Nova Scotians with mental disabilities focus of human rights inquiry

A human rights inquiry into how the province houses people with mental disabilities is moving forward.

Three Nova Scotians claim they are living in mental health institutions unnecessarily

Three Nova Scotians who are in mental health institutions say the province has been keeping them there unnecessarily. 

And now an inquiry before a Nova Scotia Human Rights Board panel will look into why Beth MacLean, Sheila Livingstone and Joseph Delaney, who have mental disabilities, aren't being permitted to live in community housing.

The human rights complaint that was filed on their behalf states that MacLean has trouble learning and suffers from a mood disorder. 

"I want to live in a home, on a street in a neighbourhood, and to live a normal life," MacLean's statement says.

"Since I was 10 years old, I have been provided with care by the province. The care has always been congregate and institutional. It never included an education. It has always been coerced; neither I nor my family were offered real choices as to where I could live or with whom." 

Spent years in institutions

Livingstone was diagnosed with a schizophrenia affective disorder, an intellectual disability and developed dementia in 2002. 

Delaney also has a severe learning disability, cyclic mood disorder and other health conditions. 

All three have been institutionalized for more than five years.

MacLean has been kept on a locked ward for almost 15 years, while Livingstone spent about 19 years in one institution or another. 

They all want to be released and live in the community. The group claims the province's failure to provide community-based housing is a violation of their human rights.

Their lawyer Vincent Calderhead said there's no reason his clients should remain institutionalized.

"Imagine if you had been kept in an institution for that long, not at all for medical or legal reasons whatsoever, but rather simply because there was an inadequate amount of supportive community housing for you to live in."

Community housing more humane

Calderhead said community housing would provide support for his clients while letting them be part of the world. 

"It could be help with shopping, for bathing, for many of the functions of daily living.

"A small options home, but really it doesn't even need to be in one of those. It could be in a shared apartment with friends and if supports are in place then they can live as happy and fulfilled a life as possible, and that's what equality is about." 

Donna Franey is legal counsel for the Disability Rights Coalition. It's an aggrieved party in this case.

"The government is quite clearly from our perspective violating human rights, that they're not providing support for these folks with intellectual disabilities to live in the community and benefit from that. So violation of human rights by your own government is a very important issue."

These complaints will now go before a board of inquiry to determine if discrimination occurred.

It will be several months before the hearing begins.