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OHRC letter to the the Town of Tillsonburg regarding zoning By-Law for methadone clinics and dispensaries

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June 21, 2012

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VIA Email and Canada Post

Mayor John Lessif
Tillsonburg Customer Service Centre
10 Lisgar Ave
Tillsonburg ON N4G 5A5 

Your Worship,

I am writing to comment on By-Law Number 3636, which establishes “interim control provisions for the town of Tillsonburg to prohibit the establishment of new methadone clinics and methadone dispensaries for an interim period of up to one year in order to permit the completion of a planning study on the potential regulation of these uses.”

As you embark on this planning study, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) would like to outline some human rights principles that may affect your decision.

Any regulations that the town may choose to impose on methadone clinics and 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 also consider its obligations under the Code. Consistent with the Code and the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1999 “Meoirin” 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 in Kitchener (City) Official Plan Amendment No. 58, [2010] O.M.D.B. No. 666, 64 O.M.B.R. 263. 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 counselling 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 counselling: “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 Town 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 methadone clinics and pharmacies 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 regulation of methadone clinics and pharmacies limit the availability of methadone services to people with 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 amended form of the Official Plan and 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 methadone 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 who use methadone, 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 methadone clinics and pharmacies 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 just 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 feel welcome in your neighbourhoods.

The OHRC is available to assist you with this issue. For more information on human rights and planning, please contact Margaret Flynn at 416-326-9858 or via email at Margaret.Flynn@ohrc.on.ca.

Yours truly,

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

Cc: Honourable Deb Matthews