Nova Scotia government heading back to court against disabilities group
The Nova Scotia government says it will appeal a recent court decision that found there was discrimination against people with disabilities who had sought improved services and housing in the community.
A day after the Oct. 6 Court of Appeal ruling, Premier Tim Houston said his government heard the court’s message “loud and clear,” and he pledged to work with the disabilities community.
He also said he didn’t believe citizens should have to take the government to court to make it “do the right thing.”
But in an emailed comment Thursday, Community Services Minister Karla MacFarlane appears to shift the Progressive Conservative government’s approach.
MacFarlane said “many significant questions” arise from the Appeal Court decision, including how other social programs could be affected, so the province has decided to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The minister also said the court decision places a legal requirement on the department’s disability support program and that she needs “to better understand that requirement.” The cabinet minister noted she was speaking on behalf of the premier, who has been outside the province.
The landmark Appeal Court decision said the provincial government’s failure to offer people with disabilities “meaningful” access to housing and care is reflected in long wait-lists. The court also said the situation amounted to a violation of their basic rights.
The appeal was originally launched by the Disability Rights Coalition. During a hearing a year ago, its lawyer Claire McNeil argued the mistreatment of people with disabilities included unnecessary institutionalization, lengthy wait times, and forced removal to remote areas of the province far from family and friends.
After the court’s decision, the coalition urged the government not to launch an appeal and to respect the equality of people living with disabilities.
On Wednesday, the group held a news conference where those participating appeared to believe that further court action wasn’t likely and that the remedy for the discrimination would go back before a human rights board. McNeil had urged the province to take the approach of negotiating and working with the coalition during the hearing to set up a timetable for reforms.
On Thursday, Vince Calderhead, one of the lawyers who argued the original human rights case, said he was deeply disappointed by the Houston government’s change in stance.
“It’s appalling that the ‘solutionist’ premier is now choosing to fight people with disabilities in court rather than do the right thing and comply with its fundamental human rights obligations,” he wrote in an email, referring to Houston’s campaign mantra that the Tories would work to solve long-standing problems.
“This appears to be a blatant stalling tactic rather than ‘doing the right thing.’ This represents a continuation of decades of stalling on the rights of persons with disabilities.”
The original human rights case was launched by three people with intellectual disabilities who spent years confined in the Emerald Hall psychiatric hospital despite medical opinions they could be housed in the community. The board decision ruled the individual rights of Joey Delaney, the late Beth MacLean and the late Sheila Livingstone were violated, but it also ruled against the separate claim by the coalition that the system was discriminating more widely against people with disabilities.
The coalition appealed the board’s finding on systemic discrimination and won before the Appeal Court.
The Appeal Court also upheld and extended the findings of individual discrimination against the three, doubling the compensation paid to Delaney from $100,000 to $200,000, while the compensation due to MacLean – who died in September at a local hospital – went from $100,000 to $300,000.
In her email, MacFarlane said the government will not be appealing the findings regarding MacLean, Livingstone and Delaney.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2021.