Human rights complaint filed on behalf of people with disabilities

HALIFAX – A complaint has been filed with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission alleging the province has failed to provide adequate community-based housing for people with mental disabilities.

The complainants, including advocates and family members, made the announcement Monday at the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service office.

“This is an awareness campaign. We want people to know that this is going on and we want people to say to the government, ‘Do something about it,'” said Donna Franey, Executive Director of Dalhousie Legal Aid Service.

Sheila Livingstone’s niece spoke out about the struggles her 67-year-old aunt has faced.

“She’s older now. She needs to be in an environment that’s suited for her age, her health and her condition,” said her niece Jackie McCabe-Sieliakus.

Livingstone was living at the Emerald Hall unit of the Nova Scotia Hospital up until last month. Her family felt the psychiatric hospital was not appropriate for Livingstone, and described incidents when she was allegedly hurt by other patients.

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“Being in there with people who are more severe than you and are hitting you and you don’t have any private space is just wrong. The government needs to go in and look at these places and assess them and see who needs to be there and who doesn’t need to be there,” McCabe-Sieliakus said.

Livingstone’s family wanted to move out of an institutional setting, but found a lack of community-based resources. They finally agreed to transfer her to an adult residential centre in Yarmouth, which is a five-hour drive from their home in Truro.

The human rights complaint was filed last Friday. The province’s Department of Community Services has yet to receive a copy.

The minister, Joanne Bernard, admits the province has one of the highest rates of institutionalization. She adds, however, work is being done to change that.

Last summer, the province adopted a plan to overhaul the system and let families choose living situations.

“That transformation can take upwards to a decade. It took us many decades to get to the point where we’re in today. We want to do this right,” Joanne Bernard said. “This transcends politics. It’s the right policy thing to do and we want to make sure it’s sustainable.”

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