The Nova Scotia government argues that access to adequate housing at the right time is not a human right for people with disabilities and is asking the Supreme Court of Canada to overturn a decision it found its current practices to be discriminatory.
In arguing for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, two government attorneys warn that if the county appellate court’s decision is allowed to stand, human rights legislation will take too much power.
Disabled group NS pushes to shift major legal gains to improved housing and care
It says that, in fact, it will be the judges who determine the quality of social services that the people receive – usurping the power of the legislature and the power to set the budget.
District attorneys acknowledge that Nova Scotia’s current system of requiring some people with disabilities to live in larger facilities is not ideal.
But they also say that courts should not rule that regional human rights legislation has been set up to limit issues such as waiting times to access housing in the community.
This would “transform human rights judges into disability benefit administrators,” regional attorneys Kevin Kindred and Dorian Mullen say in their December 6 letter.
However, lawyers acknowledge that “reforms are going slowly” in the provision of housing in small-choice homes – defined as subsidized housing of four or fewer residents. He notes that records submitted to the Court of Appeals say that about 555 people with intellectual and other disabilities were still living in large institutional settings, while about 695 people were living in small home options.
The submission stated that “the record before the Court of Appeals … indicates that some individuals eligible for disability services programs have instead stayed in hospitals for longer than is medically necessary.”
A day after the Court of Appeals ruled October 6 that the county’s current provision of housing was discriminatory, Prime Minister Tim Houston said his government had heard the court’s message “loud and clear” and pledged to work with the disability community to reform the system. He also said he did not believe citizens should sue the government for making it “do the right thing”.
But in an apparent turn of tack, Regional Community Services Minister Carla MacFarlane later said in an email that the appeals court’s decision raised questions about how other social programs would be affected.
Traveling through Omicron? Canadians who test positive for COVID-19 abroad urge caution
‘Gone by 2040’: Why some religions in Canada are declining faster than ever
Nova Scotia discriminated against PWD, Court of Appeal rules
The landmark appeals court decision said the county government’s failure to provide people with disabilities with “meaningful” access to housing and care is reflected in long waiting lists. The court also said that the situation amounted to a violation of their basic rights.
The appeal was originally launched by the Disability Rights Coalition. During the hearing, her attorney Claire McNeil argued that mistreatment of people with disabilities includes placement in non-essential institutions, long waiting periods, and forced removals to remote areas of the county far from family and friends.
McNeill said in an email on Saturday that the coalition will soon present its arguments to the Supreme Court of Canada on why the decision was made.
“The solid basis for the Court of Appeals decision is that the county is disregarding its legislative obligations to persons with disabilities to provide social assistance benefits, while at the same time fulfilling the same legislative obligations to provide social assistance to non-disabled persons,” she wrote.
“Are there other programs where these two factors are also present: a legislative obligation that is ignored by the government and discriminatory treatment? We challenge the government to provide concrete examples of other benefits where these two factors are.”
She described the boycott argument as “a smokescreen that distracts us from finding a solution to the devastating effects of decades of systemic discrimination against persons with disabilities.”
The original human rights issue was launched by three people with intellectual disabilities who spent years confined to Emerald Hall Psychiatric Hospital despite medical opinions that could be accommodated in the community.
A Halifax woman with cerebral palsy finally got a place to call home, and she wants to help others do the same
The board decision ruled infringing on the individual rights of Joey Delaney, the late Beth McClain and the late Sheila Livingston, but it also ruled against the coalition’s separate claim that the system discriminated more broadly against people with disabilities.
The coalition appealed the board’s decision on systemic discrimination and won in the Court of Appeals.
The appeals court also upheld the results of the individual discrimination against the three, doubling the damages paid to Delaney from $100,000 to $200,000, while the compensation owed to McClain – who died in September – moved from $100,000 to $300,000.
The government notes in its application to the Supreme Court that it will not appeal the findings regarding McClain, Livingston and Delaney.
This report was first published by The Canadian Press on January 9, 2022.
© 2022 Canadian Press