Premier Tim Houston said his government won’t fight a Nova Scotia Court of Appeal decision that found the province systemically discriminated against people with disabilities.
Three people with mental disabilities — Beth MacLean, Joey Delaney, and Sheila Livingstone — filed a human rights complaint in 2014 against the provincial government regarding their institutionalization in the Emerald Hall wing of the Nova Scotia Hospital. A one-person Human Rights Board of Inquiry heard the case, and in late 2019, adjudicator Walter Thompson found the province discriminated against the three complainants, awarding each of them $100,000. Because Livingstone died before the decision, Thompson awarded $10,000 each to her sister and niece.
A new decision from the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, released Wednesday and written by Chief Justice Michael Wood, with Justices David Farrar and Cindy Bourgeois concurring, increased the financial awards to MacLean and Delaney to $300,000 and $200,000, respectively. Unfortunately, MacLean died just two weeks ago.
As the Halifax Examiner reported on Thursday, the new decision will have broader ramifications:
But besides the awards to the three people, the Court of Appeal sent the issue of systemic discrimination back to the Board of Inquiry, which could potentially affect up to a thousand other people in provincial care. The Court of Appeal found that the province had systemically discriminated against people with mental disabilities, but the exact contours of that discrimination are up to the Board of Inquiry to decide.
Following a cabinet meeting on Thursday, Premier Tim Houston was asked whether his government would challenge the decision. Houston told reporters he wouldn’t appeal the decision. Houston sent his condolences to MacLean and Livingstone’s families, and praised them and Delaney for their courage.
“I just don’t think anyone should really have to take their government to court to make their government do the right thing. So, we received the message loud and clear, we will work with the community to make sure that the supports are in place,” he said.
Making sure supports are in place means creating more small options homes available for people with intellectual disabilities, and Houston admitted it’s no easy task.
“I can’t fix this overnight, nobody can,” he said.
“The overriding goal is we want to make sure that the supports are in place and that’s the directive the courts have given. It’s the right thing to do, it’s a human thing to do, and it’s what we’ll do.”
A 2013, the Nova Scotia Joint Community-Government Advisory Committee on Transforming the Services to Persons with Disabilities (SPD) Program created a 10-year “roadmap” for improving the situation, calling for the elimination of institutional facilities in exchange for small options homes by 2023.
During the election campaign this summer, none of the three parties said that goal could be met. In August, Michael Tutton reported for the Canadian Press that Houston said he “hoped” his party could implement the goals of the roadmap during its mandate.
Community Services Minister Karla MacFarlane told reporters on Thursday that the department has been spending money on more small options homes and trying to reduce the number of people in institutional settings.
“It’s not an overnight fix, and I think everyone in Nova Scotia is well aware that we need affordable housing and we need to ensure that there’s more small option homes for those individuals that are looking to be integrated into the community as they should be,” MacFarlane said.
“Can we set a timeline of when we’re going to completely have enough? I don’t think we can because it’s a very fluid … but I can promise you that it is a priority.”
Premier says he ‘offended’ Black community with cabinet appointment
Also during Thursday’s media availability, Houston said he and African Nova Scotian Affairs Minister Pat Dunn met with leaders from the Black community last week.
“It’s clear to me that decisions that that I took offended the community. It was not my intention to offend anyone, and I apologize for offending them,” Houston said.
Jack Julian reported on the meeting between Dunn, Houston, and the Black Family Meeting, held last Wednesday, for CBC:
Among those representing the Black community were former Lt. Gov. Mayann Francis, the moderator of the African United Baptist Association David Provo, Danielle Hodges of the Association of Black Social Workers, Sharon Davis-Murdoch of the Health Association of African Canadians, and Robert Wright of the Decade for People of African Descent.
“You bring out your best in these situations… Making sure that we stay in the pocket with what the community wants us to bring. And we did that,” said Carolann Wright.
Wright said Houston and Dunn seemed nervous at first.
“I think they were a little bit nervous,” she said. “I think they were a little bit concerned about … What this would mean. Because there’s a lot of things at stake here in terms of the decision that was made, versus what can we do to mitigate this,” she said.
They were upset that the new Progressive Conservative government appointed white people as both minister and deputy minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs.
They also object to the loss of Black representation on the board of Nova Scotia Health, which administers healthcare in the province.
Wright said the meeting was important because the premier had claimed not to have heard widespread objections from the African Nova Scotian community.
Houston repeated that he wouldn’t appoint a cabinet minister from outside his caucus, sticking with Dunn.
But he said he’d reconsider his choice of a white deputy minister for the Department of African Nova Scotian Affairs.
The current deputy minister of the Department of African Nova Scotian Affairs is Justin Huston, a white man, who is also responsible for L’nu Affairs, Gaelic Affairs and Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage.
Houston was also criticized during the meeting last week and previously for firing Dr. Késa Munroe-Anderson, who is Black, from a deputy minister post in the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage.
Dunn told reporters he felt the meeting was positive, and it was a “frank” discussion.
Province hasn’t committed to help with HRM’s modular housing
There have been meetings, but the provincial government hasn’t committed to provide funding or staff for HRM’s modular housing project.
The municipality has purchased 24 modular units to house 73 people currently sleeping rough in tents or shelters in municipal parks, and those currently staying at a makeshift shelter in Gray Arena in north Dartmouth. Mayor Mike Savage and Assistant Chief of Emergency Management Erica Fleck, who’s been assigned to lead HRM’s response to homelessness for three months, announced the plan at a news conference late last month.
The Examiner published more details about the planned housing, in which each tenant is expected to have their own room with a washroom, last week.
The municipality is counting on the provincial government to pay some of the cost of the modular units, which were $10,000 each, and to provide mental health and addictions services for the people staying in them.
Houston said on Thursday his government hasn’t committed to either.
“It’s an evolving conversation,” he said.
Housing Minister John Lohr said his department isn’t part of those discussions because homelessness falls under the Department of Community Services.
MacFarlane said she’s met with Savage and they’re still in discussions with the city.