February 6, 2015
VIA Email and Canada Post
Mayor Gordon Schermerhorn
124 John Street, P.O. Box 97
Greater Napanee, ON
I was pleased to learn that on January 20th at a special session, councilors did not pass an interim control bylaw to prohibit the opening of methadone clinics in the Town of Greater Napanee.
Any regulations that municipalities 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. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has been regularly advising municipalities that they:
- must not discriminate against people with addictions. If regulations target or have an adverse impact on people with addictions, those regulations are discriminatory, contrary to the Codeunless they were adopted in good faith and are necessary to accomplish a legitimate planning purpose;
- must make sure that they make all possible efforts, short of undue hardship, to accommodate the needs of people with addictions
These requirements are consistent with the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Meiorin [British Columbia (Public Service Employee Relations Commission) v. BCGSEU,  3 S.C.R. 3]. They were set out by the Ontario Municipal Board in Kitchener (City) Official Plan Amendment No. 58,  O.M.B.D. No. 666, 64 O.M.B.R. 283. The OMB stated that:
A municipality which sought to justify the imposition of a discriminatory standard/requirement/policy might be expected to establish that it made real and meaningful efforts to accommodate the needs of persons adversely affected by the standard/requirement/policy, or sought less discriminatory approaches to achieving the objective. It might also be expected to establish, on a substantive level, that it is not possible to accommodate, short of undue hardship.
This is the law – and it also makes good sense. While mental health disabilities are commonplace in our communities, people with these 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 attitudes and stereotypes 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 the disability worse, and making it harder to recover by limiting available supports.
General zoning decisions
When considering regulating methadone facilities differently than standard clinics and pharmacies, the OHRC urges municipalities to ask:
- Is the more restrictive regulation based on any discriminatory views about clients, instead of on legitimate planning purposes?
- In what ways might proposed amendments limit the availability of services to people with opioid addictions?
Regulations on methadone clinics and pharmacies must meet legitimate planning purposes. We encourage municipalities to carefully examine the goals of potential regulations, and make sure they relate to planning issues.
It is encouraging that human rights issues were raised at the meeting. Reviewing any future potential regulations through a human rights lens can help you make sure vulnerable people who already live and use services in Greater Napanee are helped, not hindered.
The OHRC is available to assist you with this issue. For more information on human rights and planning issues related to methadone clinics, please contact Delna Karanjia at 416-314-4542 or via email at Delna.Karanjia@ohrc.on.ca.
Barbara Hall, B.A, LL.B, Ph.D (hon.)