'Talking about transparency': Future of addictions-recovery centre debated at open house

People for and against a controversial plan to turn the old Vimy Arena in Crestview into an addictions-recovery centre got the chance to have their voices heard at an open house Saturday.

Area MLA opposed to Bruce Oake Recovery Centre at Vimy Arena site holds open house

Anne and Scott Oake are working to transform the site of the Vimy Arena in St. James into a 50-bed addiction treatment facility in their son's memory. The plan has brought a mixed response from neighbours, many of whom attended a open house to voice their opinion Saturday. (Laura Glowacki/CBC)

People for and against a controversial plan to turn the old Vimy Arena in Winnipeg's Crestview neighbourhood into an addictions-recovery centre got another chance to have their voices heard at an open house Saturday.

The open house was organized by independent MLA Stephen Fletcher, who just this week added his name to the list of opponents to the plan to convert the vacant city-owned arena into a 50-bed treatment facility called the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre.

The centre would be named after the 25-year-old son of broadcaster Scott Oake, who died of a heroin overdose in 2011, and the plan is being driven by the Oake family.

St. Charles Coun. Shawn Dobson has also been a vocal critic of the idea, which would bring a long-term treatment option for men suffering from addiction to Winnipeg, something those in favour of the idea say is needed in the city.

When he brought his concerns to media in early November, Dobson said he was upset because he and the public hadn't been consulted in discussions with the city. He said he was only notified by Mayor Brian Bowman about the plan after the city was prepared to transfer the land over to the province to facilitate its conversion into a treatment centre.


Bowman denies Dobson and the public were kept in the dark, but some at the meeting, including area resident Millie Wright, disagrees. 

"We didn't find out until almost the night before Remembrance Day and nobody was notified," Wright told CBC News after the open house. "There was nothing in our mailboxes, we didn't get a phone call, there was nothing door-to-door — we didn't even know it was a proposal.

"Our mayor is talking about transparency? He better start living up to it because I haven't seen it yet."

Millie Wright says the city hasn't been transparent enough about discussions to build an addictions-treatment facility at the Vimy Arena site. (Travis Golby/CBC)

While Wright isn't opposed to treatment centres, she is against the centre opening at the Vimy Arena site because she thinks addicts would be better served in a facility outside the city.

She says her son has been through treatment programs and from her family's experience, he was able to benefit the most from facilities located in rural settings.

"That's where he did the best, away from access and stuff," she said.

'This is a health issue'

Chris D'Souza, on the other hand, said he's in favour of using the arena site for the treatment centre because he sees drug addiction as one of the leading causes of crime in the city.

While he doesn't live in the area anymore, D'Souza grew up in St. James and wanted to come to the meeting because the centre would be located in the neighbourhood where he lived when he faced his own struggles with addiction. 

"We are OK to welcome establishments that sell alcohol, and there's drug dealers in the neighbourhoods, so what's wrong with the treatment centres? At least that strikes a balance because it is needed," he said after the meeting.

"There are many [treatment centres] that already exist and that's not necessarily a bad thing — it's a positive thing — because recovery instills positive, law abiding citizens, and there's a process to that.

Chris D’souza says the city needs more addictions-treatment centres and isn't opposed to using the Vimy Arena site to build a new one in Crestview. (Travis Golby/CBC)

"This is a health issue… and the vulnerable need that protection too."

​Dobson said this week he wants the city to issue a formal request for proposals to develop the land and repeated his assertion the mayor engaged in a "backroom deal" with the Oake family.

Bowman said he hopes to bring a plan for the centre to council before the end of this year.

A two-thirds majority of council would be required to transfer city recreational property, which translates into 11 votes out of the 16 elected officials at city hall.

With files from Bartley Kives