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In August 2010, the RM of Springfield refused an application by Winnipeg-based New Directions for a zoning permit that would have seen a group home for up to three disabled men set up in the community.

A dispute over the rights people have when it comes to choosing their neighbours is now headed towards a high-profile showdown in Manitoba's courts. 

Winnipeg agency New Directions has filed an application in the Court of Queen's Bench seeking to overturn a recent decision by a rural municipality that denied a zoning permit for a property not far from Garven Road.

The agency planned to have two mentally-disabled men live in the home with supervision from care aides.

A number of residents of the RM of Springfield opposed the agency's plan, saying they feared an increase in crime and emergency response times and a decrease in property values. 

New Directions claims that the RM's August 2010 decision over the zoning of the property violates two sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is seeking a judge's ruling on the matter.

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and his provincial counterpart, Andrew Swan, have been notified of the pending court action, court documents filed in the Court of Queen's Bench show.

The group home proposed by the agency would have housed up to three developmentally or intellectually delayed men and staff "who would benefit from a more tranquil, rural environment," the documents state.

Proposed resident can't speak, vulnerable: relative

In a supporting affidavit filed by the sister of one of the home's proposed residents, she says the 45-year-old man suffers from "a profound developmental disability," and cannot speak. "He is a vulnerable person living with a mental disability," the woman stated.

A key focus of New Direction's arguments will be the constitutionality of a local zoning bylaw it says discriminates against people with disabilities.  

The home, which the agency purchased nearly a year ago, would be staffed 24 hours a day, New Directions said.

New Directions said the property is currently zoned "rural residential," which it believes permits the use of a "shift-staffed home" within the bylaw as a single-family dwelling.

The RM, through its lawyers, disagree, according to the documents.

"On … Sept. 15, 2010, Springfield advised New Directions, through counsel, that New Directions' proposed use of the property as a 'shift staffed home' did not qualify as a 'single family dwelling' and was therefore not a permitted use," the documents state.

But, if it weren't for the disabilities of the people the agency proposes would live there, they'd be able to without any wrangling with the RM over bylaws, New Directions claims.

"By refusing to confirm that New Directions' proposed use of the property as a 'shift-staffed home' is a 'single family dwelling,' and therefore a permitted use [under the bylaw], Springfield has violated [the disabled person's] right to equality before and under the law … without discrimination based on mental or physical disability guaranteed by s. 15 of the Charter," the documents state.

A court date to hear the agency's claims is still pending.

In December, New Directions also launched a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.