Mother of special needs woman meets with premier to push for change

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‘It was a little bit disappointing in the outcome'

TRURO - A face-to-face meeting with Premier Stephen McNeil did not result in the outcome that Brenda Hardiman had hoped for regarding her daughter and other special needs individuals.

Brenda Hardiman

"Nobody led me to believe that I should be expecting anything but we were kind of hoping for a little bit more direction of where he might go with things," Hardiman said, following her meeting with the premier on Friday.

"It was a little bit disappointing in the outcome."

Hardiman's 26-year-old daughter Nichele Benn has intellectual disabilities that have left her with the mental capacity of a 12-year-old. Those disabilities sometimes also lead to behavioural issues and Benn is currently facing assault and aggravated assault charges for alleged incidents that occurred at the adult support and rehabilitation facility where she lives in Lower Sackville.

Hardiman, of Bible Hill, has been fighting to have the system changed so that special needs individuals such as her daughter do not have to face criminal charges or penalties for behavioural issues they cannot control.

Her meeting with McNeil was to try to impress upon him the need to make legislative changes to protect such individuals from being dealt with through the criminal justice system.

"I was impressed with his empathy, he seemed to be very concerned with Nichele's situation. But from an action perspective, I didn't get a lot of that," Hardiman said.

"The premier did not commit to anything specific regarding undertakings other than the Department of Community Services will get back in touch with me regarding Nichele's housing."

Hardiman would like to see her daughter returned to a more community-minded living setting, instead of being housed in an institution where staff get to determine whether they want to press criminal charges when an individual experiences a behavioural outburst.

"We hope Nichele's living situation will change and she will return to living in the community," she said. "Nichele still has to face her current charges and we continue to believe that this is fundamentally wrong for her and that she does not belong in the criminal justice system."

Hardiman said she understands the premier cannot become directly involved in attempting to change policy within a given department based on a specific case. But she said she asked him to consider looking at how other provinces are dealing with the issue so that overall changes might be considered for Nova Scotia's system.

"I was hoping that he might look at it from a global perspective. That this is a bigger picture, it's not just Nichele, and maybe check with other provinces to see how they deal with this," she said. "Other provinces are more successful in the way that they manage people with special needs, so our province can learn from others' mistakes and successes."

But while things didn't turn out quite as she had wished, Hardiman said she will continue to push for change.

"We're still hoping this government is going to take a stronger position in this and shake up the departments of community service, justice and health and see what they can do to improve where they are lacking and caring for people with special needs," she said. "But we haven't seen a whole lot of that."



Organizations: Community Services

Geographic location: Lower Sackville, Bible Hill, Nova Scotia

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