Edmonton’s proposed ban on ‘conversion therapy’ violates privacy and choice of adults

Edmonton’s City Council’s proposed Bylaw 19061 would be an invasion into people’s privacy.

Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca).

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau declared in 1969 that “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation,” and that the government should ignore “what’s done in private between adults.” On that basis, his Liberal government proceeded to remove sodomy from the Criminal Code.

Today, 50 years later, some Canadians believe that government should be keenly interested in “what’s done in private between adults”—this time not in bedrooms but in the offices of psychologists, on therapists’ couches, and in private counselling sessions with clergy at mosques, synagogues, churches and temples.

A proposed ban on “conversion therapy” in Edmonton is not limited to discredited practices such as shock therapy attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation. Rather, it is worded so broadly that it invites the government into every psychologist’s office, every therapy session, and every pastoral or spiritual counselling session that a religious leader might have with a member of her or his congregation.

If passed by Edmonton’s City Council, Bylaw 19061 would make it illegal to offer or provide “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.”

Providing and promoting “gender-affirming surgery or any service related to gender-affirming surgery” would be the only legal choice left available under Bylaw 19061.

Bylaw 19061 applies not just to doctors, psychologists, counsellors and psychiatrists, but also to pastors, priests, rabbis, imams and all religious leaders. The “business” prohibited by Bylaw 19061 includes non-profits “however organized or formed” and includes every “profession” or “calling” without an exemption for clergy.

Bylaw 19061 addresses practices that are governed not by politicians, but by the various professional associations that accredit doctors, psychologists, counsellors, pharmacists and other professionals. For example, the “administration or prescription of medication” is governed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons, not by the 13 politicians who currently run Edmonton.

Based on information posted on the City of Edmonton website, neither Mayor Don Iveson nor any of the 12 Councillors appear to have any formal education, expertise or credentials in psychology, psychiatry, medicine or pastoral care.

Bylaw 19061 targets private conversations between consenting adults about sexual orientation, gender identity, expression and preference: conversations to which no government should have access. This Bylaw shows no respect, or even tolerance, for “what’s done in private between adults” in regard to their personal choices about sexual feelings and sexual behaviour, and their personal choices about what spiritual, psychological and behavioural goals to set for themselves. Bylaw 19061 is another example of a “government knows best” ideology that disrespects the freedom of adults to make their own choices about their own lives.

Bylaw 19061 takes away choice from a person struggling with gender identity confusion (dysphoria), by keeping legal only the option of seeking opposite-sex hormones, and eventually surgery, in an attempt to make the body conform to thoughts and feelings. The Bylaw makes it illegal for any psychologist, clergy, psychiatrist, doctor or counsellor to assist people in overcoming their feelings of confusion, and helping them to accept and embrace their biological reality. People “de-transition” all the time because they are dissatisfied with the transgender narrative and the results of their attempts to transition sexes. Government has no lawful business attempting to prevent them from doing so.

Bylaw 19061 also takes away the individual’s choice to seek and obtain help to practice celibacy. Not every Canadian accepts the motto “If it feels good, do it.” There are religious and non-religious persons in Canada who want to change or curtail their sexual behaviour, including people who are same-sex attracted. But Bylaw 19061 makes it illegal for pastors, rabbis, imams, priests and even leaders of voluntary 12-step programs, to assist same-sex attracted people who choose to practice celibacy.

Ironically, Bylaw 19061 allows these same pastors, rabbis, imams, priests and 12-step leaders to promote celibacy to those who feel attracted to the opposite sex. Under Bylaw 19061, an unmarried Orthodox Jewish man can receive his rabbi’s encouragement not to have sex with women, but it’s illegal for this rabbi to encourage an unmarried man to abstain from having sex with other men.

Those who support Bylaw 19061 are no doubt motivated by the good intentions of helping people and preventing harm, but their arrogance is astounding. Who are they to dictate to people struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions that the only valid choice is to act on those feelings?  How is it humane or compassionate to remove support from people who want to practice celibacy? The number of people who want to practice celibacy may be small, but that is irrelevant to the importance of their rights and freedoms respected by a free society. After all, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is about protecting minorities, even very small ones, and especially unpopular ones. As the Supreme Court of Canada explains it, the majority’s views have no need for constitutional protection, as they are tolerated in any event.

Bylaw 19061 is pure politics, not medicine or science. It is political grandstanding, designed to impress the LGBTQ lobby, and to promote transgender ideology.

Fifty years after Trudeau proclaimed tolerance for “what’s done in private between adults,” Bylaw 19061 tells us that it’s OK for consenting adults to engage in the sexual practices of their choice, but it’s not OK for consenting adults to discuss those sexual practices freely if their conversation heads in the “wrong” direction. The “wrong” direction, under Bylaw 19061, is that which challenges currently popular beliefs about sexuality. By making certain private conversations between consenting adults illegal, Bylaw 19061 invites the government into private spaces that ought to remain private.