City of Lethbridge passes first reading of conversion therapy bylaw

Lethbridge City Council approved first reading Monday their new conversion therapy bylaw by a vote of 7–2.

This past Monday, Lethbridge City Council passed first reading of Bylaw 6628: A Bylaw of the City Of Lethbridge to Prohibit the Offering of Conversion Therapy Services.

In February 2020, Lethbridge City Council voted on two motions regarding conversion therapy.

The first motion was for the mayor to write to the provincial government on behalf of city council to protect queer youth from conversion therapy in Alberta. That motion passed unanimously.

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The second motion was to direct administration to draft a bylaw that protects queer youth from the practice in the city, then to bring the bylaw back to council for review and potential approval. That motion passed 7–2, with Hyggen and Mauro opposing.

That draft was what came before mayor and council on Monday. It passed first reading with a vote of still 7–2, with the same opposers as February.

When bylaws receive first reading, it’s typically just so the bylaw shows up in the city council agenda, making it accessible to the public. There’s generally no debate or discussion. As such, no city council members provided rationale for the votes they placed. That will likely occur during second reading, which has yet to be scheduled.

Here is basically the meat of the bylaw, found under “Prohibited business” in the bylaw:

  1. No person may engage in or operate a business that provides the offering or provision of counselling or behaviour modification techniques, administration or prescription of medication, or any other purported treatment, service, or tactic used for the objective of changing a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or gender preference, or eliminating or reducing sexual attraction or sexual behaviour between persons of the same sex, not including:
    1. services that provide acceptance, support, or understanding of a person or that facilitate a person’s coping, social support, or identity exploration or development, or
    2. gender-affirming surgery or any service related to gender-affirming surgery.

If this bylaw passes, anyone who violates it and practices conversion therapy in Lethbridge face a fine of at least $10,000, as well up to 6 months in jail if they don’t pay the fine.

In the case where a partnership violates the bylaw, each partner could potentially be charged separately. In the case of a corporation, any principal, director, manager, officer, employee, or agent of the corporation could be potentially charged, assuming they were connected to the provision of conversion therapy.

Now that the bylaw has passed first reading, the next step would be for city council to hold second reading, which is when we’d see discussion and debate about the implementation of the bylaw, as well as its component parts.

If debate and discussion require significant reworking of the bylaw, then it will go back to administration—or potentially, but less likely, a committee of council—for rewording and return to city council for third reading and final approval.

As mentioned, the second reading has yet to be scheduled.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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