Owners of proposed indigenous wellness center are suing the city of Bashaw over alleged discrimination

The owners of Bashaw Retreat Center have filed a lawsuit against the city of Bashaw, alleging that city officials obstructed efforts to convert the facility into a wellness center for Indigenous families.  (Millars Lawyers – photo credit)

The owners of the Bashaw Retreat Center have filed a lawsuit against the city of Bashaw, alleging that city officials obstructed efforts to convert the facility into a wellness center for Indigenous families. (Millars Lawyers – photo credit)

The owners of a proposed wellness center for Indigenous families are suing a small central Alberta town for $4 million because city officials were biased and obstructed the project.

Bashaw Retreat Center filed a complaint Monday in King’s Bench Court in Wetaskiwin alleging that the City of Bashaw and various current and former elected officials and employees abused their power and discriminated against the company over a plan to provide services have to indigenous customers.

“As soon as it became known that First Nations people were going there, there was a sudden change in the way this business was viewed and that stigma was applied because of a racial bias,” the center’s attorney, Phillip Millar, said during a press conference Monday.

James Carpenter and his business partner Dr. Tony Mucciarone wanted to open the spa on 12 acres in Bashaw, Alta., a town of more than 800 people about 50 miles northeast of Red Deer.

None of the allegations in the Complaint have been proven in court.

Reached by phone Monday, Bashaw’s chief administrative officer, Theresa Fuller, said the lawsuit had not yet been served on the city and declined to comment further.

Fuller is named as one of the defendants.

allegations of prejudice

According to the lawsuit, in 2017 the city approved an application to expand the facility into an inpatient nursing facility for seniors.

But by 2021, plans changed and the owners wanted to turn the property into a wellness center for indigenous families.

After the owners applied for a letter of support from the city in April 2021, the city informed them that their business venture was a “change of use” and a new application was required, the lawsuit says.

The owners submitted an application for a residential care facility for First Nations clients in May 2021, but the city determined that more information was needed.

It is alleged that in June 2021, Carpenter became aware that City Council members were opposed to First Nations families coming to Bashaw.

“They believed continued First Nations presence would devalue their homes, raise security concerns, and other City Council members had a general reluctance to interact with First Nations communities,” the owners allege in the complaint.

Over the next year, the city repeatedly requested additional information, and the owners claimed to respond to each request.

At the beginning of May 2022, the application was finally considered complete – but during the month the city again asked for more information. In August 2022, the city reviewed the application and ultimately denied it, saying it needed more information.

However, the owners argue that a change of use application should not have been necessary as no new construction was required and the facility would have the same uses.

The owners also allege that several City Council members have financial conflicts of interest that should have excluded them from voting on the motion.

Indigenous Programming

At Monday’s press conference, Carpenter explained that the center would have been a place for families to gather and participate in everything from education to healing and cultural programs.

“All the programming was directed by the indigenous people,” he said.

The center could have accommodated five families of up to five people at a time who would stay for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, Carpenter said.

He said no matter how they explained the concept of the city, it never seemed to land.

“We kind of got caught in that cloud, which frankly became overwhelming, confusing and discouraging,” he said.

The site was chosen in part because of its proximity to Maskwacis, a community north of Bashaw that is home to four First Nations people.

Elder Charlene Burns, an advocate for First Nations women and mothers who supported the project, said the center could have helped Indigenous families throughout central Alberta.

“That would have been one of the most beautiful shows,” said Burns, who also spoke at the press conference. “It’s really sad that we have to go this route to address this.”

Carpenter said they are now looking to sell or lease the Bashaw property, but he hopes the spa can open elsewhere.


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