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July 11, 2003

Deaf community slams city with $1-M lawsuit

From: Barrie Advance, Canada - Jul 11, 2003

Bruce Hain: The Advance

What was meant to be simply a joyous ground-breaking occasion, has instead been turned into a complex legal quagmire.

The ceremonial ground-breaking for the Ontario Long-Term-Care Facility for the Deaf took place Thursday morning, at the site on Big Bay Point Road, near city limits. The building will be the eventual home to hard-of-hearing residents from across Canada. The Ontario Mission of the Deaf (OMD) will build a $13-million, 64-bed facility, on lands abutting Kempenfelt Bay, said Derek Rumball, son of Rev. Bob Rumball, whose work on behalf of deaf citizens is legendary.

More than 150 people attended the event, to show their support, and their determination to see it completed, even though the City of Barrie has imposed a one-foot-wide land reserve, that prevents crucial infrastructure services, such as water, sewer, and gas, from being hooked up.

As a result, the OMD has announced it will take legal action against the city. The organization, which purchased the 70-acre site in 1984, has planned for years to open such a facility, Derek Rumball said. The society has obtained zoning approval, as well as provincial approval for the project. Barrie-Simcoe-Bradford MPP Joe Tascona was on hand to pledge $5 million in provincial support.

The stumbling block, Rumball says, is that the city is insisting the OMD turn over to the municipality a portion of its property which sits on the water, a condition, Rumball says, to which they cannot agree.

"The deaf community is angry, and disappointed, with the municipal government for stalling the project, and for attempting to increase the corporate holdings of the city on the backs of a charity," Rumball says.

"The local politicians are putting money issues ahead of any concerns for people," added Chris Kenopic, executive director of the Association of the Deaf. "We're here to fight for the rights of deaf seniors. We're not going away."

Peggy Norton-Harris, executive director of Huronia Hearing Impaired, said, "long-term-care residents who are deaf have to face incredible isolation. They can't communicate with their caregivers, and they can't get involved in the programs of mainstream facilities. They deserve more. They deserve this facility."

The OMD is now faced with raising approximately $8 million as its share of the 64,000-square-foot project.

Mayor Jim Perri, who is on vacation, was unavailable for comment.

When contacted by The Advance at his cottage, Ald. Dave Morrison, expressed some annoyance at being bothered by the media. Morrison is chairperson of Barrie's development services committee.

While he said he "welcomes and supports the Ontario Mission of the Deaf's project," Morrison said neither he, nor anyone else from the city, "has any legal right to comment" on the subject of ongoing negotiations, or lawsuits, that have been issued.

When asked if it was unusual that no alderman was at the ground-breaking ceremony, because of the litigation, or any other reason, Morrison replied, "I'm on vacation, and so are other members of council. It is unreasonable for the media, or anyone, to interpret anything else."

Rumball made a note there was "no representation from Barrie, or the mayor, but that's OK, we only brought our interpreter for our deaf people today. Two years from now, we will have another celebration, of serving lunch, and providing services to our seniors. We are tired, and weary, of being taken advantage of."

Rumball added that both municipal court decisions, and an Ontario Municipal Board ruling, have supported the OMD plans. Because of this, the lawsuit will seek $1 million in damages, and a declaration requiring Barrie to lift its reserve restriction on the property.

"The time to negotiate is over," Rumball said. "We will hold the city financially responsible."

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