Disability & the Justice System: Brenda Hardiman & daughter share their story

Nichelle Benn, right, and her mother Brenda Hardiman wait at provincial court in Dartmouth, N.S. Benn is facing charges after an incident at the rehabilitation facility where she lives. Hardiman says her daughter's brain disorder causes periodic episodes of aggressive behaviour. (CP/Andrew Vaughan)


What do you do with an adult daughter whose disability keeps her in perpetual childhood and whose outbursts of anger or violence lead to criminal charges. In Halifax this week two parents went public raising those concerns about their respective daughters and argue their children's behaviours are being criminalized when they should be treated with compassion and help. Brenda Hardiman and her daughter share their story.

A mother ... a daughter ... and a dilemma

Nichele Benn is a 26 year Nova Scotian woman, born with a brain disorder. She's prone to violent outbursts and has been institutionalized at the Quest Regional Rehabilitation Centre - just outside of Halifax.

In the past 6 years, her behaviour has resulted in numerous visits by police. She's spent time in jail and is currently on probation. Just before Christmas, she was charged with assault and assault with a weapon. Her mother believes Nichele is no a criminal; she's not responsible for her actions.

Nevertheless, Nichele may soon return to face the criminal justice system.

Brenda Hardiman and her daughter Nichele Benn joined us from our Halifax Studio.

On February 2nd, supporters plan a province-wide demonstration in Nova Scotia demanding an end to criminalizing people with special needs.

The Current left messages with the Quest Regional Rehabilitation Centre. No one returned our calls. We requested an interview with Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay. He wasn't available but his office sent us a statement:

The administration of justice is a matter of provincial jurisdiction and we rely on police to investigate crime and on independent Crown prosecutors to lay criminal charges where they feel it is appropriate.

Our Government is committed to keeping our streets and communities safe while at the same time, treating those with mental health conditions fairly and appropriately. We have worked towards improving access to treatment services for inmates by making it mandatory for inmates to receive a mental health assessment within the first 90 days of their sentence. We also work with our provincial and territorial partners and non-governmental organizations to address the needs of those with mental health conditions in conflict with the law.

For more information, click here.

The Nova Scotia Ministries of Justice and Community Service sent us a statement. It says the government is committed to making sure people with disabilities get the support they need. The entire statement is below:

"The following is a joint response from the Nova Scotia departments of Community Services and Justice.

Caring for a loved one with a disability can be difficult. We all want the same thing to provide people and their families with support that helps them live as independently as possible.

Individual facilities, as independent employers, develop their own Occupational Health and Safety policies to help ensure the safety and security of the individual exhibiting aggressive behaviour, other residents and staff. Staff are trained and experienced in dealing with challenging situations. Most times intervention plans - which are developed with the client and their family - work. Police are only called as a last resort when other interventions fail and safety is an issue. Anyone who feels they are in danger has the right to call police.

Once police are called to a situation, they are trained to be sensitive to people's needs and abilities and to assess carefully whether charges should be laid. Every person and every situation is different. If charges are laid, there are alternative resolutions such as mental health court, restorative justice and adult diversion that can be used, if applicable.

We are committed to ensuring persons with disabilities are provided with the services and supports they need to improve their lives and reach their full potential."

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This segment was produced by Halifax Network Producer, Mary Lynk.

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