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WS DEBATES: Edmonton’s conversion therapy ban

The WS is pleased to bring you a “duelling columnist debate” on Edmonton’s controversial ban of conversion therapy.

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On December 10th, 2019, Edmonton City Council banned the “practice and promotion” of conversion therapy within its city limits. ‘Conversion therapy’ is a broad term used for a range of practices involving sexual orientation and identity. The full wording of the bylaw can be found HERE.

The Western Standard is pleased to bring you a “Duelling Columnists Debate” between John Carpay and guest columnist Robbie Kreger-Smith on the controversial topic. 

The Question: Is Edmonton’s bylaw ban of C.T. a reasonable protection of the vulnerable, or an attack on religious and personal liberties? 

John Carpay

Robbie Kreger-Smith

Edmonton’s recent ban on “conversion therapy” is a gross intrusion into the private lives and private conversations of Canadian adults.  Fifty years ago, Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau declared 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.” But now, acting on a “government knows best” ideology, local politicians (without education, training or credentials in medicine, psychology, theology or counselling) are expressing a keen interest in “what’s done in private between adults.” Edmonton’s city councilors are not interested in what happens in bedrooms, but they want to know what is happening in the offices of psychologists, on therapists’ couches, and in private counselling sessions with clergy at mosques, synagogues, churches and temples.

This ideological bylaw violates freedom, privacy and common sense.

First, through its extremely broad definition of “conversion therapy,” this Bylaw lumps harmful and discredited attempts to change sexual orientation (e.g. electric shock applied to genitals; forced counselling; chemical castration) into the same category as helping confused children to accept their biological gender, as was done successfully for decades by Dr. Kenneth Zucker and others. This bylaw imposes ideology, not science.

Second, politicians have no business regulating the practice of medicine, psychology or psychiatry. These professions are already regulated by governing bodies with actual expertise in those fields, such as the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta. Edmonton politicians, lacking actual qualifications are merely grandstanding and virtue-signaling.

Third, this bylaw removes choices from parents and children by mandating that the only legal way to help gender-confused youth is by encouraging them to “transition” to the opposite sex, through puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and eventually surgery. Other treatment options become illegal.

Fourth, this bylaw attacks the freedom of adults to make their own choices about their own sexuality, and to discuss those choices with the medical professionals and/or the religious leaders of their own choice. This bylaw shows no respect or tolerance for “what’s done in private between adults.”

Last but not least, this bylaw removes from LGBTQ people the same wide and full range of services and options that are available to straight people. When it comes to making personal choices about one’s sexuality, government does not know best.  If government is going to ban something, let it ban only those practices which are clearly punitive, coercive or otherwise fully discredited.

Rebuttal

The practices that Mr. Kreger-Smith complains of (physical and sexual assault, mental coercion, electrical shock therapy, and forced drugging) have indeed harmed people. These exceedingly rare practices are already illegal, prohibited by the Criminal Code and/or by the ethical guidelines of various professional bodies.

There is no conflict between LGBTQ rights and Charter-protected religious freedoms, provided that rights and freedoms are properly understood. No group in society (neither atheists, nor fundamentalist Muslims or Christians, nor LGBTQ people) has a right to public affirmation or the approval of other people. In a free country, you can say that attending a church or mosque is stupid; that having sex outside of a male-female marriage is sinful; that Christians are hateful bigots. Those are called “opinions” and they are constitutionally protected under section 2(b) of the Charter. In a free country, government has no business imposing the “correct” view of sexuality any more than it does imposing the “correct” views on economics, man-made climate change, or historical controversies. Conflicts only arise when people assert a totalitarian claim to have other people agree with them.

What ‘modern society’ accepts or rejects as norms should not be imposed on individuals. People have the right to make decisions for themselves about their own sexuality, including seeking celibacy, freedom from sexual addictions, or whatever internal or external changes a person may want.

Policing this bylaw will take an army of bureaucrats to observe, monitor and evaluate “what’s done in private between adults.” Ken Williams, who identifies as Christian and ex-gay, asks: “What gives you the right to decide what I would like to pursue with my sexuality?” 

Edmonton’s bylaw specifically restricts the right of individuals, whether religious or non-religious, to pursue their own chosen goals and objectives. This ideological bylaw is a gross abuse of state power.

John Carpay is a columnist with the Western Standard and the President of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

Edmonton City Council recently joined other Alberta & Canadian municipalities in banning conversion therapy.

