The180·The 180

OPINION: Courts, employers, unions shouldn't mandate 12-step programs

A man in BC says his rights were violated because his employer and union forced him to attend Alcoholics Anonymous after he suffered an alcohol and narcotics-fueled breakdown in 2013. Therapist and former alcoholic Michael Pond says mandating a 12 step program is bad policy.
While AA is the conventional treatment for alcoholism, not everyone agrees it's the best method. (iStock)

A man in BC says his rights were violated because his employer and union forced him to attend Alcoholics Anonymous.

According to a complaint filed with the BC Human Rights Tribunal, Byron Wood, a former nurse in Vancouver, was hospitalized with a psychiatric illness in October of 2013, related to substance abuse. His employer and union then required him to follow a doctor's instruction that he attend AA meetings, in order to keep his nursing license.

Wood says he was discriminated against because he's an atheist, and AA is religious in nature. He also complains that there are alternative treatments for addiction that do not require 12-step programs.

Wood's claim is supported by Michael Pond, a therapist in West Vancouver, and co-author of the book Wasted: An Alchoholic Therapist's Fight for Recovery in a Flawed Treatment System. The book was made into a documentary for CBC's The Nature of Things in January, 2016.

Pond argues that AA was always meant to be a voluntary program, and when employers, unions, doctors, and sometimes courts mandate people to attend AA, it's because of a moral judgement, not a scientific one.

"It's still considered by most to be a moral issue. I'll stand by that, because I've experienced it personally and I deal with it professionally almost every day. I think it's just entrenched in our culture."

Byron Wood's complaint against the BC Nurses Union and Vancouver Coastal Health is set to go to a pre-hearing at the BC Human Rights Tribunal in December.


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