Skip to main content

Alberta’s Justice Minister says the province is open to a federal ban on conversion therapy, which he condemns as harmful and coercive, though he insists the practice is already illegal in Alberta.

Doug Schweitzer wrote his federal counterpart this week to outline Alberta’s position on conversion therapy, which is the practice of attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity through counselling or religious teaching. The United Conservative government has resisted calls to ban it through provincial legislation.

Last month, federal Justice Minister David Lametti called on provincial governments to prohibit conversion therapy while Ottawa considers changes to the Criminal Code to ban it across the country.

“The government of Alberta shares the federal government’s concern for vulnerable populations, including LGBTQ2+ youth,” Mr. Schweitzer said in a letter dated Tuesday.

“We would welcome the opportunity to collaborate on specific proposals to ensure Albertans and Canadians are safe from coercive ‘therapeutic’ practices like conversion therapy."

The United Conservative government faced criticism shortly after the spring election for disbanding a working group on the issue that was formed by the previous NDP government.

Local councils in several Alberta municipalities have voted to pursue bans, including Edmonton, where councillors voted Wednesday to press ahead with a ban. Ontario and Nova Scotia have legislation that makes conversion therapy illegal.

Mr. Schweitzer said conversion therapy is already banned by all professional licensing bodies in the province, and advertising a service that discriminates based on sexual orientation or gender identity would be a violation of the Alberta Human Rights Act.

“The totality of these measures constitutes a complete legal ban,” he wrote.

Kristopher Wells, an associate professor who specializes in sexual minority issues at Edmonton’s MacEwan University, said provincial legislation would send a strong message and put to rest any doubts about the legal status of conversion therapy.

“If the Alberta government is in support of banning conversion therapy, why won’t they introduce legislation? It’s that simple," Dr. Wells, who addressed Edmonton council on Wednesday in support of a municipal ban, said in an interview.

Dr. Wells said conversion therapy is difficult to track because it is kept hidden. He cited a study from a researcher at the University of British Columbia that estimated 20,000 Canadians have been exposed to the practice.

New Democrat Janis Irwin, whose party says it’s continuing the work of the provincial working group, repeated her call for provincial legislation. She said the government has been dismissive of the issue and has not made it a priority.

Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault told the Edmonton city council meeting that a federal ban could take up to two years, meaning it could hinge on the federal election. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has condemned “any type of practice that would forcibly attempt to change someone’s sexual orientation against their will,” but has not taken a position on a federal ban.

Edmonton council voted to ask city staff to research options for a ban. Wednesday’s meeting also heard from opponents of the measure, who argued it would infringe on their religious freedom.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said a “clash of values” shouldn’t outweigh the need to protect people from a practice he described as abuse.

“Whatever you call this practice, it amounts in my mind to a form of psychological abuse," he told the meeting.