Minister's mixed messages on conversion therapy group has MLA seeking clarity

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro refused to say Monday whether he has scrapped a working group appointed by the previous NDP government to examine ways to ban conversion therapy in Alberta.

Earlier Monday, Shandro took issue with a media report based on information from his press secretary that the group had been disbanded since the United Conservative Party replaced the NDP as government.

Hours later, Shandro was asked repeatedly by reporters at the Alberta legislature whether the group still exists.

“Weeks before the campaign (the NDP government) set up an ad-hoc committee to be able to look into this for five months,” he said. “So I’m happy to be able to sit down with the member from Edmonton-Castle Downs and be able to hear what the work to date has been done on it.”

Shandro said he didn’t know if there was a commitment to fund the committee’s work but would look into it.

Nicole Goehring, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs, co-chaired the group with Glynnis Lieb, executive director of the Institute of Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta.

She said she reached out to Shandro’s office after seeing his messages on Twitter.

“I have been advised by the staff out of the minister’s office that he would like to meet with me to talk about this, and I’m just seeking clarity about what’s happening with the working group,” Goehring said.

She said the government was providing funding for ministry staff as well as covering some travel expenses for the committee members who were not MLAs.

The group was appointed in February by former NDP health minister Sarah Hoffman. Members included an Anglican archdeacon, the executive director of the Edmonton Pride Centre, a theologian and a survivor of conversion therapy.

The group had five months to come up with recommendations for the minister of health on how to ban the discredited practice, which tries to change people’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression through counselling or religious practices.

Goehring said the committee had met twice and was preparing to speak with survivors of conversion therapy. 

The UCP won the election on April 16.  Shandro was named Alberta’s new minister of health on April 30.

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