MLA raises concerns about Alberta drug rehab centre
Liberal MLA Harry Chase voiced concerns in the legislature Tuesday about allegations of abuse uncovered during a CBC News investigation into a Calgary facility that is supposed to help teens overcome addictions.
More than a dozen former patients and staff of the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre (AARC) allege the residential program manipulated people into treatment, held them against their will and administered abusive therapy.
One patient alleged she was sexually assaulted by a fellow patient while another said she was attacked in a closet at the centre.
A spokeswoman for the centre said Tuesday there is no evidence the allegations raised in The Fifth Estate broadcast on Feb. 13 are true.
'Disturbing allegations of abuse'
In Alberta's legislature Tuesday, Chase said The Fifth Estate raised "disturbing allegations of abuse."
"Please explain if and how AARC, a recipient of public funding, is licenced and monitored to ensure the children and youth are safe and assure us that public dollars are actually helping, not harming, children and youth," he said.
Ron Liepert, Alberta's health minister, responded that the centre is accredited by the Canadian Accreditation Council.
"I didn't have the opportunity to see the particular production, but I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that you can talk to …many people who have gone through the program in Calgary and I am not so sure they would necessarily agree with this 'Mother Corp.' program out of Toronto, Mr. Speaker."
Janis Tarchuk, minister of children and youth services, also defended the centre.
"It is concerning to hear those kinds of allegations and it's certainly my job to encourage people to come forward with … their allegations of abuse," Tarchuk replied. "I also want to say that I have heard from many families who have used AARC [after] terrible years and have seen some great success."
The centre, which opened in February 1992 with $500,000 in public funding, receives $400,000 a year in provincial funding.
Despite its critics, it has committed supporters, who helped raise half a million dollars at a fundraising event in 2008. It costs $50,000 a year to treat a patient at the centre, but those who cannot afford treatment are subsidized.
After question period, Chase told CBC News that desperate parents are paying money to help their children recover from addictions.
"And there's no doubt that there's a need for the program. But if the program involves abuse, then it needs to be investigated, immediately, by this government."
Facility denies allegations
The CBC's The Fifth Estate uncovered the allegations during an extensive investigation.
The centre's director, Dean Vause, declined to be interviewed for the story. When The Fifth Estate's Gillian Findlay went to the centre with a hidden camera to confront him, he denied the allegations, calling the former patients "liars," and insisted no abuse has ever been reported to him.
In an email sent to CBC News on Tuesday, Jane Bolstad, a spokeswoman for the centre, wrote: "We have absolutely no evidence that any of the allegations on The Fifth Estate are true."
Because the allegations are serious and "in some cases of criminal matters" the organization is consulting Calgary police, she said.
"We're going to let the Calgary police decide what their best course of action is before we talk about this program."
The centre has also complained to CBC's ombudsman Vince Carlin about The Fifth Estate's broadcast.