December 15, 2018

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Plan to transform Vimy Arena into treatment centre inches forward

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/1/2018 (340 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The proposal to build the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre in the Vimy Arena space in St. James passed its first major obstacle despite outcry from many residents.

The proposal was approved by a three-to-one vote by the city's property and development committee, with the area councillor, Shawn Dobson (St. Charles), the lone dissenter.

The committee also voted to allow the building site, appraised at $1.4 million, to be sold to the province for a dollar.

The proposal must next go to the executive policy committee and then to council, where it would need a two-thirds majority to pass.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/1/2018 (340 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The proposal to build the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre in the Vimy Arena space in St. James passed its first major obstacle despite outcry from many residents.

The proposal was approved by a three-to-one vote by the city's property and development committee, with the area councillor, Shawn Dobson (St. Charles), the lone dissenter.

The committee also voted to allow the building site, appraised at $1.4 million, to be sold to the province for a dollar.

The proposal must next go to the executive policy committee and then to council, where it would need a two-thirds majority to pass.

"People are dying and need this treatment. We have an opportunity in Winnipeg to have a state-of-the-art treatment facility. Those things don't come easily," said Coun. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge).

While health is a provincial responsibility, Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface), who voted in favour of the centre, argued the opioid crisis is also a burden on the city's emergency services. John Orlikow (River Heights - Fort Garry) also supported the centre.

But Dobson criticized the process on several fronts, including the offer of the land to the province by the city's chief administrator in April without telling him as local councilor about it. He only learned of the offer on Oct. 29, he said.

"(The treatment centre) does not address the current and future needs of the area," he said.

"We're delighted," said Scott Oake, the Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster who is spearheading the not-for-profit treatment centre in the name of he and wife Anne's first born son, who died seven years ago from substance abuse.

Oake said addictions have gone from an epidemic stage when his son died to a crisis level today largely due to the spread of opioids. Statistics now show 10 lives per month are being lost to opioid overdoses in Manitoba.

He tried to allay public fears that a treatment centre would attract crime to the community. "This fear that there will be roving bands of drug addicts that terrorize the neighbourhood is ill-founded," he said.

Instead, the facility would actually make the neighbourhood safer because dealers don't go to places where people are voluntarily trying to get off drugs. "The neighbourhood becomes safer because the flow of street drugs goes in the opposite direction, instead of into it," he said.

Recovered addicts Jonathan Parker and Derrick Wiebe spoke in support of Oake, as did Parker's father, Bob, a 35-year Winnipeg police veteran. The recovered addicts described in painful detail their self-destruction from drugs and having to go to a centre in Nanaimo, BC for help.

Three companies have already chipped in the equivalent of $400,000 in services towards the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre: MNP accounting firm created a business plan; MLT Aikins is doing the legal work; and MMP Architects has provided the building design.

In addition, the Bruce Oake Memorial Foundation has raised $40,000 in grassroots donations of $20, $50 and $100 each, Oake said.

"Long-term residential treatment centres exist across the country. They've been proven to work," said Oake.

Most residents addressing the committee said they feared loss of their greenspace surrounding the Vimy Arena, and would like the arena reopened or a recreational facility in its place.

"Part of what attracts people to this area is that greenspace," said resident Lorena Davis. The land around the abandoned arena includes walking trails and tobogganing.

"Our goal is to keep this land zoned as parkland and not to have it developed for other purposes," said Greg Hammond, representing Friends of Sturgeon Creek.

But Oake maintained the treatment centre would merely fill the footprint of the shuttered Vimy Arena and not "take up one more foot of greenspace."

MLA Steven Fletcher (Assiniboine) said it is a shame two good causes are at odds. "It's unfortunate some politicians in this province are trying to put two worthy objectives against each other," he said.

Fletcher wondered about exploring other sites, like the former Shriners Hospital on Wellington Crescent. It's already properly zoned for the addictions treatment centre. "The people of St. James want to preserve urban recreational space and greenspace.

Oake said the Vimy Arena site was recommended to the family by the city and province.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Bill Redekop

Bill Redekop
Rural Reporter

Bill Redekop has been covering rural issues since 2001.

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