Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Springfield embroiled in charter challenge

Accused of blocking home for disabled people

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THE RM of Springfield is in a major legal battle, accused of using its zoning authority to prevent three people with intellectual disabilities from living there.

"This is discrimination and exclusion cloaked in the language of urban planning," says the Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge filed on behalf of New Directions, Inc., and Bert Gockel, one of its clients.

"We filed the application with Court of Queen's Bench quite a long time ago," Jennifer Frain, executive director of the non-profit agency, said Wednesday.

But it's taken more than a year to round up expert witnesses and professors to prepare the charter challenge and to interview families and workers for their affidavits, she said.

The RM of Springfield has 30 days to respond.

New Directions bought the home more than two years ago in the bedroom community for Gockel and two other clients who need more space, peace and quiet. Gockel has a profound intellectual disability and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) that makes him want to do repetitive tasks, such as sweeping the driveway and flipping through catalogues.

The 46-year-old needs to be in a shift-staffed home as opposed to an institution with a lot of people, his sister, Karen Kazubek, said in an affidavit. New Directions thought a home in a quiet community was the solution, but hit a wall after they purchased in Springfield.

The municipality's zoning bylaw states single-family dwellings are allowed in the rural residential zone where New Directions purchased the bungalow. The municipality defines a family as "a group of not more than four persons who may not be related by blood or marriage occupying a dwelling unit and living together as a single housekeeping unit."

The municipality, however, insists the home must be rezoned to institutional for Gockel and the others to live there in a "group home."

More than 100 people attended a municipal council meeting in 2010 to address the matter, including townspeople and councillors "making offensive, hurtful and outrageous statements," about Gockel, Kazubek said in an affidavit. The crowd proposed Gockel and another client were "sexual deviants" and criminals and posed a threat to the children of the community.

They demanded private details, such as diagnoses, "completely disregarding his right to privacy, dignity and respect," she said in her affidavit.

A complaint was filed with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and is under investigation, and now the charter challenge is before the court.

Springfield Reeve Jim McCarthy has not responded to requests for comment.

New Directions' executive director said they're not giving up the fight.

"We believe that it is wrong to use zoning to exclude certain kinds or classes of people from a community," said Frain.

"This case advances the right of persons living with disabilities to choose where to live, to be treated equally and to be afforded privacy in establishing and living in their home," the challenge states.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 6, 2012 A3

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