Survivors, former staff say recovery homes ignored years of reports about employee charged with sexual assault

Last week, Adam Haber, a former fitness trainer employed by Last Door Recovery Society in New Westminster, B.C., was charged with three counts of sexual assault dating back to 2012.  (Ben Nelms/CBC News - image credit)
Last week, Adam Haber, a former fitness trainer employed by Last Door Recovery Society in New Westminster, B.C., was charged with three counts of sexual assault dating back to 2012. (Ben Nelms/CBC News - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains details of sexual assault.

Two recovery facilities looked the other way from reports that an employee was preying on vulnerable women clients for more than a decade before he was charged with sexual assault, according to multiple survivors, former clients and staff members.

Last week, Adam Haber, a former fitness trainer employed by Last Door Recovery Society in New Westminster, B.C. — 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 of former clients of Westminster House, a "sister" substance-use recovery facility for women, whom police say Haber met through his involvement as a client, sponsor and later contract employee at the men's-only Last Door starting in 2010.

"It doesn't seem like there was any accountability when people were trying to blow the whistle," said one survivor, AB, whom Haber is charged with assaulting 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 violence that runs rampant in treatment and recovery circles across B.C., and that can make women's efforts to recover impossible.

'Open secret'

Survivors and former clients say they raised allegations against Haber for more than a decade, and that his alleged predatory behaviour was an "open secret" that staff at both facilities minimized or dismissed.

Last Door has denied prior knowledge of the alleged assaults or that it ignored concerns.

Haber was terminated within a day of the assault allegations first coming to light on social media in late January, the society said in a statement to CBC, and police confirmed Last Door staff reported the allegations shortly after.

Last Door Recovery Society
Last Door Recovery Society

"Any suggestion that we dismiss or minimize complaints from any individual or group, particularly survivors and community members, is inaccurate," read the unattributed emailed statement from Last Door to CBC.

"All concerns and complaints are taken seriously, and we are dedicated to implementing changes when necessary, to better serve our community."

But all former clients and staff CBC spoke to said it was impossible Last Door had not caught wind of the allegations until January.

"They knew and they allowed it to happen," said former client Carly Bradley.

Haber was close friends with many staff and leaders at the facilities, former clients said, and felt "untouchable."

AB told CBC she first met Haber in 2011 during a six-month stay at Westminster House, and that his focus on her intensified after she graduated into the organization's transitional housing and was allowed to have a cellphone and social media.

"I would start getting messages from him on Facebook, asking me to go to [recovery] meetings with him. And if I wouldn't go to a meeting, I would 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 when she later relapsed and lost her housing, Haber offered to let her stay at his apartment. With her family far away, she felt she had no other option. That's where he allegedly assaulted her over several weeks.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

"Not even five minutes after walking into his house he told me that 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 and see me there.

"During this time I was obviously actively using and he would go out and he would get my drug of choice for me and he would bring it back. Or he would supply me with money to go get my own drugs," she said.

"I would pass out due to drug use and I would wake up in his bed and stuff like that."

AB said she was able to leave with the help of a friend and her family, who showed up to rescue her.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Another survivor, Emma, said the stress of trying to bring her years-old assault to light earlier this year caused her to relapse for the first time in six years. CBC is not using her real name because she fears retaliation for speaking publicly.

Haber has not been charged with assaulting Emma, but she has reported it to police.

Emma said she suffered a near-fatal drug poisoning overdose and was hospitalized and placed on life-support earlier this year.

"It's been a crazy battle up against these facilities," Emma wrote in a message to CBC.

Allegations ignored

At least three assaults were reported to staff at Westminister House, former clients told CBC.

Sarah Burfoot says in early 2012, a friend from the facility called her in crisis, with nowhere to go.

Burfoot was living in the organization's transitional housing and couldn't bring anyone who was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

After several friends said they couldn't help, Burfoot's friend urged her to call Haber, who came to get them. It made her uneasy, Burfoot said.

Haber took them to his apartment, where Burfoot established he would sleep on the couch and the two women would share his bed.

But when she came out from the bathroom, Burfoot says Haber was in bed touching her friend, who was unresponsive and too intoxicated to consent.

"I came out and into his bedroom and I was like, 'What are you doing? Why are you in the bed with her?'" said Burfoot.

"I was like, 'No, get out. I don't care if she said it's OK, get out.'"

Burfoot said she was infuriated and barely slept that night for fear he would come back.

"I didn't really like him or trust him, but I didn't really know what he was capable of at that point."

The women left in the morning. Burfoot said she reported the incident to a staff member at Westminister House, who did not do anything.

Neither current executive director Sarah Hogarth nor Westminster House medical director Dennis Wardman responded to multiple requests for comment.

Former director apologizes

Sarah Franklen, who was executive director from 2006 to 2015, said she knew Haber was known to be a "creep" but she never received a formal report about assault.

She said the allegations are "sickening" and apologized for unintentionally "turning a blind eye."

"If anything had been reported, it would have been a very different situation," Franklen told CBC. "I could have probably gotten a bit more curious in retrospect, and it's very unfortunate that I didn't."

Youtube/Talk Recovery
Youtube/Talk Recovery

Burfoot says she has a hard time believing leaders didn't know of the allegations.

"I could imagine that they never officially reported it unfortunately, because that should have happened," said Burfoot. "But I can't imagine that it wasn't discussed."

A decade of silence

Survivors told CBC they didn't know others had been assaulted at the time, but Haber's reputation was common knowledge at both facilities.

"It was basically known but not talked about," said Noah Gelb, who was a client in 2015, then worked for the society's youth program for three years until 2020.

Westminster House is recommended on Last Door's 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 who needed to find housing, said Gelb, Burfoot and Bradley.

New West Recovery
New West Recovery

"Mr. Haber's employment put him in close contact with women who are in a very vulnerable stage in their lives," Sgt. Andrew Leaver of the New Westminster Police Department told CBC News.

Bradley, a Westminster House client for six months in 2012, said she was told by other clients within her first week to stay away from Haber, and that he sent her — and other women — persistent unwanted romantic and sexual messages.

"I couldn't understand how he could be doing step-work and sponsoring guys in Last Door when it was widely known that he was a predator," she said.

But staff never acted, even when Bradley told one of them Haber had assaulted AB and another friend from Westminster House in 2013, she said.

"I got the sense that no one was taking me seriously and it was just pushed 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.

In her view, little has changed: she says her concerns about Haber were again dismissed when she raised them to a group counsellor.

She left three days into her treatment, and without another program, she says she has resumed using substances.

"I didn't feel right staying there," Bradley said.

"I was angry, it's still going on, and they're still brushing it off."