The Halifax Chronicle Herald
April 16, 2012 – 4:19am
A review process that stripped provincial funding from a Cape Breton addiction recovery centre was “fundamentally flawed in process and analysis,” Talbot House board chairman John Gainer said Sunday.
Speaking from Sydney on the board’s behalf, Gainer said the Community Services Department’s review was imbalanced and inadequate, leading to a biased report with “too many factual errors and misrepresentations.”
The result was the removal of Talbot House executive director Rev. Paul Abbass, the sudden resignation of an interim director, the transfer of about 10 recovering addicts to other treatment centres, the withdrawal of provincial funding from the 53-year-old Frenchvale facility and its closure.
Gainer said he doesn’t know if Talbot House will reopen.
Last week, Cape Breton Regional Police concluded an investigation into allegations against Abbass because there was nothing to pursue, a police spokeswoman said.
The board initially contacted police but never did begin its own investigation into the vague complaints against Abbass because the Community Services Department wouldn’t say what they were, Gainer said.
“In order for the board to proceed with an investigation into the executive director, we needed a formal complaint,” he said, adding that innuendo does not justify an investigation.
“Although we are pleased that Father Abbass has been vindicated of any wrongdoing, the delay in resolving this matter has resulted in an untold human cost.”
Meanwhile, the board temporarily relieved Abbass of his duties.
He stepped down as parish priest of the church on the grounds of Talbot House and the Diocese of Antigonish removed him from his duties as vicar-general and diocesan director of pastoral services. A diocesan spokesman said last week that Abbass can resume church work.
Because of the allegations against Abbass, the department initiated the review of Talbot House, hand-delivering a single copy of its report to the board on April 4, along with a list of suggestions for improvement and notification that the department was withdrawing funding.
Last year, the 17-bed facility received $420,000 from the Community Services Department. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Antigonish provides the property and community fundraising covers the remainder of the centre’s costs.
In a response sent to the department Sunday, the board refuses to accept the finding that Talbot House didn’t comply with department standards for recovery houses and a second determination that the board didn’t provide active facility oversight.
The board rejects the challenge to its members’ integrity, Gainer said.
While the board openly admits that Talbot House doesn’t comply completely with standards, most recovery centres in Nova Scotia are in the same situation, and the Cape Breton County facility had been actively working toward full compliance, he said.
“The conclusions were based on opinion, not on strong evidence,” Gainer said.
“The decision of the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services to not renew the service agreement and funding for Talbot House, effective April 1, 2012, came unannounced and is considered by the board to be pre-emptive and unnecessarily punitive.
“Most of the stories that have come out of Talbot House are positive.”
Asked if the board and Talbot House were being unfairly targeted, Gainer said he prefers to conclude there is a systemic problem with the review process.
The Community Services Department report was not made public, although it will likely come to light under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Gainer said.
When that happens, the board will make its response public, he said.
Talbot House board opposes report
The Cape Breton Post
Published on April 15, 2012
- Chris Shannon
- SYDNEY — The board of directors of a closed addiction treatment facility acknowledged Sunday it failed to meet all standards for recovery houses set out by the Department of Community Services in a 2008 policy document.
Talbot House board chair Dr. John Gainer said the Talbot House Society had been addressing “policy and operational issues in a systematic fashion,” when the department decided not to renew its service agreement.
Community Services released a report on Talbot House to the society’s board on April 4.
In it, the board said the province “challenges the competence, oversight and integrity of the board of directors, the executive director and staff of Talbot House.”
“It was based on a process that was flawed in its procedure and flawed in its analysis. We believe there were sufficient errors, inaccuracies and misrepresentations in the report to render the report generally, and its conclusions specifically, invalid,” Gainer said without going into further detail.
He wouldn’t specifically speak to the areas in which Talbot House, located in Frenchvale, failed to comply with provincial regulations.
Talbot House’s board of directors has challenged the findings in the report, along with recommendations, which will be submitted to the Community Services department today. The Talbot House Organizational Review report has yet to be made public.
On Friday, Talbot House executive director Rev. Paul Abbass learned Cape Breton Regional Police wouldn’t pursue a criminal investigation into a case of abuse alleged against him. The priest, who has worked at the addiction recovery facility for about 15 years, took a leave of absence in February because of the allegations. He also temporarily left his post as the parish priest at several churches.
While the society had repeatedly requested Community Services provide details on the abuse allegations against Abbass, Gainer said the department refused to provide any additional information.
The few details the society’s board gleaned indicated the allegation was sexual in nature, he said.
“We were given information that, in effect, amounted to reports of reports, second-hand information, and innuendo, some of (which) was of a very serious nature, including allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour, but at no point was the board approached with a formal complaint or did we receive a formal complaint from anyone.”
Abbass couldn’t be reached for comment Sunday. However, Gainer said the delay in resolving this situation has taken a personal and professional toll on Abbass’s life.
Rev. Donald MacGillivray, chair of pastoral planning for the Diocese of Antigonish, said Abbass can return to his normal church duties and position as vicar general for the diocese when he’s ready.
“He’s welcome back. However, one can well imagine this has been very onerous for him … I can’t speculate any more than that.”
The 11 residents living at the facility were placed in other treatment centres in the province, or found their own accommodations.
Gainer said he believes the department will make the report public on its website this week following media inquiries requesting the document.
A spokesperson with Community Services wasn’t immediately available Sunday to comment on the possible release of the Talbot House report.
The province’s decision not to renew the service agreement and cut its funding April 1 came unannounced and was “unnecessarily punitive,” Gainer said.
The facility, which opened in 1959, isn’t able to operate without provincial money as it accounted for about 90 per cent of the annual budget, or approximately $500,000 a year, he added. The remainder of the money is raised through donations from the community and fundraisers.
The department will be seeking proposals to establish an addiction treatment facility in place of Talbot House, and Gainer said the society’s board already has permission from the province to submit a plan, whether it be at the current Frenchvale site or at another location.