Wood Buffalo council has taken a massive step towards inclusivity in the region.
On Tuesday, council voted to approve a Conversion Therapy Bylaw – which will prohibit the licensing, practice and promotion of the highly controversial practice throughout the RMWB.
The motion passed 8-2 – with Councillors Phil Meagher and Sheila Lalonde voting against.
Both cited concerns that the bylaw as it stood, would interfere with a parents’ ability to choose what is best for their child.
“We want to make sure every resident feels safe and secure,” Mayor Don Scott told reporters following the meeting. “There could be changes in the future, as often happens with bylaws, you try them out for a while, and you see what changes need to be made but this is a good first step.”
The meeting was highlighted by presentations from a trio of pastors, who came from different areas of the province, including Fort McMurray, felt the bylaw infringes on certain religious freedoms.
One pastor, Brian Coldwell, came all the way from Edmonton to voice his opposition to the bylaw.
“There are many people that I’ve talked to, worked with and could even introduce you to that have left the gay culture and are living healthy, good, solid, religious lives and some are not even Christians. And they should have the right to have whatever professional, medical counselling they want without governments interfering in that situation.”
Much of Coldwell’s rhetoric drew the ire of several councillors.
“Sitting here as a heterosexual, Catholic woman, I found some of your comments very offensive,” said Councillor Verna Murphy. “To suggest that somebody that leaves gay culture to then have a healthy lifestyle and to insinuate that being gay is not healthy. I can’t imagine being a gay person coming to your church, so, I don’t think you have valid concerns.”
Councillor Jeff Peddle echoed Murphy’s sentiment.
“To me, it’s about respecting individuals,” Peddle said. “And when you quote the bible, I guess the biggest one that comes to mind is you love everyone for who they are and love everyone equally so, to me, it’s not excluding any part of the population, but in this case, you are.”
Additionally, councillor Keith McGrath also took issue with Coldwell’s presentation.
“Some parts of the bible need to be revisited and renewed,” McGrath said. “I just don’t get why there’s so much energy put into conversion therapy, which some would describe as ‘brainwashing’. I’d support this wholeheartedly simply because, you or I have no right to judge people how they want to love. I believe love is love.”
“As a catholic, heterosexual woman, to insinuate what you are saying is very offensive,” councillor Verna Murphy said to Pastor Brian Coldwell. The pastor is here from Edmonton to voice his opposal to the proposed Conversion Therapy Bylaw #rmwb #ymm pic.twitter.com/d1lboyi9TM
— MIX 103.7 News (@Mix1037FMNews) January 14, 2020
Before voting, Councillor Mike Allen made a motion to amend the bylaw so that the defined meaning of Conversion Therapy would have more clarity.
The bylaw is as follows:
“Conversion Therapy” means offering or providing counselling or behaviour modification techniques, administration or prescription of medication or any other purported treatment, service, or other thing for the purpose of changing, repressing, or discouraging an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, or gender preference or for the purpose of eliminating or reducing sexual attraction or sexual behaviour between individuals of the same sex, but does not include: services that provide acceptance, support, or understanding of an individual or that facilitate an individual’s coping, social support, or identity exploration or development; or gender-affirming surgery or other service related to gender-affirming surgery.
Scott adds they’re proud to be able to put a stop to what he describes as ‘a practice of quackery.’
“It’s an important step and I’m proud of my council colleagues. It’s never easy to do these things because you want to make sure you can get all the information possible. We had a good debate and the result is definitely what I’d hoped for. So, I’m pleased to see it.”
Pride YMM Gives Statement On Decision
Members of Pride YMM were ecstatic with the decision.
Marketing chair Tyler Holowchuk says it’s very exciting news for the local Pride community.
“Conversion Therapy is a horrible thing that still exists in our country today that obviously should not. It’s been thoroughly debunked and proven to be incredibly dangerous and harmful, especially to our youth. So, the fact the municipality was willing to take a stand on such an important issue is a sight to behold. I love it.”
A statement was also released by Pride YMM shortly after the meeting’s conclusion.
“This is a huge step toward protecting and ensuring the health and safety of all LGBTQ2+ people in this region.” The statement read. “This bylaw makes a clear statement that all people have the right to live, free of harassment as their true authentic selves. We are disappointed the motion did not pass unanimously but we appreciate all the councillors who did support the motion.”
Fort McMurray joins St. Albert, Edmonton, Sherwood Park and Spruce Grove among municipalities that have placed a ban on the controversial practice.