Conversion therapy cranks and clowns give council one of its all-time ugliest meetings

City Hall | Paul Dechene | May 13, 2021

Council voted unanimously at their April 28 meeting in favour of drafting a conversion therapy ban for the city.

But don’t mistake this as a big win for the LGBTQ community.

Over the nine and a half hours of delegations and council debate, viewers were subjected to a cavalcade of coded anti-LGBTQ sentiments, thinly veiled pro-conversion therapy arguments and blatant fearmongering about trans people.

Watching it was like being punched. Repeatedly. It’s hard to see a win when your eyes have swollen shut.

That said, it wasn’t all a disaster. There were delegations who spoke eloquently in favour of a conversion therapy ban and some councillors fought against the tide of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric with pointed questions and by raising points of order to shut down the worst of it, with councillors Dan LeBlanc, Cheryl Stadnichuk, Andrew Stevens, Shanon Zachidniak and Mayor Sandra Masters doing the bulk of the work.

But despite their best efforts, this was the first council meeting I’ve attended that should have started with a trigger warning.

It got so bad that after a virulent presentation by British Columbia anti-trans activist Jenn Smith, in which Smith railed against those who support transgender youth, Mayor Masters injected. “It’s worth stating that LGBTQ2S+ people are not broken, they are not disordered, they are not damaged,” she said.

That affirmation of LGBTQ2S+ personhood came at the three-hour 30-minute mark.

The meeting continued to spiral down the drain for another six hours.

Destination: Shitshow

At issue were recommendations from Community Wellness Committee. One was for council to send a letter to the federal government expressing support for Bill C-6, the federal conversion therapy ban. Another was a recommendation to prepare a report on the feasibility of a municipal bylaw that would prohibit conversion therapy within city limits.

But council is a chaotic system, this meeting more than others, and by the end both recommendations changed significantly.

On the feasibility report, Councillor Stevens successfully passed an amendment that skipped the report phase entirely and jumped to requesting administration draft a bylaw based on Saskatoon’s conversion therapy ban. That will come back in July.

And as for the letter supporting Bill C-6, this was arguably the most contentious item before council with multiple delegations and councillors objecting to the bill’s wording.

At the last minute, however, Mayor Masters passed an amendment changing the recommendation so that council would only be writing in support of “a ban on conversion therapy.” By removing the reference to Bill C-6, Masters mitigated concerns about the federal law’s text. But it did leave me wondering why we couldn’t have made that change at 1 p.m. instead of at 9 p.m. and saved everybody a lot of hassle.

Cirque Du Shitshow

A driving force behind the nine-plus hours of debate was the large group of pro-conversion therapy activists, many from out of town.

Of the 31 delegations that spoke, 20 spoke in opposition to a ban on conversion therapy. Of those, as revealed by John Cameron in a report for Sask Dispatch, nine were verifiably from outside Regina. These nine appear to be activists representing a national campaign to undermine attempts to legislate against conversion therapy. Many have shown up in other cities to oppose those conversion therapy bans and a few even attended committee hearings in Ottawa to speak against Bill C-6.

And as Cameron discovered, they are all connected to a web of far-right and evangelical Christian organizations, many of which intersect with Campaign Life Coalition, the Ontario anti-abortion lobby group that produces LifeSiteNews. These weren’t, as we were supposed to believe, a disparate group of citizens concerned about the nuances of a federal bill. They have been palling around for some time, appearing on each others’ podcasts and advocating against gay and trans rights in jurisdictions across the country.

Regina was just the latest stop for their anti-LGBTQ circus.

Zoom-In Shitshow

A few factors contributed to this invasion by the national pro-conversion therapy lobby.

The first is COVID necessitating a shift to remote appearances by delegations. As long as we maintain an “all are welcome” policy, there’s little council can do to keep any crank in the country from appearing virtually in Henry Baker Hall.

The second factor was an unforeseen negative consequence of a 2020 change to the procedure bylaw. It removed the requirement for delegations to submit what they intend to say to council in advance of the meeting. Council lifted that provision to make participating in council meetings more accessible to the general public. But when that rule was in place, the city clerk’s office could warn delegates about anything they’d written that would violate the rules of order — city clerks could even remove insulting language and personal attacks. Without that rule, the mayor had to mediate what was being said on the fly. Her efforts were not always successful and as a result we had to listen to a lot of stuff that was, at best, off topic and, at worst, verging on hate speech.

To remedy this, Councillor Lori Bresciani has a motion coming forward in June that, if passed, would restore the requirement for delegations to submit a written summary of what they intend to say in advance of a meeting.

Was The Real Shitshow Inside Us All Along?

Of course, all the wards against evil in the world are useless if somebody invites the vampires into your house. And continually through this meeting that’s exactly what we saw: Councillors Bresciani, Landon Mohl and Terina Shaw,* saying they “wanted to understand” and were “just asking questions”, gave the pro-conversion therapy delegations ample room to spread their message.

Now maybe this was an honest effort at understanding. Except Bresciani, Shaw and Mohl went far beyond just asking questions, and continually praised, flattered and applauded the pro-conversion therapy speakers — they called them brave for sharing their stories. And this spectacle was made more nauseating by the fact that this was all happening for the second time. A nearly identical list of pro-conversion therapy speakers presented an identical list of anti-LGBTQ talking points over the course of two days of Community Wellness Committee meetings earlier in the month.

Council knew exactly who was coming to the April 28 meeting. They knew exactly what would be said. The questions had already been asked and answered.

This was all a show.

A shitshow.

The Eternal Shitshow

But hey, why am I so angry? Everything was unanimous. The vote to request a draft of a conversion therapy ban bylaw was unanimous. The vote to tell the feds we support a conversion therapy ban was unanimous.

Every single delegation and councillor, whether they supported the conversion therapy ban or opposed it, whether they supported Bill C-6 or opposed it, were unanimous in saying they loved and respected LGBTQ2S+ people.

Except the vote is just the destination. Right now, it feels like the destination doesn’t matter. The journey did.

And what we learned from that bad April 28 trip is that the same people who fought same-sex marriage, Pride parades, Pride flags, same-sex couple adoption; who fought to keep homosexuality a criminalized mental illness; and who for decades now have fought at every turn to block rights and protections for LGBTQ2S+ people, are still fighting.

The draft of the conversion therapy ban bylaw will come before council in July. And there is every reason to believe that between now and then we will see the same efforts to obfuscate, confuse, amend, dilute and sabotage the discourse.

Based on how the votes have gone so far, it’s likely those efforts will fail.

But we’ll still have to sit through another shitshow.

* Councillor Findura was quiet through most of the April 28 council meeting but in his final statements he expressed concern that council was moving too fast toward implementing a conversion therapy ban. And at the Community Wellness Committee, he was just as welcoming to the pro-conversion therapy arguments as Bresciani, Mohl and Shaw were at council.