Dozens turn out for peaceful protest for those with special needs

Raissa Tetanish
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Published on January 05, 2014

Heather Robertson, centre, holds up a poster featuring her granddaughter Nichele Benn just prior to leaving the Superstore parking lot in Truro to head to the Colchester RCMP detachment yesterday on a peaceful protest. Some of those gathering for the protest, which was against the criminalization of those with special needs, included (from left) Mary Hart, Cheek Totten, Robertson, Jeannie Whidden and Cathy Johnson, both from the Truro chapter of People First Nova Scotia.

Published on January 05, 2014

Two dozen supporters lined the sidewalk in front of the Colchester RCMP detachment yesterday for a peaceful demonstration against the criminalization of people with special needs. Many of those participating are friends with the family of Nichele Benn, a 26-year-old with various intellectual and physical disabilities that was scheduled for fingerprinting at the same time at the Lower Sackville RCMP detachment. 

Published on January 05, 2014

Peaceful protesters showed off their signs and got honks from many passing motorists along Pictou Road yesterday. The protest was just one of several in the province held simultaneously against the criminalization of people with special needs. 

BIBLE HILL – Two dozen men and women lined the snow-covered sidewalk in front of the Colchester RCMP detachment yesterday in a show of solidarity for those living with special needs.

“I’m here to support Nichele,” said Mary Hart, about Nichele Benn who the peaceful demonstration that began in Truro, as well as other parts of the province simultaneously, had in mind. “I can’t understand how the authorities feel it’s proper to get involved in the justice system when they’re not prepared to deal with her.

“She’s a child. You can’t punish someone who is sick.”

Benn, 26, suffers from various intellectual and physical disabilities that sometimes lead to behavioural issues. She lives in an adult support and rehabilitation facility in Lower Sackville and has previously been convicted, sentenced to probation, ordered to perform community service and forced to provide a DNA sample, despite the fact she has the mental capacity of a 12-year-old.

She was scheduled for fingerprinting at the Lower Sackville RCMP detachment during the same time as the demonstrations were being held throughout the province.

“Nichele needs help, not a criminal record,” said her grandmother, Heather Robertson, while gathered at the Superstore parking lot before the procession made its way to the Pictou Road detachment. “It’s ridiculous.”

Benn’s mother, Brenda Hardiman of Bible Hill, is worried her daughter will face the same fate as Ashley Smith, a 19-year-old who died six years ago after strangling herself inside a jail cell in Ontario. Guards failed to move quickly enough in removing a ligature Smith had tied around her neck because of orders from senior management not to intervene as long as she was still breathing. An inquest into Smith’s death ruled the matter a homicide, not a suicide.

“That’s the purpose behind it,” Hardiman said in an interview just prior to Sunday’s demonstrations. “To draw attention to how people with special needs are being criminalized. Not just Nichele, it’s a provincial issue.”

Cheek Totten attended the Truro demonstration to gain the knowledge on not just Benn’s matter, but in general.

“I wanted to know that it’s going on, and it’s just wrong,” she said.

Cathy Johnson, with the Truro chapter of People First Nova Scotia, said the demonstration was for anyone with an intellectual disability that is being wrongfully charged.

“Because of Nichele’s intellectual disabilities, the authorities need to understand there has to be a different protocol. There can’t be criminal charges,” she said.

During the demonstration, 10 vehicles of participants travelled to the Pictou Road detachment, where more supporters met them. They all gathered with posters and waved them at passing motorists.

Some featured pictures of Benn and Smith with the words, ‘Help Nichele Benn. Have we learned nothing from Ashley Smith?’ while others simply stated, ‘It’s a health issue, not a criminal issue.’

 

rtetanish@trurodaily.com

Twitter: @TDNRaissa

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  • allan kelly
    January 05, 2014 - 15:11

    This may be why the NCR revamp by the Tories may need a revamp itself...