree it's very damaging," Hill said.
On Tuesday the city's Governance and Priorities Committee, which is made up of all members of council, reviewed a letter calling for a ban on conversion therapy in Saskatoon.
Conversion therapy is the practice of changing someone's sexual orientation or gender identity often through religious counselling.
The letter, penned by Fran Forsberg with the Grosvenor Park United Church, called it "abhorrent" with devastating consequences. Charlie Klassen with the church told the committee how conversion therapy harms a person's mental health.
"When you tell someone no, when you beat it into someone, whether literally or figuratively that their sexual orientation or gender identity is wrong … what's going to change is not their identity, what's going to change is their mental health," Klassen said.
"I do know that conversion therapy leads to feelings of shame, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem which in turn leads to an incredibly high rate of suicide attempts."
In response to Klassen and the letter, Hill put forward a motion asking the city's administration to report back on what role the City of Saskatoon can play "to ensure that conversion therapy is prohibited in Saskatoon.”
Hill's motion received unanimous support from the committee.
Out Saskatoon executive director Rachel Loewen Walker told CTV a bylaw banning the practice of conversion therapy may not be enough to stop it.
"The thing about conversion therapy is that it's not as though there's a sign that says 'we're practicing conversion therapy.' It takes the guise of support groups or spiritual workshops," she said. "That's where it's going to take more than a bylaw, but a bylaw will definitely be a powerful way of saying 'this is not okay.'"
For this ban to have an effect, the provincial and federal governments need to ban the practice as well, she said.
"Because it's ingrained in some systems, I think it will take provincial legislation, federal legislation, a lot of education," she said.
Because conversion therapy isn't advertised, Klassen said it's difficult to say whether the practice of conversion therapy is happening in Saskatoon.
"That's where it's very tricky," Klassen said. "For me the big thing is nobody should be forced to do it. Once you're an adult you can make that choice … but as a minor it's their parents making that choice for them, and I think that's where we need to change."