Legal victory for N.S. disabilities rights converted into 5-year plan for reforms
Plan based on recommendation to move most people in institutions into housing in communities by 2025
A landmark legal victory has officially yielded a five-year plan to ensure Nova Scotians with disabilities can move out of large institutions and receive timely access to housing.
A Nova Scotia human rights board of inquiry announced Thursday that it has approved a plan from two experts that had been accepted by the province and the Disability Rights Coalition in April.
Board chairman Donald Murray said in the decision an expert monitor will be named by the end of this year to monitor implementation of the plan.
The province will be required to provide progress reports, and a website will be created to post statistics on whether goals are being met.
The plan was based on a report that recommended the province move three-quarters of the 870 people in institutions into housing in communities by 2025, with the large facilities to be closed by 2028.
Its approval caps a marathon legal battle originally launched in 2014 by three people with disabilities who were kept in a Halifax psychiatric hospital for years, despite medical opinions that they could live in the community with appropriate supports.
Their human rights case went to a board of inquiry and eventually the province's Court of Appeal, which ruled in favour of the arguments of the Disability Rights Coalition.
It found that people living with disabilities were being subjected to discrimination in their inability to obtain social assistance, including housing, support and services.
Last August, the province agreed to work with the disabilities coalition on a remedy that would be overseen and approved by a human rights board of inquiry, and a two-person review panel was appointed to work out the details.
In his decision, Murray said the human rights board of inquiry "retains jurisdiction ... to monitor progress as the parties work to fulfil the remedy," drawn up by the two-person review panel.
Eddie Bartnik, an Australian consultant on disability services, and Tim Stainton, a University of British Columbia professor of social work, were the experts who wrote the report outlining the process.
The provincial Community Services Department has said the cost of the improved housing and care "will depend on factors such as program design, staffing levels, the availability of specialized supports and a regional approach to delivering services."
However, in a news release, the province said Murray's "interim consent order ... will act as a public commitment by all parties."
The review report said new admissions to the facilities, known as adult residential centres and regional rehabilitation centres, would end this year.
Under the current system, when people with disabilities apply for services or housing, they're often put on a lengthy wait-list. As of last July, there were 1,834 people on the department's wait-lists for various types of housing and support.
Under the report's recommendations, resources would be increased so that in 2028 the long wait times would be eliminated.
The province would also create a "critical response team" with trained staff to ensure people in crisis have immediate access to supports and services, as well as multidisciplinary teams to meet needs as people shift into community settings.
Bartnik and Stainton also recommended more staff and new positions for area coordinators
spread throughout Nova Scotia.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2023.