The former operator of a private Kelowna treatment centre for troubled youth is suing the B.C. government for damages after nine teens were removed from the premises amid allegations of bullying and other mistreatment, and the centre was shut down.
In a lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court, David Kenney denies the allegations and claims that health-care and social workers were too quick to target NeurVana Recovery and Wellness Inc. and that his reputation has been destroyed.
He says that health-care and social workers acted without determining the teens were in need of protection and before deciding whether the facility needed to be licensed.
The children, aged 14 to 17, were taken out of the facility and returned to their families in December 2013. NeurVana was ordered to cease its operations and has remained closed.
Affidavits filed in connection with the statement of claim and a petition filed earlier this year seeking a court order declaring the government actions were illegal do not paint a flattering picture of Kenney’s centre.
A licensing officer with Interior Health said a neighbour reported that three girls had run away from the centre and had showed up at her door requesting help, one girl standing at the end of her driveway at 5 a.m. with very little clothing on.
But in an interview Monday, Kenney called the government actions “heavy-handed” and said he’d been dedicated to helping young people for 25 years in one fashion or another. He said he and his wife had created NeurVana to help teens and their families overcome some of their behavioural and emotional challenges.
“I’ll be the first to say that NeurVana was not a program for everyone, yet it was a great program for some people,” he said.
Some of the youths interviewed expressed concern that Keeney was controlling, taking away their personal belongings, including their shoes, and having those belongings returned in small increments by Kenney as he deemed appropriate.
One youth reported that the clients were only allowed to call home once a week for 15 minutes on a speaker phone and under Kenney’s supervision. Another youth claimed that Kenney and his staff shunned and shamed them by calling them names, and making fun of them in front of others.
“Those allegations are untrue,” said Kenney on Monday. “I’ve spent a career in helping people. We run a voluntary program.”
Three of the families of children who had attended the centre, at a cost of in excess of $6,000 a week, last year filed suit against NeurVana.
One family said that their son had lost about 20 pounds, was threatened on a number of occasions and ridiculed constantly.
Another family claimed that their daughter was verbally bullied on numerous occasions, suffering major emotional trauma and was not given her prescription medication for depression. But the lawsuit was later discontinued after the families and NeurVana consented to the dismissal of the legal action.
On Monday, Kenney and his lawyer, Craig Dennis, declined to comment on why the suit was dropped.
Kenney admits he wasn’t licensed to run the Kelowna centre as a community care facility, but says he was involved in talks with officials at the time of the ministry raid and was shocked when the centre was shut down.
He claims the government’s seizure of documents at the centre was unlawful and its actions overall were done with malice. He’s struggled to make a living in the field ever since. He tried to open for business again in B.C., but was stymied by officials, he says.
Attempts to set up a centre in the Cayman Islands and in Barrie, Ont., ran into difficulties due to media coverage of his case, according to his lawsuit.
“As an educator ... and someone who is dedicated to helping kids and families, it’s had a grave impact on my career and the opportunity to help people. I’ve got a vast experience in helping people ... ,” he said.
Kenney, the brother of federal MP Jason Kenney, says he has opened a residential “wellness” centre for adults somewhere in central Ontario, but was wary of giving a specific location due to what he called security concerns.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development and Interior Health are named as defendants. Neither had immediate comment on the Kenneys’ lawsuit, which contains allegations untested in court.