A care facility for eight teenage girls with mental health issues just gained a powerful ally in its upcoming showdown with the city at the Ontario Municipal Board.
The Ontario Human Rights Commissioner’s office announced Thursday that it has asked to intervene in the Lynwood Charlton Centre’s relocation appeal at the municipal board. At issue is a controversial bylaw that seeks to space out group homes in the city.
That means the city will have to face off with both the Lynwood Charlton Centre and the human rights watchdog at upcoming OMB dates, including an Oct. 16 pretrial hearing.
Chief human rights commissioner Barbara Hall said Thursday that facing off against municipalities in court or at tribunals is often a last resort. She prefers to instead work collaboratively with municipalities because by the time an issue gets to that level, much damage has already been done.
“Often, in terms of housing, we see very negative, degrading, humiliating kinds of names and debates that occur around proposals for social housing, or housing for people with mental illness. People shouldn’t have to experience that,” she said.
“Also, we all know that legal processes can be time-consuming and expensive. Our process is always to work with people to avoid that.”
However, Hall said her offers to meet with Hamilton councillors were never accepted.
The Lynwood Charlton Centre wants to relocate its overnight program for girls struggling with mental illness from Charlton Avenue to a building that already houses some day programs on Augusta Street.
Councillors initially based their opposition to the move on the city’s controversial radial separation bylaw, which requires residential care facilities to be at least 300 metres apart.
However, the Lynwood Charlton debate reignited last week when staff argued that the building on Augusta should be classified as a “comprehensive institution” rather than a “residential care facility” because it would house both day and overnight programs.
This classification denotes an even greater effect on the neighbourhood.
Alex Thomson, Lynwood Charlton’s executive director, said he’s not surprised the human rights commission has asked to participate in the OMB hearing given its past involvement in the issue. Hall has written letters to Hamilton council warning that the radial separation bylaw is discriminatory.
“The process that we’ve been engaged in has been disappointing in that it’s sort of taken on a life of its own,” Thomson said.
“It’s not only the right thing to do for eight young girls and the next eight young girls, but it has become a bit of a principle issue for our organization. From that standpoint, I’m not unhappy that the commission has taken such an active role.”
Councillor Brad Clark, an outspoken critic of the city’s denial of Lynwood Charlton’s move, believes this is the beginning of the end for Hamilton’s radial separation bylaw.
“This is an example where council didn’t take the time to understand the power and the authority of the Ontario Human Rights Code. It literally supersedes all legislation,” he said.
“It’s embarrassing to have the human rights commissioner intervene at the OMB when our vision is to be the best place to raise a child.”
But Councillor Jason Farr, whose ward includes both the existing and proposed locations for Lynwood Charlton’s group home, stands by council’s 12-4 rejection of the move and says there’s a need for the radial separation bylaw.
“I’m arguing for proper neighbourhood planning,” he said. “It’s a zoning issue and myself and staff, along with 12 councillors, are defending a zoning issue.”