Government officials had to remove teenagers from a residential treatment facility that was operating in Kelowna without a licence and allegedly bullying the teens.
The parents of three of those children are now suing NeurVana Recovery and Wellness Inc. and its directors David and Susan Kenney for breach of contract, negligence and fraud for operating the overnight centre without a business licence.
According to the statements of claim, one of the directors allegedly locked a girl outside the building in freezing weather without socks. They withheld her medication for anxiety and blocked her access to a phone or email.
A 16-year-old boy getting treatment for heavy marijuana use was bullied and singled out by the directors, his mother said in an interview. He lost 20 pounds during his stay there and couldn't communicate with his parents.
"He was belittled and humiliated in front of his peers and staff," said Sandra Colquhoun in Burnaby. "He just wanted to crawl into a hole. . . . They knew he had issues with his self-esteem and they treated him that way, which made it worse for him."
The centre, which bills itself as an option of last hope for families, used behavioural therapy and neuro-technology in a holistic environment to treat young people suffering depression, anxiety and addiction.
Up to 10 of them stayed there at a time for $6,000 a week, said the families' lawyer, Marco Francesco Lilliu of Francesco Grayer in Vancouver. The Kenneys had been operating the home in Kelowna for up to two years and worked out of at least three locations, he said.
"The pattern was children would go in for three weeks. Then the Kenneys would state to the parents that they needed more time with the children, and they'd try to get another week or two out of them at $6,000 a week."
The Colquhouns spent $18,300. The Kenneys asked them for more money toward the end of their son's three-week stay.
"They basically convinced us . . . he needed to be there and it would not be going well for him if he left," said Colquhoun. "It wasn't the case at all. . . . They manipulated him and his words. They manipulated us. They controlled and orchestrated the whole thing."
The allegations represent one side of the story and have not been proven in court. The Kenneys couldn't be reached for comment and may be out of the country. An interview request sent by email via their website was not acknowledged Thursday.
The court documents suggest the Kenneys told the parents that NeurVana was a licensed residential-care home for troubled teenagers.
The company's website features testimonials from young people and parents who commend the treatment for their success. It claims the company is incorporated and officially recognized by the province of B.C.
Interior Health was unaware the company had set up shop here. In early December, someone tipped off officials that the facility was operating without a licence. They determined it needed one because staff were serving three or more clients deemed dependent and vulnerable, said Gretchen Rondestvedt, who manages licensing for the health authority.
"We immediately informed the operator that he needed to close his operations and he complied right away," she said.
The sudden closure on Dec. 5 left the young residents without a home. The Ministry of Children and Family Development told parents to pick up their kids.
The Colquhouns and a family from Maple Ridge caught the last flight to Kelowna to fetch their sons. A relative of the girl who'd been left out in the cold had to fly from Ontario to pick her up, said Lilliu. Her family paid $25,280 for her care.
"She was having issues of anxiety and depression, so they actually flew here, rented a hotel and rented a car to pick up their daughter," Lilliu said.
A Kelowna law firm sent a letter Wednesday saying it was acting on behalf of the Kenneys and the company. They have until the end of March to file a statement of defence, Lilliu said.
David Kenney is the brother of Jason Kenney, Canada's minister for employment and social development. There's nothing to suggest the cabinet minister is connected to the facility in any way.
Interior Health has a patient-care phone line for people concerned about a provider. Call 1-877-442-2001.