Addiction Canada ignores government orders to pay ex-employees
Treatment program opening new locations while CEO says wage debts are being 'dealt with'
Addiction Canada, a national firm that runs private addiction treatment facilities, has failed to pay thousands of dollars owed to ex-employees, despite orders to do so from government.
Ex-employees say they don't understand why the Ontario government hasn't forced Addiction Canada and its CEO and director John Haines to pay, given the company is still in business and growing. The company runs three facilities in Ontario and has just opened two new centres in Alberta, where it is advertising new jobs.
"Here I am. I am 63 years old. I am out of a job and owed money," said former Addiction Canada operations manager Roger Weiland, who is owed $8,000.
"My bills are still piling up — and they want the money."
Haines said the claims are being dealt with, but former staff say they are struggling as they wait for what they are owed.
"It's difficult for me to understand how a guy who is expanding and opening more facilities is unable to pay me," said former counsellor Larry Schonski, who is out $5,000.
"I feel like I am financially sinking like a stone."
Ontario ordered payment
Schonski and Weiland were laid off in October, along with other Ontario employees. They are among 42 workers who have filed complaints with Ontario's Ministry of Labour against the company since 2012, for unpaid wages, overtime, vacation pay and other violations.
The Ontario government found the company owed more than $52,000 in pay. It voluntarily complied in some cases, but 19 orders to pay were ignored and had to be sent to collections.
Haines and his company still owe almost $33,000 to several ex-employees.
"I feel like I was treated like a piece of dirt," said Schonski, who also complained that paycheques had often been late. "Hands down, the worst place I have ever worked for."
Addiction Canada has had other legal and financial disputes. Haines and his wife are involved in several companies, which could make collection more complicated. Records show hundreds of thousands of dollars have been moved between numbered companies.
Schonski said he is borrowing to get by. Weiland couldn't make his mortgage payments.
Social worker Alix Henwood fought a wrongful dismissal and won — but the company failed to pay the $3,000 it owes her. Security officer Kenny Beeson is taking Haines to court, claiming he is also owed $8,000.
"They are making money off of other people's hardship," said Weiland.
Customer out $20K
Addiction Canada has also angered at least one customer, who spent $20,000 to send her son for treatment in Ontario. Betty Dustan feels it was not worth the money.
"They have added more frustration, more aggravation, more sadness," said Dustan.
She said her suicidal, drug-addicted son was kicked out after a month, when staff suspected him of trying to buy drugs. Dustan said he was sent out in the cold with no money and no phone to call his family in Calgary. He ended up in a men's shelter.
"They promised us the world. I didn't expect them to fix my son's disease. I expected my son to complete the program — with his ups and downs — with these professional people that we paid to help us with this disease."
She said the company then didn't take her calls — but kept her money, as per its contract. She said she was later told her son might be allowed back, but it would cost her another $2,500 plus "detox fees."
"We would never send our son back there — ever," Dustan said.
The Ontario government has told the unpaid workers it will try to collect on each of their files — individually — but they still might not get their money.
Schonski said he can't understand why the government doesn't "throw the book" at Haines and his company, by prosecuting or issuing fines, which it has the power to do.
'Revolving door,' says ex-counsellor
"It's a very large revolving door," he said, stressing he saw many employees come and go. "I think [Haines] found some loopholes or some ways where he can keep pushing it off and delaying."
Kevin Flynn, the minister responsible, says he knows failure to collect is a problem. However, Flynn indicated the labour department only goes after companies as a whole when it targets problem industries.
"We zone in on those industries when we do a blitz," said Flynn.
A recent report from an advocacy group found the government does far too little proactive enforcement.
"In 2014, the number of employment standards officers doing proactive inspections was halved from 30 to 15, as officers dealt with a backlog in claims," said a report just released by the Workers Action Centre.
"On average, 25 to 30 per cent of unpaid wages confirmed through claims (not including bankruptcies) do not get collected for workers."
The Labour Ministry in Ontario said it has several ways it can go after violators, which "may include letters, phone calls, third-party demands to financial institutions used by the employer/director, orders being registered with the courts, and writs registered on property."
The address listed for the Addiction Canada CEO and his wife, however, is a large Ontario house they do not own.
Haines sent Go Public a statement which said the employees' claims are "in the process of being dealt with." He said he takes the claims seriously.
As for the customer complaint, Haines made no apologies, stating "we are sometimes faced with the unfortunate decision to discharge certain individuals from treatment due to their violations of our stringent rules and regulations."
Haines also claimed many Addiction Canada clients come out of its program drug free.
Submit your story ideas:
Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC-TV, radio and the web.
We tell your stories and hold the powers that be accountable.
We want to hear from people across the country with stories they want to make public.
Submit your story ideas to Kathy Tomlinson at Go Public
Follow @CBCGoPublic on Twitter