National and provincial organizations advocating for the rights and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities are applauding Premier Tim Houston’s recent apology for discrimination and the harms of institutionalization.
Houston made the apology on Saturday at the Rebuilding Hope provincial conference.
“For decades, people living with disabilities in our province have not been afforded the right to choose where they live, who they live with, and how they are supported,” Houston said in his address.
“They have long been denied the choice that exists for other Nova Scotians. Their basic human rights have not been honoured nor respected.”
Posted to the Nova Scotia government’s YouTube channel, Houston’s apology can be viewed in its entirety here. Describing it as “unreserved,” he said the historic, systemic discrimination experienced by people with disabilities in the province was wrong.
“What has happened is deeply shameful. It is wrong. It is not what Nova Scotia stands for, and I am sorry,” Houston said.
‘Made us feel heard and seen’
In a media release Monday, Inclusion Nova Scotia president Stephanie Carver said people with intellectual disabilities and their families have fought long and hard for the right to live in their communities and for the supports required to ensure that happens.
“The Premier’s apology made us feel heard and seen,” Carver said. “The weight of his words marks a shift toward healing past harms and provides a path for rebuilding hope and trust.”
The Nova Scotia non-profit said the Nova Scotia Human Rights Remedy will transform how people with disabilities are supported in the province.
“The Remedy goes well beyond the closure of institutions and focuses on the much-needed transformation in our communities, systems and practices,” the release said. “This includes providing Individualized Funding, getting rid of waitlists, and establishing robust community supports.”
‘Beacon for the rest of the country’
Calling it a “momentous occasion for the advancement of disability rights,” Inclusion Canada said in a media release Tuesday that the premier’s “profound” apology to the disability community in Nova Scotia “marks a turning point in the province’s commitment to inclusion and respect for all.”
Inclusion Canada said Houston’s “unprecedented address” sets the stage for the province’s human rights remedy and a “promise of transformative action.” The organization’s executive vice president urged leaders across the country to follow in Houston’s footsteps.
“Nova Scotia’s commitment to rebuilding hope and reshaping lives must be a beacon for the rest of the country,” Krista Carr said in the release. “It’s time for national action to ensure these aren’t just words, but the start of an inclusive legacy.”
In his apology, the premier mentioned that Nova Scotians have shared many “painful” stories with him. He also specifically named the three people confined to the Emerald Hall ward in Halifax. In December 2019, a human rights hearing ruled against the province and in favour of Beth MacLean, Joseph Delaney, and the late Sheila Livingstone who died before the inquiry concluded.
“I found that the Province discriminated by retaining the complainants of the Emerald Hall unit for years on end when, by all professional opinion and advice, Beth MacLean and Joey Delaney ought to have been accommodated in a small options home and Sheila Livingstone in some suitable home or facility,” adjudicator Walter Thompson wrote in his 2019 decision.
‘Sincere representation of how my government feels’
This past April, the province of Nova Scotia reached an interim agreement to end the discriminatory treatment for people with disabilities.The province agreed to recommendations from an independent expert report, endorsed by the Disability Rights Coalition of Nova Scotia (DRC).
That report, titled ‘Human Rights Review and Remedy for the Finding of Systemic Discrimination Against Nova Scotians with Disabilities,’ calls for an end to the forcible confinement of people with disabilities in institutions as well as a total system transformation.
It also sets out clear timeframes and targets to return people who are currently institutionalized to the Nova Scotia communities from which they were removed. The plan also sets a five-year timeframe after which all institutions will be closed.
On Tuesday, reporters asked Houston if the apology was his idea, or if it was issued in the aftermath of the human rights proceeding.
“It’s part of the human rights remedy, but it’s the human thing to do,” Houston replied.
“We need to make sure as a government we invest and people have choices and options about where they live and who they live with- so people can live life to the fullest. The video is a sincere representation of how my government feels.”
Houston also pledged that change will occur relatively quickly.
“There will be competing priorities and some challenges around execution, but as we said, this is overdue, so as soon as possible,” he said.
With files from Jennifer Henderson