Nichele Benn

Nichele Benn is accused of assaulting her healthcare worker last December and now faces charges of assault and assault with weapon. Pictured here on Feb. 24, 2014. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

A 27-year-old woman with an intellectual disability who is accused of biting and striking a staff member at a care facility in Nova Scotia has pleaded not guilty to assault charges.

Nichele Benn entered the plea on Monday in a Dartmouth provincial court to the charges of assault and assault with a weapon.

Her trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 31.

Brenda Hardiman said her daughter shouldn't be before the courts because she has an organic brain disorder. She was born with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.

She also has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and an intellectual disability that keeps her in a perpetual childhood, her mother said.

Police allege the young woman bit and hit an employee with a foam letter and a shoe at the Quest Regional Rehabilitation Centre in Halifax on Dec. 12.

Benn was living at the centre.

'We don't hear of assault charges placed against people experiencing Alzheimer's who have bouts of aggressive behaviour.' - Brenda Hardiman

"We don't hear of assault charges placed against people experiencing Alzheimer’s who have bouts of aggressive behaviour. We're no different," Hardiman said.

"We are yet again calling on our Premier Stephen McNeil and our federal Justice Minister Peter McKay to jointly meet with the families of others in the same situation. We are desperate for your intervention.”

Archie Kaiser, a law professor and supporter of the family, said group homes can aggravate situations.  

"We have to see that as a pent-up issue here in Nova Scotia. We have had too many years of inaction in terms of the governments’ — successive governments’ — failure to provide appropriate, independent, living circumstances for people living with intellectual disabilities in the community,” he said.

A spokesman for the Halifax police said officers also have to consider the alleged victim when laying charges in cases like Benn's.

Better training for workers

Cindy Carruthers, a mental health advocate, said the health care workers helping people like Benn need proper training.

"What we would like to see is a consistency in the system for individuals like Nichele and others like her," she said. 

Carruthers said violent outbursts generally happen at homes and are not a threat to the public. 

Benn's case is expected to be a three-day trial.

with files from the Canadian Press