'I failed miserably': Weyburn councillor apologizes for comments about home for people with disabilities

City councillors in Weyburn have voted to reject the construction of a group home for people with disabilities in a new subdivision, citing safety concerns and a potential impact on property prices.

Mayor says comments by some councillors 'do not appropriately reflect our values'

Care-home workers, residents and their loved ones are planning to protest in a new Weyburn, Sask., subdivision where a proposal for a new group home for people with disabilities was rejected on Monday. (Matthew Howard/CBC)

A Weyburn city councillor who cited "stigma" and impact on property values in voting against the construction of a group care home for people with disabilities has apologized and asked for forgiveness.  

Coun. Brad Wheeler, who said he lives in The Creeks — the new neighbourhood where the group home was to be built — was among those who voted Monday to reject the proposal from the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation.

"It kind of dashes the dreams and hopes of the people that live there currently. It will probably impede the development of that immediate area going forward," Wheeler said at Weyburn's regular council meeting on March 11, where councillors made the controversial decision to reject the proposal.

"I know it's not politically correct to say there's a stigma attached to them, but there is. You have to be honest with yourself.

"I feel bad that that's the case, but these people have invested a lot of money into their dream homes, their retirement homes," he said.

"I think the average price of the houses in that area would probably be north of $700,000, which isn't really relevant, but when they made their plans there was no discussion of group homes in the area."

A majority of councillors voted against the construction of the group home for people with mental and physical disabilities.

'I recognize why people are upset with me'

Following a statement from the mayor — who also voted against the proposal — saying "certain comments" made during the meeting did not reflect the view of all councillors, Wheeler issued an apology late Wednesday afternoon.

"I failed miserably at relaying a message on behalf of the residents of the Creeks and for that I apologize to my neighbours," said Wheeler in the written statement.

"After listening to the statements I made on Monday, I recognize why there are people upset with me, and rightly so. The statements I made are not the sentiments of the residents in the Creeks development, nor do they reflect mine."

Wheeler concluded by saying he spoke against his better judgement, that he is sorry for the hurt he has caused Weyburn residents, and that he would appreciate forgiveness from those he has offended.

Weyburn Mayor Marcel Roy says councillors were just following process when they voted against an application to build a disability care home in a new neighbourhood. (Matt Howard/CBC News)

Earlier in the day, Mayor Marcel Roy told reporters in Weyburn the decision was based on "tremendous pushback" from residents of The Creeks neighbourhood as part of the approval process.  

They shouldn't be denied an opportunity to live in a certain area of town just because they are disabled.- Weyburn group home manager Niki Woycik  

"The intention of our decision at that time at council on Monday was not to offend any groups or individuals in our community but to respect the existing process," said Roy.

"Certain statements were made by councillors during the regular council meeting on Monday that we feel as council do not appropriately reflect our values."

He said city council plans to meet with the Weyburn Group Home Society and the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation.

Under the plan, the group home would have been operated under 24-hour supervision by Weyburn Group Home Society, which runs seven other homes in Weyburn.

City planner Amanda Kauffman recommended that councillors approve the development, but the motion was voted down.

Residents oppose home in group letter

A letter signed by "Residents of The Creeks subdivision" was sent to the mayor and councillors in response to a call-out for feedback — part of the process for approving discretionary-use developments.

"It is important to note that there are many children and young families in the neighbourhood who wish to maintain the character of the neighbourhood and who have safety concerns," said the letter.

"The Notice is not specific regarding factors considered for approval by the Ministry of Social Services or what is meant by 24-hour supervision."

The letter writers also raised concerns about the possibility of increased traffic in the area.

Councillor regrets vote

Coun. Dick Michel put forward a motion on Monday to delay the decision and ask for more information from the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation, but it was defeated.

Couns. Wheeler, Winston Bailey and Jeff Chessall, along with Mayor Marcel Roy, voted against the group home proposal. Coun. Mel Van Betuw recused himself from the vote, citing a conflict of interest as he rents out property to Sask. Housing for a group home elsewhere in the city.

He wouldn't comment to CBC News on the vote outcome.

Bailey declined to comment at this time, saying he would address the decision publicly later this week.

Chessall issued a statement saying he regrets his decision. 

"I personally feel I have made a mistake and will take fault for my actions," said the councillor.

"I do regret not voting in tabling the motion to receive more information from the Weyburn Group Home Society and Saskatchewan Housing Corporation. I do feel our bylaws based around discretionary use do need to be reviewed." 

'Nothing to be concerned about'

Niki Woycik, who manages several of the society's existing group homes in Weyburn, said care home workers, residents and their family members planned to walk through The Creeks subdivision with placards on Wednesday.

She said the Weyburn Group Home Society needs another home because it currently supports 52 people and it has reached its capacity.

"I think people need to get up to date on people with disabilities," said Woycik. "There's nothing to be concerned about, they're just like every one of us."

City councillors, including the mayor, voted Monday to reject the construction of the group home for people with disabilities. (Matt Howard/CBC News)

"What would they do if they had a family member with a disability? How would they feel if they found out a family member couldn't move into a community because people wouldn't want them there?"

Woycik said the group homes allow people to live independently with support from the society, which also helps them to get jobs.

She said the society has never had any neighbour complaints about its existing group homes.

Weyburn people with disabilities will have to go on a wait list for a group home in another community until a new facility can be built, said Woycik.

"They should be treated equally and they shouldn't be denied an opportunity to live in a certain area of town just because they are disabled," she said.

"We have homes all over our community and the neighbourhoods and neighbours all enjoy having the group homes in their communities.

"It's pretty sad to see that a brand new area of town does not want to have a group home there."

'Bigger issue of discrimination'

Michelle Roemer has a younger brother who could potentially need to enter a group home when he reaches the age requirement of 18.

She does not accept the councillors' and residents' arguments for rejecting the group home proposal. 

"All these arguments and reasons they are giving for not wanting this in their community to me just reflects the bigger issue of discrimination," she said.

"Participants and individuals living in group homes are not criminals," said Roemer

"It's not going to in any way affect the safety of their community. We have many group homes situated throughout the city and that has never been an issue in the past."

Without more capacity in the group home system, she is concerned people like her younger brother could have to move to another community to receive the same level of care.

"It really hurts my heart to know that people are afraid to approach disabled people, or that they are afraid to be their neighbours."

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