The Alberta legislature.
David Bloom / Postmedia, file
The UCP has cancelled a working group tasked with banning gay conversion therapy in Alberta.Former NDP health minister Sarah Hoffman established the working group in February.It had five months to work out how to follow the lead of Ontario and Manitoba, which have both outlawed the practice.Conversion therapy is based on the unfounded idea that psychological or spiritual intervention can change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.The working group comprised of academics, advocates, faith leaders and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community.It was co-chaired by NDP MLA Nicole Goehring and advocate Glynnis Lieb, who heads the University of Alberta’s Institute of Sexual Minority Studies and Services.‘Not a valid health service’Health Minister Tyler Shandro told Postmedia his party is “of course” opposed to conversion therapy.“Our priority is always to make sure nobody is forced to do anything, especially children. Children deserve to be living in a caring environment,” he said.Shandro’s press secretary Steve Buick said in a follow-up email the working group was disbanded with the change in government.While the UCP has no plans to bring it back, he said the health minister is “happy to hear from anyone who may have a concern” about the practice.“We don’t think there’s a need to address it specifically because it’s not a valid health service,” Buick wrote.“It’s not practised 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.”That explanation doesn’t cut it for Goehring.“I don’t think that’s a reasonable argument, because … despite not being able to be billed, it’s still happening,” she said.“It’s not advertised, the language is vague, but it’s still occurring.”Protecting vulnerable AlbertansGoehring first heard about the effects of conversion therapy from people who experienced it. That was back when she was working on a private member’s bill to legislate PTSD Awareness Day (which passed unanimously in the legislature).While the working group was “100 per cent committed” to banning the practice in Alberta, she said, it had to make sure to use correct language so a law could withstand a charter of rights challenge.“We knew this process was complex, so we wanted to get some structure in place looking at the best way to move forward and come up with a strategy to engage with Albertans,” she said.Shortly before the working group formed, Premier Jason Kenney — then the opposition leader — said he’d heard there was no need to ban the practice.But, he said at the time, he would “keep an open mind and hear whatever arguments they bring forward” around conversion therapy.Goehring worries the issue has become politicized, and said she would happily step down to allow Shandro to appoint a UCP MLA to continue the group’s work.“At the end of the day, this really is about protecting vulnerable Albertans. Nothing else,” she said.“I would plead with (the minister) to take a step back and have discussions with the working group so he can hear why it’s important to ban.”firstname.lastname@example.org/EmmaLGraney