New Brunswick

Minister won't say where people forced into addiction treatment will go

The Higgs government now says that a planned 50-bed addiction treatment centre will serve people looking for help voluntarily and will not be the destination for homeless people forced into rehabilitation.

New 50-bed treatment centre will be for those seeking help voluntarily

Medium shot of woman in grey suit smiling at a person off camera
Addictions and Mental Health Minister Sherry Wilson refused to answer questions on Friday about upcoming legislation that would force homeless people into drug addiction treatment. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

The New Brunswick government now says that a planned 50-bed addiction treatment centre will serve people looking for help voluntarily, and will not be the destination for homeless people forced into rehabilitation.

Addictions and Mental Health Minister Sherry Wilson made that clear Friday during a committee session examining her budget estimates. 

"This is for voluntary people who want to go to be treated," she said.

That left unanswered the question of where the province will send people against their will under the proposed Compassionate Intervention Act, which Wilson will introduce in the legislature in May.

"I think this is really premature, asking these questions, because, really, we haven't even introduced this bill yet," Wilson told reporters.

Premier Blaine Higgs has mentioned the 50-bed treatment centre while discussing the planned legislation, which would apply to homeless people with severe addictions.

The idea of forcing people into treatment has provoked criticism from experts who say it may violate constitutional protections against arbitrary detention.

Friday was the first time a member of the government has clarified that no one forced into treatment under the new law will be sent to the new 50-bed centre.

Higgs and Public Safety Minister Kris Austin have both discussed the bill at length, with Austin promising there'll be a process involving medical professionals to determine whether someone should be forced into treatment. 

And earlier this week Health Minister Bruce Fitch promised during his own budget estimates session that Wilson would have more information about the legislation.

A man in a blue suit and white shirt wearing glasses and a lapel pin.
Public Safety Minister Kris Austin has spoken about the planned bill at length, saying there will be a process with medical professionals to determine if someone should be treated. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

She nonetheless avoided most of the questions about it during the budget estimates committee meeting and in a subsequent scrum with reporters.

"I'll be able to answer some of your questions later when the bill's introduced," she told Green MLA Megan Mitton.

"Then you can ask me all kinds of questions." 

Wilson also refused to answer questions about the 50-bed treatment centre, other that mentioning $240,000 in her budget for planning the facility.

She did tell reporters that ground would be broken for the centre this year. The location is still unknown.

Wilson would not say whether people forced into treatment under the new law will be sent to an existing facility or a new one. 

The province has two addiction treatment centres, in Saint John and Campbellton, with a total of 34 beds. The government also supports a range of community-based programs.

Wilson also refused to say how much of her budget, approved by MLAs on Friday, would be devoted to treating people detained under the new act.

A blue and white sign stands in front of a low white building.
The province currently has only two addiction rehab centres, including the Ridgewood Addiction Services in Saint John, for a total of 34 beds. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

"That's a broad question," she said, adding that "a variety of programs" could apply and she would need detailed numbers to respond. 

Mitton and Liberal MLA Jacques LeBlanc said they were frustrated with the lack of information, particularly because the budget estimates process is supposed to allow elected members a detailed examination of spending plans within a department.

"She says 'you have to wait for an announcement,'" LeBlanc said. "We just approved her budget a short while ago."  

Mitton said it was frustrating "to spend hours asking questions and walk out of there not knowing what's happening." 

A many with grey hair in a suit stands in front of a wall covered with old photos.
Liberal MLA Jacques LeBlanc said he was frustrated by the lack of information during the budget estimation process. (CBC)

She said it was a surprise to hear Wilson say the 50-bed centre would not be used for people forced into treatment. 

"They've been connecting it all along, in the legislature and in their throne speech. They've been making that link, so that has been the assumption everyone's been working on." 

Wilson said she looked forward to the chance to "clarify a lot of misinformation, because there's talk that this incorrect." 

But she said she'll wait until the official announcement of the centre and the introduction of the bill to do that, too. 


Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. He grew up in Moncton and covered Parliament in Ottawa for the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. He has reported on every New Brunswick election since 1995 and won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Newspaper Awards and Amnesty International. He is also the author of five non-fiction books about New Brunswick politics and history.