John Gray

John Gray, who has Huntington's disease, says he feels like he's under house arrest because when he leaves his house he's often confronted by police who believe he's drunk. Gray and his girlfriend Cindy Macdonald live in Springhill. (Courtesy: Cindy Macdonald)

A Cumberland County man with a degenerative genetic disorder whose symptoms mirror drunkenness says he feels like he's under house arrest because when he leaves his house he's often confronted by police who believe he's drunk.

John Gray, who lives in Springhill, N.S., has Huntington's disease — a neurological disorder that affects muscle co-ordination and impairs cognitive operations. His speech is slurred and he stumbles when he walks.

"I have a right to go and walk to the post office or go grab a sub for one of my kids without getting arrested and put in a drunk tank or in the back seat of a police car, being embarrassed again and again," he said.

He told CBC's Mainstreet that if he goes out to get coffee, food, or to enjoy the day, he's regularly stopped and questioned by police. 

'It's degrading. It's affecting my quality of life.'- John Gray

"The officers would ask me questions and it would take me quite some time to answer because I have issues with comprehension and it would appear like I was thinking or lying to answer a general question such as my name or where I'm going."

Gray was diagnosed with the genetic disorder when he was 20 years old and the symptoms began about a decade later. Now, he's 42 — and the symptoms are getting worse.

Police escort from Subway

He said his latest encounter with police officers happened as he was leaving a Subway restaurant after picking up food for his children.

"They said, 'Unfortunately we're not allowed to let you go because you're drunk.' I said, 'Well I'm sorry, I have Huntington's and it appears I'm drunk,'" said Gray.

"It sounds like I'm drunk. If you gave me a sobriety test I'd fail. However, if you gave me a breathalyzer, it would come back clean."

Gray said the officers refused to let him walk home. Instead, they drove him home in a police vehicle and insisted on speaking to his girlfriend before releasing him into her care.

"It's degrading," he said. "It's affecting my quality of life."

Gray said he knows police officers have a job to do, but he was hoping for more understanding when he moved to the town.