This move comes as Alberta has taken a hands-off approach to regulating the controversial practice, while the prime minister gave Justice Minister David Lametti direction in his mandate letter to move to amend the Criminal Code to outlaw the practice.

To frame this discussion, we need to look at the practices that constitute conversion therapy. Survivors of the practice have relayed experiences including physical and sexual assault, mental coercion, electrical shock therapy, forced drugging, and more.

The root motivation for conversion therapy is the premise that being LGBTQ is a disorder that should be corrected. While homosexuality was a listed psychological disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), it was declassified in 1970, and removed completely from the DSM in 1986. Medical and psychological doctrine has evolved with further research, knowledge, and practical experience.

The conflict between the rights of LGBTQ people and the religious freedoms laid out in the Charter has been one that has received significant political, social, and judicial attention over the course of my adulthood.

Where a conflict exists between two rights, the filter that must be applied is one of minimizing harm. There is clear evidence that those who have been subjected to these “treatments” suffer significant psychological harm, including PTSD, feelings of rejection, increased suicidal ideation, self-harm behaviours, and increased addictions.

These “treatments” are based on outdated religious and societal “norms” that have been rejected in large part by modern society, scientists, medical professionals, and even by several proponents of the so-called ex-gay community – a movement that attempted to popularize the notion that people can change their sexuality.

There are zero peer-reviewed studies showing these treatments to be effective. On the contrary, research shows those who are afforded affirming environments can go on to be well adjusted and contributing members of society.

Edmonton’s bylaw does nothing to restrict an individual with sincerely held religious beliefs from carrying out those beliefs. Instead, it prevents the imposition of those beliefs on others, where harm is a reasonably expected outcome.

Ultimately an individual who wishes to repress their sexuality will still have that freedom. Those who wish to live free from the prospect of being forced into an abusive and debunked treatment protocol can rest assured they have legislative protections of their life, liberty, and security of their person.

Rebuttal 

Jurisdictions moving to ban conversion therapy are taking the next logical step in Pierre Trudeau’s missive that the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.

What Edmonton’s bylaw allows for is individuals to exercise their autonomy and free will. Despite the view from some that children are possessions, case law actually validates that parents are guardians, not owners.

Neuroscientific and cytogenetic research validates that people may experience a disconnect between their biological gender and psychological and physical expression. While the binary is the most prevalent, there are multiple combinations of chromosomes that do naturally occur and abundant scientific, peer-reviewed evidence supports this.

Politicians do have business regulating the practice of medicine, psychology, and psychiatry – and have done so for a large portion of our modern history. The Alberta Health Professions Act was passed 20 years ago – amalgamating 30 health professionals’ self-regulatory powers and legislative accountability to the government. None of these regulatory bodies supports conversion therapy.

Edmonton’s bylaw does not mandate children to transition genders. It prevents the use of coercive and abusive treatment techniques to try and force an LGBTQ person into being someone they are not.

We don’t allow adults, even those consenting, to submit to psychological torture and physical abuse. The professional organizations that regulate these areas all agree conversion therapy is tantamount to abuse.

Discussion between parishioners and clergy will not be restricted; attempts to coerce and manipulate people into suppressing their biological predispositions will.

To say this bylaw removes options available to straight people is farcical. Have you ever heard of a straight person seeking out therapy to become gay? Of course not.

Perhaps, rather than passing judgment on people experiencing challenges we don’t understand, we should encourage the biblical concepts of love and acceptance. Our society would be much richer for it.

Robbie Kreger-Smith is an Edmonton based political and communications consultant and advocate for LGBTQ rights and economic empowerment. 

Features

Search for a Western Anthem: “All Hell for a Basement” (Heaven in Alberta)

You must hear this song to understand why it speaks to so many Albertans on a visceral level

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The Western Standard put out a call for our readers to help us pick the unofficial anthem for Alberta (or more broadly, Buffalo or Western Canada). We asked you to submit songs that would inspire us during hard times, would speak to our distinct Western culture, and would be good for crowds to sing together. You didn’t disappoint.

We received many great anthem ideas: some familiar classics, some newer hits, and many excellent rarer songs which I had never heard before. Many are strong contenders, and some a little off mark. I have been sifting through reader e-mails and social media comments, and narrowed it down to the best handful of songs. We will not be able to cover all of them, but over the next few weeks we will be selecting some of the best suggestions and explaining why we think they would make a great pick to become the unofficial anthem of the West.

