When Narconon, a controversial rehab program rooted in Church of Scientology teachings, tried to set up shop in Hockley Village near Orangeville two years ago, it was met with angry residents, petitions and “No Narconon” lawn signs.
In Milton, where Narconon is now trying to open a facility, it is staring down Comprehensive Zoning Bylaw 144-2003.
The document may not be as attention-grabbing as furious townsfolk terrified by what they’ve read on the Internet, but it is just as powerful. Milton’s Committee of Adjustment and Consent denied a proposal last October from Social Betterment Properties International for a Narconon centre on a parcel of land it acquired on Milburough Line in an isolated, rural part of town. The committee found it did not fit the town’s definition of a group home.
Social Betterment Properties is appealing that decision to the Ontario Municipal Board, with a hearing scheduled for March 30.
Narconon’s rehab program, inspired by the religious teachings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, does not involve over-the-counter medication, but rather detoxifying sauna sessions and high doses of vitamins that is all the rage among famous Scientologists like Tom Cruise.
It is also controversial, and the subject of lawsuits in the United States filed by the families of three Narconon clients who died at a facility in Oklahoma.
Clark Carr, president of Los Angeles-based Narconon International, did not return requests for comment. Narconon has previously denied allegations that its practices are unsafe.
“Narconons have always been strong members of the communities in which they operate,” said Tim Lomas, a spokesman for the Association of Better Living and Education, a Scientology-related entity. “We are moving forward to resolve all issues that have come up on the zoning process so that we can work together with the community to help those suffering from addiction.”
Milton officials say that the controversy surrounding Narconon had nothing to do with the committee’s choice.
“This is rural residential, not institutional . . . It’s intended to be agricultural and single-family units, not resorts,” said Councillor Cindy Lunau, whose ward includes the relevant part of Milburough Line. “(The controversy) is certainly another layer of concern, but that has no place in good planning. Good planning doesn’t judge the applicant . . . If we chose every one of our neighbours, we’d have very empty spaces.”
The committee found that Narconon did not meet the town’s definition for “Group Home Type 2,” as the private facility does not fall under the province’s oversight.
Health Ministry spokesman David Jensen said private organizations do not require the ministry’s permission to offer treatment and rehabilitation services for substance abuse, but said that the health professionals who work in them would be subject to legislation governing their profession and the oversight of professional colleges.
College of Physicians and Surgeons spokeswoman Kathryn Clarke said that if a Narconon facility is opened “and we receive any complaints about physicians practising there, we would investigate, and take further action, if appropriate.”
There is currently no Narconon program in Ontario. The organization lost its bid in 2013 to buy the estate of late Conservative MP Donald Blenkarn in Hockley Village amid furor from the locals. Blenkarn’s decided instead to sell the property to a village resident.
Carr, Narconon’s president, told the Star at the time that “Narconon is very interested in opening a facility in Canada and we are continuing to explore opportunities to do so.”
With files from Rachel Mendleson
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