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Latest abuse case renews concerns about institutionalized living

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Earlier this week Gerard Kevin Leblanc, a care giver at the Breton Ability Centre in Sydney, was found guilty of assaulting a resident in the large institution.

A story in the Cape Breton Post describes how in September 2014 the 62-year old worker accused the the resident of pulling a fire alarm. Leblanc next struck the resident several times on the shoulder and arm before slapping him across the face.

Leblanc denies the incident, saying he merely used his hand to direct the resident to his room. The defense concedes that the assault was not an attempt to injure.

The 22-year old victim was deemed not able to testify. It is unlikely that the incident would have come to light if it weren’t for a co-worker, who witnessed the attack and reported what she considered disrespectful behaviour.

For many the episode raises the question what would have happened if the co-worker had not witnessed the abuse and decided to report it.

Cindy Carruthers is a coordinator with People First Nova Scotia, a self-advocacy group for people labelled with developmental disabilities. She believes that in terms of abuse community living is much safer than being institutionalized.

“The chances of anybody finding out about an abuse case are much higher when the victim lives  in the community,” Carruthers says. “People would see things, and there’d be more places where people can talk. They’d go to church, that kind of thing.”

The Breton Ability Centre is one of the largest institutions for people labelled as living with developmental disabilities in Nova Scotia. About 115 people reside at the Centre.

Like similar institutions in other parts of Nova Scotia residents frequently fall victim to abuse.

The Breton Ability Centre’s licence was suspended because of of physical abuse of a 20-year-old resident that occurred in 2010.  Management says that things have much improved since then.

Nonetheless, the response to a Freedom of Information response we submitted last year to the Department of Community Services  revealed the occurrence of 10 proven cases of abuse at the Breton Centre in the last three years.

That means roughly 10% of the Breton Ability Centre residents were victimized in a mere three years.

Most cases involved abuse, including sexual abuse, between residents that staff were unable to prevent. One case, in 2013, involved a failure by staff to provide adequate care.

Calvin Wood, a resident of Windsor, Nova Scotia, and First Vice President (Nova Scotia) of People First Canada, is bothered by the case.

“This story shows why these large institutions should be closed,” Wood tells the Halifax Media Co-op. “But even more importantly, the proper supports need to be in place for people to live in their own community.”

“Nova Scotia has more large institutions than anywhere else in Canada,” says Wood,” everywhere else they closed them down.”

The Cape Breton Post reports that Leblanc was suspended from duties when the incident was first reported.

“Leblanc may well have abused other people, who also cannot speak for themselves,” says Brenda Hardiman, co-founder of Advocating Parents Nova Scotia. “Community Services and the (Breton Ability) Centre need to conduct an investigation.”

“It illustrates the need to escalate the plan to close down these institutions,” says Hardiman. “How many more cases of abuse does the government need to hear about before it takes action?”  

Heather Fairbairn, spokesperson for the Department of Community Services emailed the following response to our inquiry.

“We all want Nova Scotians in care facilities to be protected and to receive the care they deserve. As a department, we will not tolerate the mistreatment of our most vulnerable citizens. Any complaints, whether against staff or among residents, are thoroughly investigated and when appropriate referred to the police and the individuals charged,” Fairbairn writes..  

“While we cannot speak to the specifics of this case, directives are issued to administrators when matters are identified that must be addressed. We then monitor their progress to ensure that any directives issued are being implemented.”

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