Kelowna council not being let off the hook for inaction on conversion therapy | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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Kelowna council not being let off the hook for inaction on conversion therapy

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Even though Kelowna city council has publicly condemned conversion therapy and sent a letter to the federal government urging that it be made illegal, it doesn’t go nearly far enough, according to nearly 1,000 Kelowna residents.

“It’s words on paper,” Wilbur Turner, the leader of the Kelowna Task Force to Ban Conversion Therapy and founder of Advocacy Canada, told iNFOnews.ca. “It is making a statement that conversion therapy is bad and shouldn’t be practiced. However, sending a letter off to the Prime Minister doesn’t really move the needle.”

READ MORE: Kelowna council accused of passing the buck by refusing to ban conversion therapy

Turner set up a booth at Gay Pride events last weekend to collect signatures on a petition calling on Kelowna city council to ban the practice in the city.

He’s 126 signatures short of his target of the 1,000 signatures he wants to collect before taking the petition to council.

He’s also trying to get a legal opinion on the legality of B.C. cities banning the practice as more than a dozen other cities in Canada have done. Vancouver is the only B.C. city to enact a ban.

That was done in 2018 and was the first city ban in the country.

It was later updated to prohibit a business from “charging a fee for any services that seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of any person,” according to an email from the city’s communications department. They’re not aware of any fines ever being issued.

Vancouver has a separate charter governing it as opposed to other B.C. municipalities.

City of Kelowna staff told council it could not legally ban the practice since it wasn’t covered in the province’s Community Charter.

“I think it would be warranted for council to make a much more fulsome review of the Community Charter,” Vancouver lawyer Dustin Klaudt told iNFOnews.ca.

Klaudt is the co-chair of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Community Section of the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Bar Association.

He’s not an expert on municipal law so he’s consulting with other lawyers to get a more solid legal opinion on the subject but pointed to Section 8(3) of the Community Charter.

It lists a number of things that councils can control by using bylaws or regulations. On that list is the ability to regulate “the carrying on of a noxious or offensive business activity.”

Both Turner and Klaudt both say it’s one thing for the federal government to make conversion therapy illegal but the bar for prosecuting such actions is much higher than it would be for a local bylaw.

The federal government is expected to table a new anti-conversion therapy bill in the next few weeks after the one that was introduced spring died in the Senate because of the election call.

READ MORE: MP Tracy Gray lashes out after being banned from Kelowna Pride events

The B.C. Green Party tabled a private members bill last week to ban conversion therapy. It introduced a bill in 2019 that limited a ban to efforts to convert those under 19. That did not get past second reading. This bill covers people of all ages.

If B.C. passes such a ban, it will join Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and the Yukon with bans.

Conversion therapy is often practiced by churches in an effort to change people’s sexual orientation.

But the terminology is changing so the words “conversion therapy” may no longer be appropriate, Simon Fraser University Health Sciences professor Travis Salway told iNFOnews.ca.

He did a survey recently on whether the experiences people went through fit the federal definition of conversion therapy and half said it didn’t.

“They (practitioners) wouldn’t call it conversion therapy,” Salway said. “They would say, we are going to help guide you. We’re going to help coach you. We’re going to help you manage unwanted feelings of same sex attraction.

“Often, it’s using an addiction framework so they’ll present homosexuality as being akin to alcoholism. Just as you would have triggers and things you need to avoid to keep yourself sober, you would explore similar behavioural techniques to keep yourself behaviourally heterosexual.”

In a national survey Salway conducted last fall, a number of respondents said they had undergone conversion efforts in Kelowna and Oliver.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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