BLOG #719: The fears of residents in Old South about the social and financial destruction sure to come if another methadone clinic is approved for their area are probably exaggerated. Still the community fear is real and city council will seek ways to ease it. But this shouldn’t be a city problem. It’s a medical issue, not a planning problem.
Friday, Sept. 7, 2012 – London
If you like democracy raw and a tad rowdy, then it’s too bad if you missed the meeting in Old South Wednesday night.
Billed as an information session, the topic under discussion at the gathering in the auditorium of Hillside Church on Commissioners Rd. East was a proposed methadone clinic for 425 Wharncliffe Rd.
Ontario Addiction Treatment Centre – a name which sounds a great deal more neighbourhood friendly than it actually is – has made application for a stand-alone methadone clinic on the site of what currently is a car leasing business.
It so happens it is located right next door to a Dairy Queen, and not far from a day care, a playground and the middle of a tidy and tightly knit residential area.
Attending the meeting were Denise Brown, the councillor for Ward 11 which covers the area; representatives from the city’s planning department including the director, John Fleming; a police officer; Rhonda Daiter, a representative of OATC, which is how the centre refers to itself; and a professional meeting facilitator.
Oh yes, and also about 300 residents, most of whom are not kindly disposed to the profit and loss aspirations of OATC which could, if you believe their worst fears, threaten the lives of their children, cause rampant crime and destruction, and decimate the value of their homes.
There were also a few brave residents who urged compassion for friends and neighbours in Old South who are dealing with the throes of addiction with daily methadone treatments to ease their longings – the largest group of whom are wired on painkillers, not drugs like heroin.
And lurking right at the back of the auditorium, leaning against a door frame, was Alan Patton, a very successful London lawyer who acts for OATC and who seems ready to pounce with an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board if city council turns down this application when it gets that far sometime this fall. Mr. Patton already has another OATC application, in SoHo, on appeal before the OMB.
So it was a very mixed bag. There was a lot of clapping, some yelling and a great deal of muttering and quite a few scoring points too. Most of it, though, missed the point.
True, there may be some cause for concern if a methadone clinic moves into your neighbourhood, although evidence from elsewhere suggests fears in Old South are greatly exaggerated. These days, however, when perception seems more often to overtake reality, governments listen to our fears.
In this case, city council is listening. Ms. Brown certainly is. Wednesday night she said as clearly as she could: “Do I think we need another methadone clinic in this area? Absolutely not, there are already two. I’m not against people getting their treatment, but I’m against this one.”
Her colleagues will do their darndest to agree. It won’t be easy under existing planning rules to stop this proposal, might not even be possible with the patient Mr. Patton ever lurking.
Here’s the reality, though. This is not a planning issue. This is a medical issue. This is not a City of London issue. This is an Ontario government issue. And where were they Wednesday night? Not at Hillside Church at any rate.
The provincial government has known for almost a decade that addiction rates were climbing rapidly in Ontario, leaving in the wake crime waves, prostitution, broken homes, lost jobs and financial ruin. The tally for this social destruction runs into the billions.
The provincial government sanctioned methadone as the best possible medical way of combating the problem because of its ability to mute the agony of withdrawal symptoms. They urged reluctant doctors to treat the addicts by paying for treatment through OHIP.
And the provincial government mostly looked the other way when doctors became entrepreneurs, setting up stand-alone clinics to dispense the daily treatment and making millions in the process. That’s how OATC got started; it now numbers 46 clinics in the province.
When the reports came in that the larger the methadone clinic the more problems it seemed to generate, if the provincial government noticed at all it did nothing about the problem. It didn’t legislate size – which it could have; it didn’t legislate location – which it could have; it didn’t legislate a neighbourhood cap – which it could have.
Instead, the provincial government decided to threat this medical issue by turning it into a planning issue. Medical issues are a provincial responsibility; planning issues are dealt with by your city council.
City council, lest we forget, cannot legislate size, cannot legislate location, cannot legislate neighbourhood caps. City council can only legislate land use and even that can only be done broadly.
So the ability of city council to stop the proposed OATC methadone clinic in a nice community which already has two, including not much more than a block away, is very, very limited.
That our provincial government has willingly allowed this to happen in London, and in communities across Ontario, is nothing short of shameful.