Supreme Court of Canada will not hear N.S. appeal in disability rights case
Court of Appeal earlier found evidence of systemic discrimination
Nova Scotia's application for permission to appeal a decision that found evidence it discriminated against people with disabilities has been dismissed by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The decision was posted on the Supreme Court's website Thursday morning.
"It's fantastic news," said Vince Calderhead, a human rights lawyer and counsel for the Disability Rights Coalition that is part of the action. "We've been fighting for eight years."
The case stemmed from an action brought originally to the Human Rights Commission in 2014. It involved three people who were locked in a psychiatric unit of the Nova Scotia Hospital for years while on a wait-list for community placements.
Two of them, Beth MacLean and Sheila Livingstone, have since died. The third, Joseph Delaney, is now living in a community-based setting in Dartmouth, N.S.
In addition to refusing to hear the case, the Supreme Court decided costs should be paid to the Disability Rights Coalition.
Calderhead described the news as a "huge relief" to people with disabilities in Nova Scotia but is now urging the province to move quickly to bring an end to the matter.
He said the government could agree to move to the final stage of the human rights board of inquiry process, which would be to talk about a remedy to the situation. Anything less, he said, would continue what he calls a "fight against people with disabilities."
The Supreme Court decision brings hope to Vicky Levack, who has been living in a nursing home for 10 years and is a member of the Disability Rights Coalition.
"I am relieved. I'm so used to people in power and those who make decisions going against people with disabilities and always having to fight for our right to exist," Levack said.
She is close to moving into a new placement within the community as part of a pilot program but is continuing to advocate for others.
"My work isn't done until everybody who doesn't want to be here doesn't have to be here," she said.
Province accepts decision, says finding housing can be complex
The province had maintained it was looking for clarification on how other social programs could be affected by the original Court of Appeal decision, which said there was evidence of systemic discrimination in the case.
Premier Tim Houston said Thursday his government respects the decision of the Supreme Court and will now work through the human rights board of inquiry to get to the point where both sides can work together.
"This was never about our commitment to supporting Nova Scotians with disabilities, that commitment is unwavering," Houston said. "Finding somebody housing can be a complex issue. There are lots of wait-lists in this province for a lot of different issues."
The province's request to appeal, Houston said, centred about the broader ramifications of the decision from the Court of Appeal.
"My initial concern was with the court making the analogy that finding somebody housing is similar to writing an income-assistance cheque. Those things are not the same," he said.
Institutionalized facilities described as 'outdated model'
Community Services Minister Karla MacFarlane pointed to what she called a big investment in disability programs totalling $54 million in the provincial budget, as a way of showing the government's commitment to the issue.
She said some of the funds are being earmarked toward programs helping people move into their own homes.
"We all agree institutionalized facilities are an outdated model by decades and that work should have been done years ago, but we are dedicated and working hard and having conversations every day about how quickly we can try to transition individuals into community," she said.
MacFarlane said the government continues to work with the Disability Rights Coalition and it is a priority for her department to build a strong relationship.
A human rights board of inquiry into the matter will continue April 22.