Accessibility a human right, report says
Norfolk planning staff have filed a report saying the imposition of zoning restrictions on methadone clinics could violate provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code. MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER
Norfolk has been advised against forcing methadone clinics out of the county’s downtown areas through zoning amendments.
Norfolk council asked planning staff to investigate the possibility in March after hearing complaints that methadone clients are driving consumers out of downtown Simcoe and forcing neighbouring businesses to close.
In a report to Norfolk council, planning staff say an attempt to relocate methadone clinics to industrial parks or other peripheral areas would likely prompt a legal challenge from the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Other Ontario communities that have travelled this path have received warning letters from the OHRC. In the OHRC’s opinion, opioid addiction is a disability. As such, addicts have accessibility rights to treatment.
“The OHRC has urged municipalities not to differentiate between opioid replacement therapy clinics and other medical clinics, warning that such action and the regulation of clinics through land-use mechanisms may be seen as discrimination against persons with disabilities, which is prohibited by both the code and the (federal) Charter (of Rights and Freedoms),” Mat Vaughan, a senior planner with Norfolk County, says in a report to council.
“(The OHRC) also warns against ‘people zoning’ or zoning based on the user of the premises and not the use, which is prohibited at law. There must be a genuine planning purpose behind all zoning decisions.”
Methadone is a synthetic opioid prescribed to people who are addicted to narcotics such as codeine, heroin, fentanyl and morphine. With an opioid treatment program, the dosage is gradually reduced until the addict is free of their cravings.
There are two methadone clinics in downtown Simcoe located in close proximity to each other. In recent years, adjoining businesses have closed. Proprietors have complained that shoppers avoid areas where methadone therapy is delivered.
In his report, Vaughan says Ontario’s human rights commission has challenged zoning bylaws governing methadone therapy in London, Oshawa and Windsor. Tillsonburg and Woodstock also have zoning regulations governing methadone clinics.
Hamilton, Brantford and Kitchener have considered regulating these clinics but have not acted.
Planning staff consulted with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit during the preparation of their report. The health unit supports the existing clinics, saying “they provide a vital service to some of our most marginalized and vulnerable community members.”
For its part, the Norfolk OPP say they are unable to make a causal connection between crime and the services methadone clinics provide. If clients of methadone clinics are creating a problem in Norfolk’s downtowns, the report says police are a more appropriate resource for dealing with that than zoning.
After outlining the caveats, the planning report says allowing methadone clinics in areas that allow for medical offices “except the central business district zone” is an option. Council also has the option of restricting methadone clinics to areas zoned industrial.
Norfolk council will consider the report at its meeting Tuesday at Governor Simcoe Square. Tuesday’s meeting begins at 1 p.m. with the discussion of several in-camera items. The public is welcome to sit in on the open portion of the agenda later in the afternoon.