As expected, one of the top submissions was “All Hell for a Basement”, also known as “Heaven in Alberta”, by Big Sugar. Originally released in 2001, the song features thrashing drums and electric guitars. For some listeners, this original version evokes the feeling of driving an F350 to a rig site, across the empty prairie landscape before the sun comes up.

In my opinion, the unofficial acoustic version does the most compelling job of capturing the song’s emotions. Like all anthems, you can’t just read the lyrics. You must hear this song to understand why it speaks to so many of our people on a visceral level.

The title “All Hell for a Basement” sounds odd at first. The phrase actually comes from a quote by Rudyard Kipling, the novelist and poet famous for The Jungle Book. Upon visiting Medicine Hat, Alberta in 1907, Kipling was impressed by the region’s massive quantities of underground natural gas. He remarked, “This part of the country seems to have all hell for a basement, and the only trap door appears to be in Medicine Hat.”

Gordie Johnson wrote this song when he was the front man for the Big Sugar. Johnson was born in Winnipeg and grew up in Ontario before his family moved back west to Medicine Hat.

The song is simultaneously tragic and hopeful. The opening line, “I am a working man, but I ain’t worked for a while,” captures a reality that requires no explanation for our readers. The writer feels discarded “Like some old tin can, from the bottom of the pile.” As the song understands, unemployment is not only a crisis of material means, but also of identity and meaning. So many of us derive much of our sense of self-worth from our work and from the ability to feed our families.

But there is hope in this song as well. The lyrics to the
chorus are as follows:

“I have lost my way / But I hear tell / Of Heaven in Alberta / Where they’ve got all hell for a basement.”

There’s no question why this song was requested by so many of our readers. Alberta used to be a beacon of hope that attracted hard-working people from struggling economies far and wide. Many working men who had lost their way came here to find it. Of course, this song and its underlying drive hails from a time when Alberta’s economic engine was not under direct assault by Ottawa.

So yes, let’s acknowledge the tragedy that this song captures for us in the West: unemployment, loss of purpose, and the feeling of being discarded “like some old tin can” by those in power who no longer have a use for us. But let’s also take this anthem as a reminder of the hope that we in Alberta once provided for a hopeless people. Let’s reawaken that sense of hope within ourselves, and begin to take the necessary steps to get on the right path toward prosperity. Start with yourself as an individual by reclaiming who you truly are: not “some old tin can” to be discarded by the Laurentians, but a “working man” whose skills and work ethic are still valued by us here in the West.

So how does this song stack up as an anthem, based on the three main criteria we established? First, does it inspire us? Yes, in its call to face the tragedy of unemployment and reclaim one’s self-worth as a working man, this checks out. Second, does it speak to our unique culture, heritage, and experiences? Yes, at least to some aspects of our experiences (oil & gas: check). Third, is it good for crowds to sing at public events? That’s where I think this song may fall short of anthem material. The lyrics are simply not designed for that. With lyrics like “My words are like a rope / that’s wrapped around my throat,” people might see only the tragic side, and not the redemption part of the story.

Based on the reader responses, this song will no doubt make the top 10 list. Can I see it being the song that Westerners sing with their hands over their hearts at a hockey game? Personally, I don’t think so. The lyrics are applicable to the working man, but what about school children in their weekly assembly? An anthem needs to have wider appeal, in my opinion. But what do you think?

My verdict: Great song, but I’m not sure if we have found our anthem yet.

The search continues!

Do you have your own idea for the unofficial anthem of Alberta? It’s not too late. Leave a comment below, on social media, or send us an e-mail, and we will consider featuring your anthem idea in another column. Email your submissions for an Alberta, Buffalo, or Western anthem to anthemsearch@westernstandardonline.com

James Forbes is the Western Heritage Columnist for the Western Standard

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Working from home with dysfunctional ‘co-workers’

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Need to put a smile on your face amid nothing but bad, worse, and awful news? Read on.

A North Carolina mom started working from home and decided to ask Twitter for ‘co-worker’ stories.

For the accountants and bookkeepers:

Dieticians:

For the upwardly mobile:

For the artistically inclined:

Sanitation:

Lunchroom dramas:

When to call human resources:

And some things stay the same..

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a Senior Reporter with Western Standard
dmaclean@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter @Mitchell_AB

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Two Alberta businesses – different challenges in a pandemic

“Whatever has happened elsewhere is what we’re barreling towards,” Jacobs said.

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Bryan Orr, a drilling engineer in Alberta, is employed with NBC Technologies, who subcontracts with larger operators such as Tamarack Valley.

