Group seeking judicial review of Michener closure
Foiled through FOIP, the group fighting the closure edict for Michener Centre is taking another route to learn more about the planned shuttering.
Efforts in June to acquire government documents from the period leading up to the March announcement of the centre’s closure through a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) request resulted in roughly 80 per cent of the 130 pages of documents received blacked out.
Now, the Society of Parents and Friends of Michener Centre has filed a request for a judicial review to get some answers.
“We are asking the legal side of the government the hows, whys, and whens of when this decision was made and under what authority (government) has broken its promise and replaced it with a policy,” said society president Bill Lough.
“What I’m trying to get to is when is a policy a promise and when is a promise a policy?”
The government’s own How We Move Ahead report from 2008 stated that “nobody will be forced to leave Michener.” But, in March, without any discussion with parents and guardians of Michener residents, the province announced that 125 residents would be relocated starting in September.
The documents obtained through FOIP did show that the government was cognizant of the promises past ministers and premiers had made about Michener staying open as long as current residents wanted it to remain their home, information detailed in emails from shortly before the announcement was made. Lough chalks the closure up to an ideology that is dictating government policy.
“That’s the biggest difference compared with any other government. We’ve always had at least our voice at the table and governments have always respected the right of choice. “I don’t think anyone would disagree that when you’re promised something, it’s wrong to pull it away from you without at least talking to you first,” he said.
While not expecting the judicial review to result in the government backing away from its decision on closure, Lough said he hopes it can provide an open forum where the government will have to explain how it came to its decision after years of assuring guardians and families that their loved ones would remain housed at Michener.
The application for a judicial review was filed last week with support from the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. It has been received by the Ministry of Human Services, and the matter is now in the hands of both sides’ lawyers.
“Our lawyers will be reviewing it and completing necessary actions and respond through the judicial process,” said Craig Loewen, press secretary for Human Services Minister Dave Hancock.
Lough said the submission will be presented before a judge and a hearing date for sometime in the fall will be set.
According to a transition update posted to the Human Services ministry website on Aug. 22, 123 individuals currently living at Michener will be moving into community group homes and seniors care facilities, but none had moved out yet. The report said 22 transition plans have been completed, with 46 in progress and five not yet started.
Correspondence sent to guardians of Michener residents in June suggested the first person to leave the facility could have been gone by the end of that month.
Lough said he is heartened by the fact that no one has yet been relocated and the fact that guardians have told him they wish to keep up the fight. He said the group will have good opportunities to have its voice heard in the coming months, with the legislature reconvening in October and Premier Alison Redford’s leadership review at the Progressive Conservative party convention in Red Deer in November.