N.S. families say law must stop criminalizing those with special needs

HALIFAX – Another Nova Scotia family is speaking out about what they say is the criminalization of those with special needs.

Amanda Murphy, a 34-year-old woman with bipolar disorder, is being sentenced Feb. 6 on assault charges brought by staff members at the Antigonish care facility where she lives.

Victor Murphy teared up as he spoke about his daughter’s encounters with the criminal justice system.

“She’s just a woman trapped in child’s body,” he said, explaining that she has the cognitive abilities of a child between the ages of five and eight.

“She’s being treated as a criminal, and quite honestly she can’t help what she does.”

Murphy’s case is extremely similar to that of Nichele Benn, a 26-year-old woman facing criminal charges after an incident at the Quest Regional Rehabilitation Centre where she lives.

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“My daughter’s situation is potentially this week in court, and Victor’s in a couple of weeks, so we’re very concerned that one or both of them could be incarcerated,” said Brenda Hardiman, Benn’s mother.

Both parents worry their children could soon be going down the same path Ashley Smith did. Smith was jailed for throwing apples at a mail man, and four years later she choked herself to death in an Ontario prison.

Cindy Carruthers, the co-ordinator of People First Nova Scotia, said when the justice system gets involved, it’s a sign of a disconnect in care.

“There should be more effective responses when someone loses control than to call the police,” she said.

The group is asking for a meeting with Peter MacKay,¬†Canada’s justice minister. They say the country’s laws need to change to stop the criminalization of those with special needs.

“They’re not your definition of a criminal, so we need to look at how our laws are laid out and how people with special needs are dealt with,” said Hardiman.

Demonstrations to support Nichele Been, Amanda Murphy and others like them will be held across Nova Scotia on Feb. 2. Locations and times are listed on their Facebook page.

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