Kingston city council voted unanimously Tuesday night to pursue bylaws that would prohibit conversion therapy locally, making it the first city in Ontario to make such a move.
Council was first set to discuss a motion, forwarded by Portsmouth Coun. Bridget Doherty, and seconded by Mayor Bryan Paterson, to simply support Bill C-6, the proposed federal bill to criminalize conversion therapy.
That motion was amended by Coun. Jeff McLaren as follows:
“That council direct staff to draft the necessary bylaws to prohibit the practice of the conversion therapy across all age groups, including a fine for those offering conversion therapy services within Kingston, and return them to council no later than quarter 3, 2021.”
Doherty’s original motion shied away from enacting a bylaw to ban the practice, because city staff suggested that such a ban might produce legal challenges. Staff had also suggested that Bill C-6 and provincial legislation already in place might make a municipal ban redundant.
On Tuesday, however, staff agreed to find options that would both supplement and compliment Bill C-6 and provincial legislation already in place, and report those options back to council at a later date.
Paterson, who has been under scrutiny over the last several months for his involvement with Third Day Worship Centre, a church accused of practicing conversion therapy, spoke at the meeting, saying that over the years his views regarding the LGBTQ2 community had evolved.
“I want to address the elephant in the room, which in this case is me,” he said.
Paterson assured council that he believes conversion therapy is wrong, and that he does not condone it in any way.
“I see this motion as a chance for council, and also for me, to take a stand against something that is wrong, but also make a stand on something that is right — in this case, an inclusive community,” he said.
Ben Rodgers, who shared his experience of conversion therapy in Global News’ investigative series about Third Day Worship Centre, spoke passionately at council Tuesday night, challenging the mayor to enact a municipal bylaw to ban the practice locally.
“You have an opportunity, you have a chance to take a stand,” Rodgers said directly to Paterson.
“I want to give you the opportunity to show you have changed.”
While Rodgers attended Third Day Worship Centre in 2005, he said he was made fast from both food and liquids for three days, was prayed over while people spoke in tongues and shouted at him in front of the congregation, because he was gay.
“(They were) forcing me to change who I was, making me have to be something I was not. To me that sounds like torture, and for me, it truly was,” he said.
In his comments to council Tuesday night, Paterson directly addressed Rodgers’ experience.
“I heard Ben’s story, it breaks my heart, it honestly breaks my heart,” Paterson said.
“While I was not aware of these situations, I’m just deeply saddened about the negative experiences people had,” Paterson continued.
Paterson then put his weight behind a prohibition of conversion therapy in the city, voting for both the amendment and the motion itself.
Doherty also spoke passionately, saying that she did not bring up the matter as an attack on Third Day Worship Centre, but rather to show “acceptance and support” to the LGBTQ2 residents of her community.
“Anyone who attempts to fight this should be ashamed of themselves,” she said.
In a rare move for Kingston’s council, MP for Hastings–Lennox and Addington Derek Sloan, who has been vocal about his dissent for the federal government’s bill to ban conversion therapy, was denied the ability to speak at the meeting Tuesday night.
Sloan, who was one of the few MPs to vote against the second reading of Bill C-6, which would criminalize conversion therapy in Canada, previously used the bill as a fundraising for his re-election.
He also called the bill an “insidious ideological approach to gender identity, potentially harming many children for the rest of their lives,” according to The Canadian Press.
On Wednesday evening, Sloan responded, saying that he was invited to speak at council by a councillor, who he did not identify. He expressed his disappointment at not being allowed to speak.
“I am probably the most well-known opponent of this bill nationally, it made sense to address this issue, as Kingston is right in my backyard,” wrote Sloan.
He went on to write, “It is unfortunate and unusual to shut down debate on an issue. No one presented an alternate view to the council. All other speakers were in favour of the ban.”
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