The electioneering BC Liberal government is desperate for positive publicity, but keeps shooting itself in the foot.
This week began with the child protection watchdog’s damning report about the preventable September 2015 suicide of 18-year-old Alex Gervais. The abused and neglected Metis teenager with a drugs and alcohol problem was left alone, unsupervised, in a Super 8 motel in Abbotsford. Yet another failure by the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
So the same ministry scheduled a photo opportunity on Feb. 9 in North Vancouver with the four North Shore BC Liberal MLAs — Jane Thornthwaite, Naomi Yamamoto, Jordan Sturdy and Ralph Sultan — to announce a new Vancouver Coastal Health office for youth with addictions will be opening in May.
The 9,000 square foot Foundry North Shore is described on a VCH website as a “one-stop shop for youth needing easy access to mental health, drug and alcohol services and social services on the North Shore.” VCH has pledged $2.5 million-a-year to operate the facility.
Sounds like a step forward. Except the building next door is a liquor store.
The proprietor of Sailor Hagar’s Liquor Store (and the longtime corner brew pub of the same name) questions the wisdom of opening a facility for vulnerable 16 to 24-year-olds beside an existing booze retailer.
“I don’t think it’s fair to put them in that position when they go for their counselling, they’re right next to a [beer, wine and spirits] store,” Brian Riedlinger told theBreaker. “I’ve got my sandwich board sign out there out front of my store that says come in and buy some cold beer.
“If, for example, this facility had been located at this premises for a number of years, I don’t see how the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch or provincial government would ever allow a liquor store to move right next to them. And yet they’re opening up beside a liquor store!”
Riedlinger said he was visited by Terry Bulych, VCH’s child and youth mental health and addictions team lead and clinical planner, to notify him that the photo opportunity would be happening and warn him that he may be approached by reporters. Riedlinger found out that the facility already has civic zoning approval, a long-term lease and is beginning leasehold improvements.
“I don’t really know what I can do,” Riedlinger said. “I was totally blindsided by this. There was no public input.”
Nobody from the Ministry of Health or Ministry of Children and Family Development responded for comment. Yamamoto, the North Vancouver Lonsdale MLA, also did not respond.
Bulych refused to be interviewed, but VCH spokesman Gavin Wilson said there was no formal requirement to consult neighbours. He claimed officials met with various government, community, social and police groups and “no one raised the issue of that liquor store as a concern. This is the first time we’ve heard any concerns.”
Wilson said the site was chosen because it is a storefront and close to a Ministry of Children and Family Development office, Hollyburn family services, John Braithwaite community centre and the Lonsdale Quay SeaBus terminal.
“We feel there are a lot of good reasons for siting the service where it is,” Wilson said. “No matter where you place it in a commercial area, there’s going to be pubs and liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries. We can’t control the environment to that extent.”
Riedlinger said it will make it harder for his store and pub to operate. “We work hard to make sure that we don’t serve people that shouldn’t be served alcohol and we make sure we don’t serve minors, it’s going to make our job more difficult,” Riedlinger said. “It’s not going to help our business in any way.”
Former children’s protection watchdog Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s May 2016 Review of Youth Substance Services in B.C. said 68,000 youth and young adults in B.C. aged 15 to 24 had substance abuse disorders, including alcohol abuse and dependence. There were only 24 dedicated, publicly funded treatment beds across the province.
Imagine B.C. Place Stadium at full capacity and an overflow crowd of another 14,000 at Rogers Arena. That’s what 68,000 looks like.
Turpel-Lafond wrote that between 2001 and 2015, 183 deaths of children and youth were attributable to substance abuse. The number could be greater, because, the report explained “substance use often contributes to accidents or death but may not be classified as the primary cause of an injury or death.”