The UCP must continue work on conversion therapy in Alberta
After a media report surfaced reporting that the government had canceled the Conversion Therapy Working Group, Minister Shandro took to Twitter to challenge the headline. He argued that he had not disbanded or cancelled the group, as there was no “Ministerial Order to appoint this group.”
Minister Shandro indicated in the Legislature that “the focus for our government is that we as a government do not condone this practice in any form. No Albertan should be coerced in any way, especially vulnerable children. Vulnerable children deserve to grow up in a loving environment.”
The Minister’s office indicated that when it comes to conversion therapy, there is no need to “address it specifically because it’s not a valid health service.” They said conversion therapy is “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.”
This public back and forth served to bring to light the insidious practice of conversion therapy in Alberta. What we do know is that there are currently important safeguards to protect people from regulated professionals that engage in this pseudoscientific practice which has serious psychological and emotional consequences. The problem emerges when this practice ensues under the guise of language like 'sexual and relational healing,’ to evade regulatory repercussions. It emerges when self-appointed counselors/ therapists/peer-support groups blur the lines between consent and familial or social coercion to participate. It emerges when we continue to allow these practices which harm vulnerable individuals.
Does it happen in Alberta? Yes - it has been reported that since 2015 there have been over 250 complaintsto Alberta Health from Albertans who have gone through conversion therapy.
This working group was tasked specifically to come up with language that could address the need to prohibit the provision of conversion therapy in Alberta and that protects the health and safety of Albertans who may be subjected to conversion therapy, while at the same time being considerate of religious and/or ideological principles.
“It is essential for any legislation, regulation, or policy to address the elephant in the room – to deal with those practices that are not based on medical science but rather on religious or ideological doctrine, at the expense of the health and safety of the individuals who have been subjected to the ‘therapy,’” indicates Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare.
Acceptance, respect and diversity should be among our most cherished strengths. This is why it is imperative that the working group continue its work to bring together voices of individuals with lived experience, health professionals, academics, LGBTQ2 rights advocates, and faith-based groups to inform recommendations for policy changes that will prohibit conversion therapy in Alberta.
Minister Shandro indicated on Twitter that “if the NDP’s ‘working group’ wants to continue to meet, they’re welcome to do so. I’m happy to hear what they have to say.”
We are calling on Minister Shandro and the UCP to follow the lead of Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia, and take action on this important matter. If the Minister is truly supportive of the work that this committee could potentially continue to do, he needs to commit to objectively evaluate the work and follow their recommendations, and table legislation that will prohibit conversion therapy in Alberta. “This is an issue that has negatively impacted the health and well-being of hundreds of Albertans. We need to see the government offer real action to address this harmful practice, not just lip service or empty platitudes. We are talking about the lives of people, human beings who can’t be dismissed,” said Azocar.
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