Meeting about addiction treatment centre leaves residents feeling confused, concerned
An open house meeting hosted by representatives of the proposed addiction treatment centre to be located at the former convent in Vankleek Hill left the public with more questions than answers and raised doubts about the man representing the investors slated to purchase the convent.
At the October 10 Champlain Township council meeting, McIntosh and Perry consultant Pierre Mercier told council and the public in attendance that they would have a chance to meet one-on-one with members of the Fondation L'Ange Gardien, the not-for-profit group which will operate the addiction treatment centre proposed for the former convent in Vankleek Hill. The building is to be purchased by an as-yet undisclosed group of investors, which will lease the building to the Fondation L'Ange Gardien.
But the three-hour meeting on October 29 proceeded in more of a town-hall meeting format, which evolved for the most part into a series of adversarial, sometimes hostile questions from the public.
The aim of the meeting was not to answer questions, but to gather questions and find out about public concerns, said Daniel Champagne, who is to be general manager of the facility which will house 70 people at any one time as part of a residential treatment program for those with drug and alcohol addictions. The treatment program for each resident will last seven months and admittance to the facility will be voluntary and/or based on referrals from other health agencies.
The promoters said they wanted to gauge sentiment from the public and that they would not establish in Vankleek Hill if the community was against having a centre here.
During the course of the meeting, Rachel David held up papers that she said recounted Primeau's involvement in a real estate fraud case.
"I see you here. Your picture is here," she said, waving pages printed from items published online.
According to documents obtained the next day by The Review, Primeau is one of three Gatineau men named in a 2010 civil class action certified by the Quebec Superior Court. A description of the class action, contained on the website of Montreal law firm Sylvestre Fafard Painchaud, says it is alleged that about 150 investors in real estate were defrauded of five to 10 million dollars by Francois Roy, Marc Jemus and Robert Primeau. According to the law firm, acting on behalf of petitioner David Brown, this civil case is still pending and is likely to be a lengthy process. The Review contacted Sylvestre Fafard Painchaud Tuesday and learned that a second related civil case involving insurance companies, is also pending.
Champagne was accompanied by Dr. Yaniv Benzimra, a clinical psychologist who is developing the treatment program for the center and Robert Primeau, representing investors who will purchase the building. All three were seated at a table and entertained questions from about 75 local residents.
Many residents asked questions which expressed their doubts and concerns about the establishment of such a facility in Vankleek Hill.
Rachel David insisted that Vankleek Hill was not the community for this type of facility.
"It should be elsewhere," she said.
"Ninety-nine per cent of the people do not want it here. Do any of you live within two kilometres of a rehab centre?" asked Jason Jackson.
Benzimra said that the developers understood citizens' fear of having a treatment centre in Vankleek Hill, but mentioned that 11 per cent suffer from drug and alcohol issues and said that one out of four have mental health issues.
"You are not out of that reality," Benzimra said.
In response to a question about increasing insurance costs for homeowners living in the vicinity of the centre and lowered house values, Champagne replied that he had never seen that and mentioned that consultant Pierre Mercier had studies which showed there were no differences in the values of homes located near rehab or treatment centres. Mercier was unable to attend the meeting.
Champagne said that a similar facility called Maison Mélaric, located in St-André-Est, Québec, housed 130 residents and said that most people living in that area don't even know the centre exists.
Corina Parisien said that the centre should be located outside of town.
"Why don't you put it on a county road instead of where all of our kids are walking home?" Parisien said.
Parisien challenged the three facility representatives to ask why there was little information for the public.
"If you got federal approval, it would have been nice to give that to us . . . so that we know what your credentials are," Parisien said.
Primeau replied that the Ministry of Revenue would be able to provide that and said that an action plan would be given to everyone.
In response to a question asking who the purchaser of the building would be, Primeau answered that the investors' identity would be disclosed when the offer is made.
Mark Henderson asked why the developers would spend $1.25 million plus another estimated $300,000 to $500,000 on renovations when a new building could be constructed for less.
"And you're here saying you will spend $1.5 million on this building and you're going to hire all these professionals, but what we see is three people at a table and no microphone . . . you have nothing to give people. How can you be professional and not present any papers?" Henderson challenged, reiterating that people want to know who the investors are.
"If you don't get a warm feeling about coming here (to Vankleek Hill), is that enough to stop you? Do we have to present you with a list of names? We don't feel it's in the appropriate spot," Henderson continued.
"Maybe there are other spots or other options. Why here . . . why this building?" Henderson continued.
"We had a good real estate agent and we told him our requirements. The price was right, compared to the province of Quebec," Primeau replied.
"Are you satisfied to come here tonight, with nothing?" asked Henderson, reiterating that he had expected an information package.
"You have a foundation . . . we could have seen something about that. Maybe there are people here who would have made a donation. But I see nothing," Henderson said.
"We are not here to get donations," Primeau replied.
A few spoke in favour of the center. One woman said, "I am telling you, there are people who need help. This would be a local service," she said.
Paul Toupin told the developers," We just don't want it here in Vankleek Hill. Can't you find a building somewhere else . . . there is lots of space."
Toupin said the facility should be located in the country and expressed concerns about security.
"Have you counted the number of doors in that place?"
Champagne assured the gathering that security staff would be located on every floor and that doors would be locked at all times.
"There are inmates serving at home right now . . . they live amongst you at any time," Benzimra said.
Champagne said that if someone wants to leave the facility, he or she must be picked up or return to their home. Clients will not be released into the street.
Hawkesbury OPP Constable Pierre Dubois said that the police are there to support the centre.
"We collaborate . . . it depends on the situation," Dubois said, in response to a question about response time.
"We all know the reality . . . it takes the police 10 minutes to get here. We don't have an officer stationed in town," Mark Henderson said.
Vankleek Hill resident and volunteer firefighter Christian Walz asked what having a facility in Vankleek Hill might mean to volunteer firefighters.
In response to a question about how long it will take developers to have the center up and running, Primeau said that within three or four months from the time that the zoning change is approved.
Members of the audience continued to press the three facility representatives for a plan and questioned the amount of time it might take to get the necessary accreditations and approval to open the center.
"You could have provided us with information. We don't have a plan and there are so many unknown factors," Corina Parisien challenged.
Rachel David asked what would happen if one resident managed to leave the facility unsupervised.
Benzimra reiterated that 33 per cent of inmates are serving time within the community, stating that the vast majority are not dangerous.
In response to another question, Champagne stated that the project was "not a one-year thing," adding that a 10-year lease is being discussed.
Henderson asked again if the center was looking to open in February 2013, to which Primeau replied it would depend on the time needed for renovations.
Questions continued about the identify of the investors and the lack of information about the Fondation L'Ange Gardien. Primeau said that the website is under construction.
Champagne told the audience that he was taking notes to bring the questions and concerns back to his administrative council.
Saying that the meeting was organized partly in response to rumours that have been circulating about the center and to get a feeling of Vankleek Hill. Champagne said he is going to come back.
"I want to make something beautiful here," he said.
"The real question is do we want this kind of facility in this town? I know this type of facility is needed, but why do you want to bring this into the center of town?" asked Richard Charest, who later pressed for a "ballpark" date of when another meeting, with information, would take place. Champagne estimated that the centre proponents would have something to present by the end of November, and when Charest asked if December 15 would be a reasonable date, Champagne agreed to that deadline.
Local resident Randi Tolhurst asked the developers to show some other towns comparable in size to Vankleek Hill where such centres are existing successfully.
Mark Henderson asked for information on the provincial guidelines for such centers.