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Combining addiction and municipal zoning issues

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One of our commitments in Minds that matter was to look at municipal zoning practices and advocate for change when there was potential for discrimination. While much of this work involves housing, we are also researching zoning rules related to health clinics dispensing methadone. And where we see discrimination, we are advising those municipalities.

We are researching discrimination relating to methadone health services, and have already spoken to several municipalities, including London, Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands and Tillsonburg. Here are two examples.

Closing the clinic: Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands

In December 2012, the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands directed a pharmacy to stop dispensing methadone at its clinic, as it had received complaints about clinic clients. It alleged the clinic created a public nuisance and danger to health.  The clinic closed in February 2013.

We advised the Town that it had to use a human rights lens whenever it changes its commercial and residential zoning bylaws. It did not appear to do so in this case. Limiting the places health clinics, including methadone dispensing clinics, can locate could be a human rights violation.

We did not believe the Town had made sufficient attempts to accommodate health clinic clients to the point of undue hardship. Methadone clients are a highly stigmatized group, and behaviours are often attributed to them based on stereotypes about addictions. Other bylaws could have been used to address the concerns raised, without stigmatizing all recipients of the clinic's services.

The OHRC works with individuals and communities throughout the province to end discrimination and to break down barriers that vulnerable groups face. One such barrier is “people zoning.” We advised the Town that it cannot discriminate against people with addictions. If amendments to the official plan or bylaw target or have an adverse impact on people with addictions, those amendments are illegal unless they were adopted in good faith and are necessary to accomplish a legitimate planning purpose.

As well, we advised that at any public meetings about potential zoning amendments, it is important to avoid using or allowing the use of stereotypes about people who use methadone, such as their being undesirable, prone to criminal behaviour, or not part of the community.

We continue to monitor this situation carefully. The concerns we outlined are the same messages we often send in our work in housing – but the need to meet obligations under the Code is equally critical to bring down the barriers many people with addictions face.

Tillsonburg: use a human rights lens, ask the right questions

In June 2012, we wrote to the Town of Tillsonburg to comment on its interim control provisions that prohibit establishing new methadone clinics and dispensaries for one year, while they complete a planning study on regulating this issue.

We outlined some human rights principles that may affect the Town’s planning study and decision. These included:

  • The legal requirement to not discriminate against people with addictions
  • Regulations that target or have an adverse impact on people with addictions are illegal unless they were adopted in good faith and are necessary to accomplish a legitimate planning purpose
  • The Town must make all possible efforts, to the point of undue hardship, to accommodate the needs of people with addictions
  • The Town must not “people zone,” which is illegal under the Code and also under the Planning Act.

This is the law – but it also makes good sense. While mental health disabilities are common in our communities, people with mental health disabilities (including addictions) face many barriers, both individual and institutional, that prevent them from fully taking part in society. Discrimination can compound the effects of living with addiction disabilities by making it harder to seek treatment, triggering or making worse mental health disabilities and addictions, and making it harder to recover by limiting available supports.

We were also concerned that the Town might consider regulating health clinics dispensing methadone differently than standard clinics and pharmacies – even though they are all providing healthcare services. We encouraged the Town to consider:

  • Is this more restrictive regulation based on any discriminatory views about clients, instead of on legitimate planning purposes?
  • In what ways might the regulation of methadone clinics and pharmacies limit the availability of methadone services to people with addictions?

We encouraged the Town to:

  • Include references to the Code in any amended form of the Official Plan and in any regulatory bylaws
  • Make sure that people with addictions who rely on methadone receive uninterrupted and convenient access to the health services they need
  • Make sure that public meetings and discussions do not discriminate or subject Code-protected groups to unwarranted scrutiny or personal attack
  • Carefully examine the goals of any potential regulations, and make sure they relate to planning issues and cannot better be met through other regulatory tools.


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