Thursday, members of a City of Winnipeg appeal committee heard presentations for and against the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre in a session that was originally expected to last for as many as three days.
More than 600 pages of letters opposing the centre’s creation in the Sturgeon Creek area were submitted to city hall as part of the appeal process, with neighbours of the 255 Hamilton Ave. site expressing safety concerns.
Committee Chair Sherri Rollins said approximately 179 letters of appeal had been submitted, but in the end, only about 24 people actually showed up to speak.
By mid-afternoon, the petitions came to an end and the committee called for the vote. Their decision to deny the appeal was unanimous, effectively clearing away the final hurdle for the drug treatment centre.
So what happens now?
Rollins said the appeal was indeed the final roadblock, and the path for the re-development of the Vimy Arena is clear.
“That’s it, it’s over to the Bruce Oak Foundation to determine the next steps,” Rollins said.
Despite the varied and sometimes vehement outcry against the centre by area residents, construction could begin as early as this summer.
Jino Distasio, Director, Institute of Urban Studies, University of Winnipeg says change is always difficult.
“It’s a big challenge. We know in this city and a lot of cities, addiction is a huge issue. Opioids, fentanyl and any kind of drug is hurting our community. We need beds available for people to heal and the challenge is where to put these facilities.”
Distasio said the while the concerns of the community were clearly heart-felt, city councillors are elected to represent their wards, and collectively, the best interest of the city overall.
“At the heart of this discussion is always ‘is the neighbourhood setting the best location?’. Here, there’s land availability, but at the end of the day the community does have a right to express their concerns.
“City hall has been using its avenues to listen and now it’s up to elected officials to do what they were elected to do, which is make tough decisions.”
Distasio said it isn’t the first time a neighbournood has stood up against change, and it won’t be the last.
“There are certainly instances where the community has said ‘no’ to certain types of activities that were being proposed, like a new apartment block, a store, cannabis shop or any kind of new operation going into a neighbourhood. There are lots of cases where those have been turned down by the community and council.”
“I think the politicians have to make the decision but it is a collective decision here. This is the process we put in place, and again — hopefully — people’s voices are heard to the end. Will everyone be happy? No, but is this a right decision? Hopefully.
“We know that in communities, generally speaking, Winnipeggers do rally and they want to make sure their community is the best possible place. There probably isn’t a neighbourhood in Winnipeg where people haven’t pressed the pause button and asked the right questions. I would be more worried if we didn’t have the ability to put our councilors to task.”