Surrey recovery house operator plans city-hall rally

Back on Track founder Cole Izsak hoping for strong turnout at July 8 event

The operator of a Surrey recovery home that has been ordered to shut down said he is hoping to garner support through a July 8 rally outside Surrey City Hall.

Cole Izsak, who runs six Back on Track sites, told Peace Arch News Wednesday that he will also have a booth at this Saturday’s Surrey Pride event (3-8 p.m. at Central City Plaza, 13450 102 Ave.), in an effort to further raise awareness of his plight.

READ MORE: ‘Epic’ Surrey Pride party to celebrate 20th anniversary at Central City Plaza

The message he wants to deliver, he said, is two-fold:

“Our message is going to be save Back on Track, and close down these hell holes where people are dying.”

Izsak’s latter point is a reference to an apparent lack of repercussions for licensed Surrey recovery homes where overdose deaths have been reported and conditions have been described as “deplorable.”

“They all get to keep operating because they’ve been in existence unscrutinized,” he said. “I’ve been under extreme scrutiny.”

Izsak, 57, was given notice by the City of Surrey earlier this month that he had until June 21 to cease operations at three of six sites, and until Aug. 15 to vacate two others.

READ MORE: Days numbered for Surrey’s Back on Track recovery homes

City officials have said the issue is around Izsak’s inability to obtain the provincial permits that are required in order for business licences to be renewed or issued; as well, that the city had received notice that those permits would not be issued, based on inspections.

The homes are also housing more than the maximum number of clients allowed by the Assisted Living Registry, Surrey’s acting manager of public safety operations Kim Marosevich told Black Press Media earlier this month.

Izsak – a South Surrey resident – has pledged to fight the closures, which he says will put the lives of his clients at risk. He’s filed an appeal with the city, and said he is prepared to take legal action should his current efforts fail.

Back on Track has never had a fatal overdose, he noted.

Izsak also reached out to Maggie Plett, the South Surrey mother who shared her son Zach’s story with PAN last month.

READ MORE: Grieving mom says son who died in Surrey recovery house ‘would’ve been better off homeless’

Zach, 21, was found dead at a north Surrey recovery house on Dec. 15, 2018. The coroner told Plett in May – and reiterated the finding Tuesday (June 25) – that Zach had died of a fentanyl overdose sometime between 9 a.m. and noon. His death went unnoticed until 4 p.m.

Plett said she met with Izsak on Tuesday, and told PAN she “fully” supports his quest to shut down problem operations – and in particular the one where Zach died.

“I am definitely on his side. I haven’t been to his place, but from what I can see… he’s really deeply concerned about his clients,” she said.

“I’m for the recovery home that meets compliance and is clean.”

Plett said she is hopeful at least one of the unanswered questions she has around recovery-house regulations will be answered in an upcoming meeting with Minster of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy. The July 11 meeting, she noted, was not initiated by Darcy, but through another grieving mom whose son died of an overdose nine days after Zach, she noted.

“(The minister) never reached out to me,” she said.

“I still want to know… why wasn’t (the recovery house where Zach died) shut down for an investigation right then and there? Why was (the operator) given her licensing on the 1st of April when three people died in her house last year and she’s not in compliance?”

The licensing Plett is referring to is the ALR registration. It must be renewed annually every April. Wednesday, the online list of registered homes included the house where Zach died, along with four others associated to the same operator. Each of the five also shows between one and three “substantiated complaints.”

Just one of Izsak’s sites is on the same list. No complaints are noted. However, a separate list of sites operating without registration includes three Back on Track houses.

Izsak said it is an “atrocity” that a home where fatal overdoses have occurred has had its registration renewed. He remains hopeful registrations for his sites will come through “any day now.”

“I think the tide is turning. The province… they’re working with me every day,” he said.

One hitch, he said, was a criminal-record check which noted an assault charge that had stemmed from a November 2018 incident, in which he hit a former client who had demanded $2,500, threatened his son and then pushed him.

“It’s not something I feel good about,” he told PAN.

“I shouldn’t have punched him. But I’m human, and my son was threatened.”

Izsak said he paid to attend an anger-management course a couple of weeks later. This week, a stay of proceedings was granted on the assault charge.

“The first reason for revocation of my licences is now no longer valid,” he said. “I was cleared to work with vulnerable adults.”

Noting an open house last Friday was well-attended – the non-attendance of Surrey council notwithstanding – Izsak said he’s hopeful next month’s rally will be as well. It’s timed to occur on the same evening Surrey council next meets.

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