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Letter to the City of Belleville regarding proposed by-law amendments affecting methadone clinics

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July 6, 2012

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VIA Email and Canada Post

Mayor Neil R. Ellis, Chair Tom Lafferty and
Members of the Planning Advisory Committee
City of Belleville

169 Front Street
Belleville, ON
K8N 2Y8

Your Worship,

I am writing to comment on proposed amendments to the city’s zoning by-laws that would include new definitions for ‘Opioid Substitution Therapy Clinics’ and ‘Methadone Dispensaries’ and differentiate them from other clinics, medical clinics or professional offices. As noted in the City’s staff report GP-2012-03, the effect of this differentiation would be to identify opioid substitution treatment and services as distinct uses and “to require any such new uses to be specifically zoned for that purpose”.

The proposed amendments may limit how treatment services are provided to people with opioid addictions. Any regulations that the city may choose to impose on opioid substitution therapy clinics and methadone dispensaries are governed by section 1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code (“the Code”), which prohibits discrimination in services against people with disabilities, including addictions.

While the City considers imposing any such regulations, it must consider its obligations under the Code. Consistent with the Code and the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1999 “Meiorin ” decision (British Columbia (Public Service Employee Relations Commission) v. BCGSEU, [1999] 3 S.C.R. 3), the City:

  • Must not discriminate against people with addictions. If regulations target or have an adverse impact on people with addictions, those regulations are illegal unless they were adopted in good faith and are necessary to accomplish a legitimate planning purpose.
  • Must make sure that it makes all possible efforts, short of undue hardship, to accommodate the needs of people with addictions.

This approach was also supported by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) in Kitchener (City) Official Plan Amendment No. 58, [2010] O.M.D.B. No. 666, 64 O.M.B.R. 283. The OMB stated that a municipality that wants to justify a discriminatory bylaw must be able to show that the bylaw was established in good faith, was reasonable, and that real and substantial efforts were made to accommodate the needs of persons who were adversely affected.

This is the law – but it also makes good sense. While mental health disabilities are commonplace 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. These barriers result largely from negative societal attitudes about mental illness, and contribute to experiences of systemic inequality, including lack of access to appropriate treatment and support services. 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.

People Zoning

The OHRC partners 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.”

In the Kitchener case, the OMB examined the issue of “people zoning”:

…when asked why counseling services were also being banned from [a particular] area, the City’s planner replied that the community did not want social service users walking through the neighbourhood to counseling: “That would add to the negative social environment.” That left little doubt that the focus was not on the uses, but the users.

We want to work with the City to make sure that any regulations it imposes do not “people zone.” Planning tools should neither target, nor have a discriminatory impact on people with addictions. There needs to be a genuine planning purpose for all decisions, and the City should work to ensure that the needs of people with addictions are accommodated in any planning changes it makes.

General Zoning Decisions

The City appears to be considering regulating opioid substitution therapy clinics and methadone dispensaries differently than standard clinics and pharmacies. We encourage the City 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 proposed amendments limit the availability of services to people with opioid addictions?

Impact Assessment

As noted above, the City has a duty to consider the impacts of any regulations on people with addictions, and has a duty also to accommodate their disability.

We encourage the City to:

  • Include references to the Code in any regulatory bylaws. These references educate the public about their rights under the Code, and reaffirm the City’s commitment and understanding that nothing in its Official Plan or bylaws can contravene the Code.
  • Make sure that people with addictions who rely on opioid maintenance treatment receive uninterrupted and convenient access to the services that they need.
  • Make sure that public meetings and discussions do not discriminate or subject Code-protected groups to unwarranted scrutiny or personal attack. For example, it is important to avoid using or condoning stereotypes about people with opioid addictions, such as their being undesirable, prone to criminal behaviour, or not part of the community. We trust that, at public meetings, you will interrupt and address biased commentary, and redirect discussion to legitimate planning issues as the Planning Act requires.

Legitimate planning purposes

Regulations on opioid substitution therapy clinics and methadone dispensaries must meet legitimate planning purposes. We encourage the City to carefully examine the goals of any potential regulations, and make sure they relate to planning issues and could not better be met through other regulatory tools.

The OHRC has released a guide for municipalities In the zone: Housing, human rights, and municipal planning. While the focus is on housing, the human rights principles and recommendations are also relevant to the service context. For example, you may wish to refer to sections on discriminatory neighbourhood opposition, on avoiding discrimination and harassment at community meetings, and on the concept of people zoning. The guide is available online on the OHRC website.

Moving Forward

I encourage you to consider the human rights impacts on the vulnerable people who already live and use services in your community, whose lives will be affected by the decisions you make. Reviewing any potential regulations through a human rights lens can help you make sure vulnerable people in your community are helped, not hindered.

The OHRC is available to assist you with this issue. For more information on human rights and planning, please contact Delna Karanjia at 416-314-4542 or via email at

Yours truly,

Barbara Hall, B.A, LL.B, Ph.D (hon.)
Chief Commissioner

Cc: Honourable Deb Matthews