British Columbia

NDP slams BC Liberals over unregulated drug recovery houses

B.C.'s Health Minister George Abbott is promising to investigate unregulated recovery houses following a CBC News report operators are taking social assistance cheques from drug addicts in exchange for unsafe, overcrowded accommodation.

CBC report exposed private operators exploiting recovering addicts

Charlie Morton shows Go Public reporter Kathy Tomlinson a recovery house across the alley from his Surrey home. ((CBC))

B.C.'s Health Minister George Abbott is promising to investigate unregulated recovery houses following a CBC News report operators are taking social assistance cheques from drug addicts in exchange for unsafe, overcrowded accommodation.

CBC News found more than 100 Lower Mainland homes have been turned into rooming houses for addicts who want to kick their habit.

The private organizations rent inexpensive homes in suburban neighbourhoods, homes that are often in disrepair. They then rent out spaces to recovering drug addicts and/or alcoholics.

Typically, the homes collect room-and-board money from the addicts by arranging to have their monthly welfare cheques paid directly to the organization. Residents said they are often left to essentially run the homes on their own, with little or no direct supervision.

Abbott promised to investigate the complaints of the residents and neighbours, and also hinted that the government is working on new regulations for recovery houses to be introduced later this year.

Questions raised in legislature

But those promises were not good enough for the provincial opposition, who seized on the CBC report during question period on Tuesday afternoon.

"Why are communities still waiting for the B.C. Liberals to fix a problem that they created?" NDP Leader Carole James demanded.

James said it was the Premier Gordon Campbell's government that deregulated recovery homes after taking office eight years ago.

"What was he thinking? Was he thinking about the betrayal of the people that he said he was going to defend?" James asked.

Question riles minister

A clearly agitated Abbott called the NDP "the last place we would ever look for advice on regulating is this group."

Deregulation was better than excessive red tape that could put the homes out of business, he said.

"I think it's important to recognize that while there may be some bad apples in terms of the mix, that there are many excellent recovery home operators and we ought to give them some credit for that," he said.

Recovery homes were regulated in B.C. under the previous NDP government from 1998 until 2002, when the current government rescinded the regulations.

The Liberal health minister at the time, Colin Hansen, said the smaller homes were finding the licensing process too costly and onerous.

"It is a relatively complex process to put that licensing in place," Abbott said.

Recovery houses aren't governed by the province's Residential Tenancy Act because it is not the usual landlord-and-tenant arrangement.