The provincial government was criticized in the legislature Tuesday for a ruling that is set to force the Abbotsford Women’s Centre out of their current home.
When the minister of agriculture attempted to defend her government, Lana Popham cited a cause for the ruling that is at odds with the official decision. Popham’s remarks also suggested that the home helps women fleeing domestic violence, when, in fact, it assists those seeking to overcome addiction.
Earlier this year, the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) ruled that the Abbotsford Women’s Centre can’t occupy a large house in south Abbotsford where up to 10 women live and take part in an intensive rehab program.
The house is located in the Agricultural Land Reserve, and the ALC turned down a non-farm-use application that the centre was asked to submit after several years of occupying the Winson Road property, which is owned by the Fraser Valley Gleaners.
The ALC gave the centre, which runs the Adult and Teen Challenge BC program, two years to find a new home. Teen Challenge regional director Angie Appenheimer said the organization was “very disappointed” by the decision at the time.
During question period in the BC Legislature Monday, Abbotsford West MLA Mike de Jong asked the government to account for the forced move:
“Why, despite having operated successfully for years, are this government and this minister saying to those women: ‘You have to leave your home. You have to leave that place that is giving you support and find another place to live?’”
Popham responded, saying:
“There are 1,500 new homes for women fleeing violence, including opportunities in Abbotsford. That’s the first in 20 years. That specific situation was really about the tenants having outgrown the facility. But they have been given two years to find additional residence. I think that it’s very encouraging that the minister of housing is creating housing that would address a situation like this.”
The Abbotsford Women’s Centre and Adult and Teen Challenge BC, though, are not focused on women fleeing violence, as suggested by Popham’s answer. Instead, the program focuses on recovery from addictions.
The ALC decision that requires the centre to move made no mention about the program having outgrown its current site. Instead, it simply said that the use of the house doesn’t provide a benefit for agriculture, and thus doesn’t meet the mandate of the ALC.
And Appenheimer said the fact that the centre is at capacity didn’t have a bearing on the ALC decision. She said, though, that it underscores the need for the long-term program offered by Teen Challenge.
“We’re at capacity because we have a huge need and the need is not going away.”
The ALC recently denied Teen Challenge’s appeal and request to expand its garden. The operators of the centre are hoping for a reversal of the ALC decision, while hoping the community can find the program a new home if it is forced to move.
De Jong followed his initial question by linking the closure of the centre to changes to the ALC’s mandate made by the NDP government:
“The ALC has used that mandate – that amended new mandate – to say to the Abbotsford Women’s Centre: ‘You must leave. You must close your door. You must find a different place for these women.’ They don’t want anything from government. They don’t receive government funding. They want to be left alone. They want to be left alone by this minister.”
Popham responded by saying that she wouldn’t interfere in a decision by the ALC, and noted that the previous BC Liberal government had appointed its chair and many of the commissioners.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Agriculture provided a statement that said the government was building new housing to help people access mental health and addictions care and has increase rates paid to recovery home operators.
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