“I love drilling but it’s about to fall off a cliff,” Orr said. “The oil price coupled with challenges relating to chemicals and materials from China…”

During the drilling process, water, or a mud mixture, is pumped down through the bit. Barite, one of the chemicals used in that process, as well as chemicals used to make cement, come from China. Orr says the supply is getting low.

There’s also other materials such as pipe which is also becoming more scarce. Piping used both in the drilling process so the rock doesn’t collapse itself and pipe that is used to transport product. Orr said some of the storage companies are setting to close and that’s going to cause a problem.

“Reasons for Canada running a fraction of the rigs of the US aren’t geologically driven but based on pipeline access and other regulatory issues that are solvable by a supportive federal government.”

But Orr says there are further difficulties with the changes enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when it comes to working remotely.

“Unique challenges with the pandemic lie with decision-makers – getting rapid approvals can be difficult.”

In a business that has been about face-to-face meeting and relationship building, the idea that all work can continue via email isn’t as welcome to those used to running the show in person.

Even with those challenges, however, Orr said he is still optimistic.

One positive of the rapid changes in oil that have been happening is that these issues also help drive efficiencies. Orr says the cost of drilling wells has gone down substantially in Canada – comparatively – to the U.S.

“We’ve been lucky (at Tamarack and NBC Technologies) because we had a huge success last year that’s been driving a lot of production this year. Even though it’s a reduction in drilling, we were able to prove that we could reduce our footprint with three-mile Tamarack wells that allow us greater access.”

The new drilling process is nominated for a Collaborative Trendsetter award at the Global Petroleum Show.

Orr admits the majority of his work, while reliant on a customer-base, isn’t reliant on in-person transactions. Others – who are reliant on the physical presence of consumerism – are facing additional challenges that aren’t just based on the point of sale.

Jonathan Jacobs owns a Fort Lanes, a bowling and virtual golf business in Fort Saskatchewan. He purchased the business after he was laid off from his job in the oil patch in 2015. Jacobs could see that times were changing for his trade and he and his wife decided to invest in a local business.

Jacobs says the family wasn’t likely to get rich but they made a living. He had enough business to hire some employees and, all in all, had a successful small business.

“We had a ‘soft’ year (in 2019),” he said. “We looked at 2020 and said ‘it’ll be fine as long as nothing goes wrong’.”

The small entertainment business Jacobs runs still has employees but a lot less customers.

“I underestimated (the impact of COVID-19) until right now,” he said. “As of last Wednesday, there was no reason to believe this was coming.”

“This” is mass cancellation of classes and people being told to self-isolate. What bothers him most is the apparent mixed messaging.

“The government response has been rapid fire and all over the map. It’s hard to get your feet under you,” he said. “And that’s just week one – what happens in week two?”

Jacobs said people are being told to stay home but the government is also saying businesses can remain open. He said it doesn’t help him to stay open if there’s no customers. It’s something he’s also hearing that from other business owners in the area.

“We (local business owners) talk every day right now,” he said. “I can’t work from home – I can’t deliver bowling pins to your house to play there.”

His alley hosts leagues for all ages and special Olympics training. Jacobs said they cut the league play but his alley won’t hold 250 people so he stayed open. Now the government is saying no more than 50 people should gather but they’re also saying people need to adapt to a ‘new normal’ that is based on social distancing.

Special Olympics is on hold until April 13, Jacobs said. but public health messaging is saying things will be on hold for “months”.

Jacobs said he’s getting a better idea of what to expect from watching what’s going on in other provinces – like Quebec – who just asked bars and restaurants to close.

“Whatever happened there is what we’re barreling towards,” he said.

He said he wished that business owners had better communication from the leadership in terms of what to expect. Jacobs said he realizes this is unprecedented but feels like a more coordinated effort to communicate, especially when so many businesses are reliant on customers being physically present, would have been beneficial for him – especially when it comes to planning.

“There were 29 cases when we implemented the social distancing. What are the parameters for ending this?” He asked. “Not knowing is the worst. I have employees. Is it going to continue until May? June? At least then I’d know it’s not April.”

“They have issues managers making a quarter of a million dollars per year – why don’t they manage some real issues?”

Jacobs said he’s hoping the communication will get better, particularly in terms of how “this ends”.

“What will they be looking for to ease the restrictions?” He asked. “How will we know if we should hold on or close up?”

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a Senior Reporter with Western Standard
dmaclean@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter @Mitchell_AB

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