Western News

June 7, 2020

Western Canada: Conversion-therapy bans like the ones in Calgary, Edmonton haven’t led to prosecutions

Wendy Cox and James Keller

Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.

When Calgary city council passed a ban on conversion therapy – a widely condemned practice aimed at changing someone’s sexuality – it was the latest in a string of local and provincial governments across Canada to do so.

But in provinces that have had bans in place for years, officials say they have yet to start any investigations – a revelation that experts say underscores the challenges in targeting a process that is often done in secret.

It also comes as Parliament considers a national ban.

Ontario, Nova Scotia and PEI have passed laws banning conversion therapy, while Manitoba instructed its professional colleges to ensure that the practice was prohibited. Nova Scotia, Ontario and Manitoba all say that they aren’t aware of any investigations, much less prosecutions, while PEI’s Justice Ministry did not respond to requests about the issue.

Kristopher Wells, a professor at MacEwan University in Edmonton who has frequently spoken in favour of conversion-therapy bans, said the lack of enforcement does not mean such legislation is ineffective or unneeded.

Rather, he says it reflects the reality that conversion therapy is difficult to prosecute because of the secretive nature of many of the groups providing it, and often goes unreported. Survivors aren’t always aware of the laws surrounding these practices or the mechanisms to report it.

Dr. Wells said bans must be in place at all levels of government, which he said acts as a powerful deterrent while also indicating support for the LGBTQ community.

Calgary’s ban, passed last month, is considered one of the strictest in the country. It prohibits any business from offering conversion therapy to anyone, including adults.

The federal legislation, in contrast, prohibits providing or advertising conversion therapy for minors.

Other communities in Alberta have also passed anti-conversion-therapy bylaws in the past year, including Edmonton and Spruce Grove, while advocates called on the province to come up with a ban.

The provincial government has rejected that idea, instead arguing that it is already effectively banned by the province’s medical regulators. Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, however, said his government would be open to a federal ban.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.


Around the West:

TRANS MOUNTAIN: Workers in Kamloops began construction on the Trans Mountain project this week, the first major step in British Columbia toward expanding the 1,150-kilometre pipeline that carries oil from just outside Edmonton to Burnaby. Similar work has been under way for months in neighbouring Alberta. Trans Mountain Corp. expects between 30 and 50 people will work on the project in Kamloops this month, reaching about 600 at peak construction in late summer or early fall. Trans Mountain said it has worked with the Kamloops Accommodation Association to find local hotels and service providers that can meet the requirements of COVID-19 health measures, including food service, extra cleaning and a dedicated screening area for workers before they go to the site.

NEW B.C. COVID-19 MODELLING: Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer, released new COVID-19 figures this week showing that over the past two weeks, under the first stage of B.C.'s reopening, transmission rates remain low in almost every part of the province. The few exceptions have emerged in the Fraser Valley, with some clusters related to workplaces and a family gathering, but the overall picture shows that the province is at low risk from the pandemic. “I’m very hopeful that end of June into July, we’ll be able to take those vacations that we need,” Dr. Henry told a news conference.

VPD OFFICER UNDER REVIEW: B.C.'s municipal police watchdog agency is taking a new look at the case of a Vancouver police officer accused of assaulting a former girlfriend. At issue are allegations that Constable Neil Logan became impaired and assaulted Alyssa LeBlevec during a 2017 trip to Oregon, striking her multiple times while she was driving, at a roadside and at their motel. He also allegedly enfolded her in bear hugs against her will. The constable was subject to a pair of Vancouver Police Department professional standards reviews in 2019 and 2020 that led to disciplinary proposals of 15 days’ suspension without pay, as well as suspension without pay for six days and attending sessions with a psychologist. The province’s municipal police watchdog is dismissive of the reviews’ findings, and suggested a lack of understanding and consideration of the impact of trauma and the dynamics of intimate partner violence in assessing Ms. LeBlevec’s evidence.

LABOUR TROUBLES: A union representing more than 12,000 health care and long-term care workers in Saskatchewan has written to the Premier warning of job action if there is no change in negotiations. The union’s members include licensed practical nurses, continuing-care aids, maintenance and recreational staff, and workers in long-term care, acute care and home-care facilities. Last year, union members rejected as inadequate a five-year tentative agreement that would have given them wage increases of zero, zero, one, two and two per cent.

COMMERCIAL TENANTS IN ALBERTA: Alberta is considering banning commercial evictions in cases where landlords have refused to participate in the federal rent-relief program. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said legislation is coming to help businesses facing eviction, and the government is looking at a ban introduced in B.C. earlier this week as a potential model. Mr. Kenney said he’s concerned by stories from tenants who say that they can’t benefit from a program designed to cut their rents by 75 per cent because their landlords have not opted in. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have also passed similar bans.

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MANITOBA HYDRO LAYOFFS: Manitoba Hydro said Friday it was unable to find alternatives to layoffs with two unions – Unifor and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The utility was originally looking at 700 temporary layoffs as part of an order from the Progressive Conservative government to reduce costs during the pandemic. But senior managers, engineers and others avoided layoffs in their sections by accepting three unpaid days off instead. The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents office and technical workers, has been offered the same alternative, and Manitoba Hydro said discussions are to continue next week. A spokesperson for Unifor, which represents emergency call responders and other workers, said talks aimed at avoiding layoffs – through unpaid days off or temporary pay cuts – broke down when the employer wouldn’t rule out more job cuts in the near future.



Gary Mason on the Delta Hospice Society MAID controversy: “What is taking place at the hospice society is simply wrong. The fact is, while it may be a private institution, it was built with money raised from the broader community. It was always intended to meet the needs of those contributors as well. I doubt many donated hoping that one day the society would be taken over by a closed-minded religious element that imposed its Christian canon on the operation.”

Kelly Cryderman on Jason Kenney’s pandemic performance: “It is easy for people with relatively secure desk jobs, working from home, to say shut it all down. It’s not as clear a calculation for those who are close to losing their businesses or have already lost their jobs. Many are key parts of Mr. Kenney’s conservative base. Even if many Canadians disagree, the feeling is real.”

Jeff Kucharski on the Keystone XL pipeline: “The Keystone XL pipeline – a project that’s been subject to political and legal wrangling for a decade – is looking increasingly like a walking zombie. Despite winning approvals from the Trump administration and investment from TC Energy in March, new hurdles keep emerging. … For Canada, this may actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise: We are now being forced to consider alternatives to becoming even more dependent on oil exports to the United States.”

Adrienne Tanner on the pace of Vancouver city council: “Vancouver city council meetings have always been a slog, but with no party majority and no block voting, they’ve grown worse. Councillors seem to feel they must speak at length to every motion, hoping to sway others to their point of view. You could argue this is democracy at work, that the compromises struck during these laboured discussions will make for better decisions. Perhaps that is true. But they are not conducive to speed.”

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