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Pivot receives double support on methadone SRO evictions

Both the B.C. College of Pharmacists and the B.C. Attorney General have sided with the Pivot Legal Society in their fight against a pharmacist and SRO hotel owner accused of evicting tenants who refused to buy their methadone from him on the Downtown Eastside.

“We are very happy that the College of Pharmacists and the Attorney General have responded in the way they did,” said Laura Track, lawyer for the Pivot Legal Society, in a press release. “This kind of exploitation is completely unacceptable, and we hope that Mr. Wolsey amends his practices before we are forced to bring further legal actions against him.”

Wolsey—exposed last year for illegally offering cash incentives to patients buying their methadone from his clinic—evicted four tenants earlier this year on 24 hours notice because they bought their methadone from a different pharmacy, instead of from him at his hotel.

When two of those tenants challenged the eviction, the Residential Tenancy Branch told them that Wolsey’s hotels were exempt from the Residential Tenancy Act. The RTB stated this was because Wolsey was providing treatment and support services, despite the fact that dispensing methadone was the only service he offered his tenants.

In September, Pivot Legal applied for a B.C. Supreme Court judicial review of the RTB’s decision.

Last week the Attorney General replied to Pivot lawyers agreeing that the RTB had made a “legal mistake” in saying that the Act did not apply to Wolsey’s hotels.

The College of Pharmacists also sent letters to Wolsey advising him that it has ammended its bylaws to prevent pharmacists from limiting patients’ choice of pharmacy.

Track said that the case will bring an important flaw in the Residential Tenancy Act into the limelight.

“I think there does need to be a change to clarify what exactly should be exempt from the Act, because it’s really unclear,” she said.

While the Act allows exemptions to facilities providing support services, or to transition houses, for example, the terms are undefined.

“I really feel like as the province buys SROs and adds support services to them, there are real questions about how the Act applies to them. I don’t want to say they shouldn’t buy SROs, but it can’t mean that tenants lose all of their rights,” said Track.

In November, Track and representative from Attorney General’s office will attend a hearing where Track believes the judge will send the decision back to the RTB and order them to re-assess the tenants’ case.

Wolsey did not apply to appear at the hearing.

Christine McLaren reports for The Tyee.

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