What began as a delegation to Bashaw town council requesting permission to accommodate a First Nations family rehab program ended with one of the applicants accusing town councillors of racism.
The incident occurred at the June 17 regular meeting of council.
Dr. Tony Mucciaroni and James Carpenter spoke to council via Zoom on behalf of the Bashaw Retreat Centre located at 5340 51a Street, asking that councillors approve a plan to host First Nations family rehab programs at the centre.
In a letter dated June 17 Mucciaroni stated, “Presently there is a proposal to work with Indigenous people from Maskwacis for a rehabilitation program.
This program would involve temporary housing while in the rehabilitation program and sometimes family members will be involved with this.”
Carpenter stated he and Mucciaroni are working with a group from Maskwacis called Young Spirit Winds Society which offers a day program for First Nations youth aged 12 to 17 which helps them work through addictions and other issues and Young Spirit Winds is developing a family-based program to compliment the youth one.
The family program would involve five to six families at a time, would not be a social activity with the program still in development while funding is being sought from provincial and federal levels fo government.
Carpenter stated there are 16,000 people on the four First Nations at Maskwacis that could benefit from such a program and possibly other people too.
Carpenter stated the centre has hosted activities such as weddings and retreats and is not a “detox centre;” he added the proposed use still falls into the current direct control (DC) zoning.
Simply put, “direct control” means town council decides how the land is used.
Mucciaroni stated Young Spirit Winds’ idea sounds like a family retreat and would be a great step in reconciliation between Indigenous people and people outside the Indigenous community.
Mucciaroni also stated Young Spirit Winds and its clients would be the ones who decide what happens with the program and trying to tell them what to do is not an option.
Mayor Penny Shantz asked how many people in total would be at the centre, and for how long?
Carpenter stated there are 37 or 38 rooms at the centre and it can’t accommodate large groups. He stated he couldn’t see “long stays” but it depends on what guests are working on.
Coun. Rosella Peterman asked if the program includes troubled youth and how organizers would handle problems at the centre.
Carpenter answered he didn’t believe they are troubled youth, they are instead youth wanting to break free from issues they’re dealing with.
He noted there would be 24 staff present plus the voluntary family approach would increase accountability; he stated no one is forced to attend the program, they’re there by choice.
Town Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Theresa Fuller, who is also the town’s development officer, stated the centre is located on land zoned “DC” and in her opinion the proposed use is different than the current use, a senior’s living facility, and such a change required a development permit process including public consultation so that Bashaw residents could get to know everyone involved.
She added there are new residences nearby. Fuller also stated the town has a public participation policy which obligates the council to offer residents a chance to comment on anything that has a chance to affect them.
Carpenter stated he never had any intention of going through a development permit process and felt town staff misled him into entering one. “I would like to withdraw my application,” he said.
Carpenter said he felt the proposal was hitting roadblocks because of “the colour of one’s skin,” that he would “caution council” that the town’s approach “could be very embarrassing” and “…if this wasn’t First Nations I don’t believe we would even be at this discussion right now.”
Mucciaroni stated when the centre was shifted to event use no public consultation was required and it seemed “funny” that now it’s required.
He noted the centre has been closed due to COVID-19, that’s why it hasn’t been used.
Coun. Darren Pearson asked if the proposal was a treatment centre, to which Carpenter answered Young Spirit Winds is calling the program a family centre, so no it’s not a treatment centre.
Carpenter stated he was concerned the CAO had dug in her heels on this issue, that the project is getting off to a bad start and that the applicants were not being treated fairly.
He added that mentioning new residences next door was “absurd” and he wouldn’t accept “NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) stuff.”
After the delegation signed off, councillors accepted the presentation as information.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter