Nova Scotia

N.S. human rights board rules province discriminated against 3 adults with disabilities

A ruling has found the provincial government discriminated against three Nova Scotians with mental and physical disabilities it kept institutionalized because it had no suitable place in the community to house or support them.

Board 'not persuaded' discrimination extends to all disabled people who reside in institutions

Beth MacLean testified that she told her caregivers at the Nova Scotia Hospital that she'd been told she could shift into a community setting one year after her admission in the fall of 2000. (Robert Short/CBC)

A board of inquiry sparked by a human rights complaint has found the Nova Scotia government discriminated against three Nova Scotians with mental and physical disabilities.

Board chair Walter Thompson ruled Monday that the Nova Scotia government has discriminated against Beth MacLean, Sheila Livingstone and Joey Delaney in providing "services or facilities on account of mental and physical disability," contrary to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.

Sheila Livingstone died in October 2016, more than two years after initiating her complaint. She was 67 years old.

Their lawyer Vincent Calderhead said Monday, "The other two people will be very pleased."

"It vindicates that their human rights were violated," he said. "And that is to say on the face of it this is discriminatory.

"The board makes some quite strong findings in that regard."

Each person's circumstance must 'be assessed individually'

MacLean, 47, spent 15 years in a locked psychiatric ward called Emerald Hall, at the Nova Scotia Hospital even after psychiatrists decreed there were no longer medical reasons for her to remain. She was eventually transferred to a transition facility in Halifax after she launched her human rights complaint. 

Joey Delaney remains in Emerald Hall, where he has been cared for since January 2010, despite being "medically ready for discharge" since July of that year. 

But Thompson also ruled that discrimination does not necessarily extend to all Nova Scotians with disabilities being held in an institution because there were no available placements "in a community living service such as 'Independent Living
Support' or a small options home."

"Each disabled person's circumstances must, in my opinion, be assessed individually and then a decision made whether the person has had "meaningful access" to services," wrote Thompson in his 109-page ruling.

This ruling is just the first part of a two-step process. The Nova Scotia government will now be given a chance to argue the discrimination was somehow justified.

Unclear if province will appeal

On Tuesday, Nova Scotia's minister of Community Services, Kelly Regan, would not say if the province would appeal the ruling.

Regan said the province is "taking the time" to review the decision. 

When asked how Regan felt being part of a government that discriminated against three Nova Scotians with mental and physical disabilities, Regan said she was glad the tribunal recognized some of the good work her department was doing.

"I'm pleased that according to what staff have told me the tribunal did recognize the work this government is doing to make sure that clients can live in community," Regan said.

Calderhead hoped the Nova Scotia government would not try to justify its actions.

"It's unimaginable that a government in 2019 would seek to justify ongoing discrimination against members of the disadvantaged group, in this case people with disabilities," he said.

"It simply can't be the case that the government will be saying we can't afford equality, we can't afford inclusion for people with disabilities."

With files from The Canadian Press

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