War of words over Vanier shelter heats up

Tensions are mounting between the Salvation Army and Coun. Mathieu Fleury over a proposed multipurpose homeless shelter on Montreal Road in Vanier.

Salvation Army says Fleury worked on proposal for years, Fleury says he implored them to consider other sites

Glenn van Gulik, a spokesperson for the Salvation Army, wrote a letter to Coun. Mathieu Fleury outlining the work they've done together for more than two years on a proposed shelter in Vanier. But Fleury refutes some of the letter's claims. (CBC)

Tensions are mounting between the Salvation Army and Coun. Mathieu Fleury over a proposed multipurpose homeless shelter on Montreal Road in Vanier.

In response to accusations from residents of underhanded dealings and a lack of public consultation, the Salvation Army is defending itself in a letter outlining Fleury's years-long participation in pre-consultation meetings about the possible site at 333 Montreal Rd.

But on Thursday, Fleury said he consistently made it clear during the meetings he supported a move into several sites and he did not support the site at 333 Montreal Rd.

"In fact, I implored them to reconsider their approach and consider other sites," he told Radio-Canada in French.

"I didn't think keeping that model was acceptable, so yes, I was in favour of an investment. But I was in favour of an investment at several sites. I was always clear that the site at 333 Montreal Road was not acceptable."

Plans revealed in late June

The Rideau-Vanier ward councillor has been publicly objecting to the Montreal Road site since the Salvation Army revealed its plans publicly in late June, and as residents objecting to the proposal have been calling for transparency and consultation.

"It's a city-wide issue, but the community of Vanier certainly demonstrated ... that we're all together, that we don't think 333 Montreal Rd. is an adequate site," Fleury told CBC News at a public meeting on the issue attended by hundreds of people last week.

Fleury asked the Salvation Army to put a pause on the project and consider spreading out the services it would offer from the new building across multiple sites, but the Salvation Army refused, saying it worked with the city for years to find the right space.

The Salvation Army letter sent to Fleury, dated July 15 and also sent to Mayor Jim Watson, goes into some detail about those efforts.

'Extensive consultation process' began in January 2015

Glenn van Gulik, a spokesperson for the Salvation Army, wrote in the letter that the organization's "extensive consultation process" began with a meeting between Fleury and other city officials in January 2015 to discuss the 333 Montreal Rd. site specifically.

"At that time, you indicated that you were supportive of a concept where the design of a new facility did not replicate the current structure in the [ByWard Market], a facility that did not resemble institutional use and had a 'wow' factor that the Ottawa Booth Centre does not have," the letter reads.

Protesters chanted "SOS Vanier" outside a closed-door meeting held Tuesday evening between the Salvation Army and some condo residents about the proposed shelter site on Montreal Road. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Other meetings were held in April and October 2015, and around that time the city started looking into alternative government-owned site options, so the Salvation Army came up with a list of criteria and worked with the city to find one.

But no suitable options were found, van Gulik wrote.

Details were not provided about how many options there were, what the objections were, or who had those objections.

'Spinning the media'

Van Gulik then claims that in November 2015, Fleury "reaffirmed [his] support of the project" and asked for another meeting, and that in the following months Fleury and others were kept updated on planning and concept designs for the proposed site on Montreal Road.

Fleury accuses Gulik of using the letter to spin the situation.

"Every time they talked about the site 333 Montreal Rd. I was opposed, and they don't mention that at all in their long, four-page letter. We're preparing a response to the letter as there are several parts that are not correct, including the fact that I supported the project," Fleury said in French.

"Glenn has been engaged for several months doing what he's doing, spinning the media, so we're going to respond in very factual way."

Safety issues at existing shelter heighten tension

By the fall of 2016, safety issues at the George Street shelter "had become a significant challenge," van Gulik's letter continues.

A woman was stabbed and killed on the west side of the shelter in October that year, and days later, Fleury told CBC News that increased safety measures instituted by the Salvation Army were falling short.

At the time, Fleury hinted about the Salvation Army's plans to move.

Last fall, Coun. Mathieu Fleury said he couldn't recommend the Salvation Army as a good tenant at any future location. (Steve Fischer/CBC)

"The problem is that we can't turn around to any community in our city and say, 'Hey, Salvation Army will build a new purpose-built shelter, something that looks like the YMCA downtown where you'll have public access to a pool, amenity space and so on,' because how can I ... say they're good operators of their current shelter?" he told CBC News in an interview that same month.

"I can't say that today. There's a lot of work and public confidence that needs to be built up."

Parties disagree on consultation

"Numerous" meetings were held over the fall and winter to discuss the safety concerns, which the Salvation Army feels would be addressed by the proposed new building, van Gulik wrote in the letter to Fleury.

A meeting was held in March 2017, and another meeting was held in April at the architect's offices to solicit feedback on the proposed final design. Issues brought forward included a coffee shop, improvements to the Thrift Store building and facade, and improving access in and out of Montreal Road.

"As we were finalizing our planning proposal and preparing to submit these to the City of Ottawa, you again were kept informed of the process and even asked us at that time to delay the announcement of the proposal submission until you got back from your vacation. We respectfully agreed and delayed the announcement, along with any advanced community consultation, until you returned," the letter to Fleury reads.

"In fact, as we look back at all of the meetings over the past two-and-a-half years, not only have we never been requested to engage community groups in discussion or consultation, but there was insistence by yourself and city staff to keep this proposal for 333 Montreal Rd. private until the announcement on June 22."

The letter then reiterates the Salvation Army's position to continue with the proposal and to work with the city to make it happen.

Fleury on Thursday rejected the Salvation Army's claim that it was never asked to do public consultations.

"Again, they're playing with words," he said in French. "For us, obviously there's no element in which I would say directly, don't consult. They should have consulted well before the selection of the site to share with the community what their intentions were. We would have told them that. They decided to take a different approach."

A detailed response to the letter is expected later Thursday, Fleury said.

Read the Salvation Army's entire letter to Fleury here.