WARNING: This story contains details about sexual assault.
According to multiple survivors, former clients and staff, two recovery facilities turned a blind eye to reports that an employee preyed on vulnerable female clients for more than a decade before being charged with assault.
Last week, Adam Haber, a former fitness trainer employed by Last Door Recovery Society in New Westminster, BC – east of Vancouver – was charged with three counts of sexual assault dating back to 2012.
Police say there are at least 11 victims and are urging others to come forward.
All charges relate to alleged assaults against former clients of Westminster House, a “sister” women’s substance use recovery facility, whom police say met Haber through his involvement as a client, sponsor, and later contractor at the men-only Last Door from 2010.
The two facilities are owned and operated separately, but share a “close working relationship,” raising funds together and allowing customers to attend the same community-based support meetings.
“It seems there was no accountability whatsoever when people tried to whistle,” said a survivor, AB, who Haber is charged with assault in July 2013. Her name is protected by a publication ban.
Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services, said the allegations demonstrate the “culture of silence” around sexual assault that is rampant in treatment and recovery circles in BC, which can hamper women’s efforts to recover.
Survivors and former clients say allegations have been leveled against Haber for more than a decade, and that his alleged predatory behavior was an “open secret” that minimized or fired staff at both facilities.
Last Door has denied knowing about the alleged attacks or ignoring the concerns.
Haber was terminated within a day of the assault allegations first coming to light on social media in late January, the association said in a statement to CBC, and police confirmed that Last Door staff reported the allegations shortly afterward.
“Any suggestion that we dismiss or minimize complaints from any individual or group, especially survivors and community members, is false,” Last Door’s unattributed email statement to CBC reads.
“All concerns and complaints are taken seriously and we are committed to making changes when necessary to better serve our community.”
But all former customers and employees CBC spoke to said there was no way Last Door had gotten wind of the allegations until January.
“They knew it and made it happen,” says former client Carly Bradley.
Haber was close friends with many of the facility’s employees and leaders, former clients said, and felt “untouchable.”
AB told CBC that she first met Haber in 2011 during a six-month stay at Westminster House, and that his focus on her increased after she graduated from the organization’s transitional housing and was allowed to have a cell phone and social media.
“I was getting messages from him on Facebook, asking me to go to (recovery) meetings with him. And if I didn’t go to a meeting, I’d get random messages like, ‘Why weren’t you at this meeting? said AB, who was 23 at the time.
“It was constant with him. He was always trying to do something to get involved with you.”
AB said that when she later relapsed and lost her housing, Haber offered to let her stay in his apartment. With her family far away, she felt she had no choice. There he would have attacked her for several weeks.
“Not five minutes after he walked into his house, he told me I wouldn’t be able to sleep on the couch because he didn’t have extra blankets for me and because he had a roommate who might come home from their trip to see him .” me there.
“During this time I was obviously actively using and he would go out and get me my drug of choice and he would bring it back. Or he would give me money to go get my own medicine,” she said.
“I’d pass out from drug use and I’d wake up in his bed and things like that.”
AB said she was able to leave with the help of a friend and her family, who showed up to save her.
Another survivor, Emma, said the stress of trying to expose her years-long seizure earlier this year caused her to relapse for the first time in six years. CBC does not use her real name because she fears retaliation from Haber for speaking publicly.
Haber has not been charged with assaulting Emma, but she has reported the matter to the police.
Emma said she suffered a near-fatal overdose of drug poisoning and was hospitalized and placed on a ventilator earlier this year.
“It’s been a crazy battle against these facilities,” Emma wrote in a message to CBC.
At least three attacks were reported to Westminister House staff, former clients told CBC.
Sarah Burfoot says a friend from the institution called her in crisis in early 2012 and had nowhere to go.
Burfoot lived in the organization’s temporary housing and could not take anyone under the influence of drugs or alcohol with him.
After several friends said they couldn’t help, Burfoot’s friend urged her to call Haber, who came for them. It made her uncomfortable, Burfoot said.
Haber took them to his apartment, where Burfoot determined that he would sleep on the couch and the two women would share his bed.
But when she came out of the bathroom, Burfoot said Haber was lying in bed and touching her friend, who was unresponsive and too drunk to consent.
“I came out and went to his bedroom and I thought, ‘What are you doing? Why are you in bed with her?'” Burfoot said.
“I was like, ‘No, go away. I don’t care if she said it’s okay, go away.'”
Burfoot said she was furious and barely slept that night for fear he would come back.
“I didn’t really like him and didn’t trust him, but I didn’t really know what he was capable of at the time.”
The women left in the morning. Burfoot said she reported the incident to a Westminister House employee, who did nothing.
Neither current executive director Suzan Hogarth nor Westminster House medical director Dennis Wardman responded to multiple requests for comment.
Former director apologizes
Sarah Franklen, who served as executive director from 2006 to 2015, said she knew Haber was known as a “creep” but never received a formal report of sexual assault.
She said the allegations are “sickening” and apologized for inadvertently “turning a blind eye”.
“If anything had been reported, it would have been a very different situation,” Franklen told CBC. “In hindsight I probably could have gotten a little more curious, and it’s a real shame I didn’t.”
Burfoot says she finds it hard to believe leaders were unaware of the allegations.
“I can imagine that unfortunately they never officially reported it, because that should have happened,” said Burfoot. “But I can’t imagine it hasn’t been discussed.”
A decade of silence
Survivors told CBC they were unaware that others had been attacked at the time, but Haber’s reputation was widely known at both facilities.
“It was basically known, but not talked about,” says Noah Gelb, who was a client in 2015 and then worked for the association’s youth program for three years until 2018.
Westminster House is recommended on the Last Door website, and Haber was recommended to Westminster House clients seeking fitness training, Gelb, Burfoot, Bradley and Ally told CBC.
Westminster House staff also recommended him to women and men leaving treatment and needing to find housing, Gelb, Burfoot and Bradley said.
“Mr. Haber’s work brought him into close contact with women who are at a very vulnerable stage in their lives,” Sgt. Andrew Leaver of the New Westminster Police Department told Breaking:.
Bradley, a Westminster House client for six months in 2012, said she was told to stay away from Haber by other clients in her first week, and that he sent her — and other women — persistent unwanted romantic and sexual messages .
“I couldn’t understand how he could do step work and sponsor guys in Last Door when he was widely known to be a predator,” she said.
But the staff never acted, even when Bradley told one of them that Haber attacked AB and another friend from Westminster House in 2013, she said.
“I started to feel like no one was taking me seriously and it was just brushed aside… I was filled with rage, I was disgusted, I just hated (Haber).”
Bradley returned as a client in late February, shortly after police announced they were investigating Haber.
According to her, little has changed: her concerns about Haber were, in her own words, brushed aside when she raised them with a group supervisor.
She let her treatment last for three days, and without another program, she says she went back to using substances.
“I didn’t feel good staying there,” said Bradley.
“I was angry. It’s still going on and they’re still brushing it off.”