Some faith leaders push back against Saskatoon’s proposed conversion therapy bylaw

SASKATOON —
Four pastors and faith leader Wilna Van Beek from God Gazers ministry met with Saskatoon’s mayor Charlie Clark to express their concerns with the wording in the draft conversion therapy bylaw on Feb. 18.

Wilna van Beek says her ministry provides a safe, non-judgemental place for people to talk about sexual orientation and gender identity however the bylaw puts her and others at risk of a fine if they listen or talk to people who identify as LQBTQ.

“I care about every LGBTQ member who right now needs help on their journey as they want to talk about this. I am for them. But this ban and Bill C-6 are going to prevent help to those people,” said van Beek. 

She says the bylaw is too broad and should be narrowed down to ban coercive and abusive practices and it discriminates against discussions including religious beliefs.

“Because the wording is not specific it is brushing everything else with the same brush.”

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom has been following various bylaws as they’ve been passed in cities such as Vancouver and Calgary. Staff lawyer, Marty Moore fears Saskatoon’s bylaw could prevent people who identify as non-heterosexual from accessing counselling. 

“If you have a same-sex attraction or a sexual orientation you would be limited to receiving the counselling that a non-heterosexual person would be permitted to receiving and that’s a concern from a constitutional perspective where the government is required to enact laws equally,” said Moore

The director of OUT Saskatoon, Jack Saddleback, said the bylaw will help protect people in the LGBTQ community and that he believes ethical counselling will not be affected by passing the bylaw.

“Many spaces in our province here still utilize and have a very subversive way of putting themselves out there as conversion therapy spaces,” said Saddleback.

“And by no means are we saying that celibacy conversations can’t happen but these celibacy conversations shouldn’t be put on a person based on their sexual orientation or their gender identity,” said Saddleback.

The City of Saskatoon’s conversion therapy bylaw will ban communication for the purpose of changing a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression or for the purpose of repressing or reducing non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour.

The bylaw would block the offering or provision of counselling or behaviour-changing techniques and any other purported treatment, service practice or the offering or sale of any goods.

Some faith leaders worry the bylaw’s restriction on offering goods could mean books such as the Bible are not to be distributed to people in relation to the topic of sexual orientation or identity. 

A letter signed by seven pastors representing about 6,000 people was delivered to Clark.

The letter says although houses of worship are not businesses, this bylaw would allow the city to regulate their materials about sexuality as if they are a business and conversations with those under 18 about sexuality could be curtailed by the city regulation.

If passed, the proposed bylaw could lead to fines for private individuals of $10,000 and corporations could pay $25,000 if they are found practising conversion therapy.

City Council is expected discuss the proposed bylaw Tuesday afternoon.