Nova Scotia's top court has ruled there is evidence of systemic discrimination in a case involving three people with mental and physical disabilities who were housed at a Halifax-area psychiatric hospital, despite opinions from doctors that they could live in the community.
In March 2019, a human rights board of inquiry found the Nova Scotia government had discriminated against Beth MacLean, Sheila Livingstone and Joseph Delaney, who had each been held for years in a locked unit of the Nova Scotia Hospital.
But while the board found the three had suffered discrimination individually, it rejected arguments that placement in small options homes in the community, where residents are provided with care and support, is broadly applicable to people with disabilities.
In a decision released Wednesday, however, the Court of Appeal ruled there was evidence of systemic discrimination and increased the damage awards given to the individuals by the human rights board. It ordered that the complaint of systemic discrimination be put to a fresh hearing before a new board of inquiry.
The court found the board erred in its analysis of the complaint of systemic discrimination lodged by the Disability Rights Coalition, an alliance of disability advocacy groups and individuals.
Two of the individual complainants have died. Livingstone died in October 2016, more than two years after initiating her complaint. MacLean died on Sept. 24 at the Dartmouth General Hospital.
The court increased the damages awarded to $200,000 for Delaney and to $300,000 for MacLean, from an initial assessment of $100,000 each.
Because Livingstone died during the proceedings, the board had awarded $10,000 in damages each to her sister and niece.
The court noted that it would invite additional submissions from the parties involved on what impact, if any, MacLean's death would have on the damage award.
Reactions to ruling
The appeal was heard last year by justices Michael Wood, David Farrar and Cindy Bourgeois. The Disability Rights Coalition had appealed the board's dismissal of its allegation of systemic discrimination, while the province challenged the finding there had been individual discrimination.
The Disability Rights Coalition issued a news release Wednesday calling on the Nova Scotia government to "stop the fight against people with disabilities in court." It is asking the province to recognize the "inherent dignity and equality" of people with disabilities.
Describing the situation as a "human rights emergency," Vicky Levack, a member of the coalition, said in the release that people with disabilities are receiving fewer services and are being forced to relocate to get what services are available.
Vince Calderhead, the lawyer for the three complainants, said in the release: "The court has found that there is an ongoing and historic human rights violation taking place in Nova Scotia against people with disabilities."
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