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Cabbagetown methadone clinic project cancelled

Activists blame NIMBYism

Activist Zoe Dodd grills MPP Glen Murray on why the methadone clinic has been stopped in Cabbagetown. Credit: Andrea Houston

Activists are screaming NIMBY after fierce public pressure from Cabbagetown residents put a stop to a methadone clinic that was slated for the corner of Dundas and Ontario streets.

The Cabbagetown South Residents’ Association called a meeting Sept 13 to rally support to “stop the methadone clinic.” Moments after the meeting began, MPP Glen Murray announced the project was now off the table.

“I’m disappointed. I don’t think this is a victory,” says a furious Zoe Dodd, an activist with AIDS Action Now and the Toronto Drug Users Union.

“People are waiting to get into methadone clinics, and there are not enough accessible facilities in this neighbourhood.”

Cheers erupted through the presentation centre at the base of the new luxury Paintbox Condominiums, where Murray made the announcement to about 150 residents. He says the area already has a high concentration of similar treatment facilities. Also, the developer “didn’t want to stay where they weren’t welcome.”

“The developer decided not to proceed with the project because there is a very heightened level of concern in the community… This community has a very active residents’ association and BIA.”

To this, Dodd says, “There are a lot of drug users in this area. We should make treatment available to people who are trying to make their lives better. This is stigmatizing people as criminals.”

Had it not been stopped, the clinic would have been the fifth in the area, says Sergeant Nancy McLean, of the Toronto police, who was at the meeting. She says there is a need for more methadone clinics in Toronto. “Are the community’s needs being met? Everyone deserves therapy. I absolutely support that.”

But, McLean notes, “crack is a bigger problem than heroin in 51 Division.”

On the Cabbagetown South Residents’ Association’s website, Pam McConnell, the councillor for Ward 28, is listed as in support of the clinic’s closure. McConnell released a statement to Xtra because she is currently out of the country, her office says. McConnell writes that she is “opposed to this particular clinic because it is not needed in this neighbourhood, the location is inappropriate, and it is the wrong model of service.”

At the meeting, Patricia Smith, president of the Cabbagetown South Residents’ Association, called the clinic “inappropriate” but refused to explain why or offer any further comment.

Sharon Summerling, a member of the residents’ association, says residents found out about the clinic only a week ago.

“Since then we’ve rallied, as you can see by the numbers here, to fight against it,” she says. “We have a lot of problems in Cabbagetown South. We are battling the Beer Store selling single cans, our properties are being damaged and we’re upset. This is just one more thing that we can’t handle in this neighbourhood.”

Dodd disagrees. She says the Cabbagetown South Residents’ Association has a history of targeting services that help the poor. She points to the time in 2007 when the association stopped a Salvation Army soup kitchen from opening on Parliament St, which is also stated on the association’s website.

A landmark Canadian study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in August 2009, and published in an Oct 7, 2011, Maclean’s story, states that drug users on methadone are 62 percent more likely to remain in treatment. They also use drastically less heroin and commit fewer crimes, the study states.

The company that had planned to open the Cabbagetown clinic, Towards Recovery Clinics (TRC), is a for-profit company, based in Hamilton.

In McConnell’s letter, she expresses concern with the way this particular methadone business is run, after examining their other existing operations. “Their business is based on a production-line model that maximizes profits through the number of clients and minimizes on-site physicians and resources. I received this information from professionals familiar with methadone administration and officers from a police division that monitored their other sites.”

This production-line model makes the clinic inappropriate for a residential neighbourhood that has nearby schools and daycares, she says. “I am concerned that this clinic will slow the momentum that we have created in Regent Park.”