KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A Human Rights complaint against the Department of Community Services (DCS) has suffered delay after delay, and a group involved in the case believes the department is dragging its feet.
Several people who are institutionalized at Emerald Hall, a locked psychiatric ward in the Nova Scotia Hospital, filed the human rights complaint in August of 2014. The residents are labelled as living with developmental disabilities.They want to live in a community-supported environment.
There is no medical or legal need for the individuals to be at Emerald Hall. What’s stopping them from living in the community is a lack of support from Community Services, and the Province altogether.
I want to live in a home, on a street in a neighborhood and to live a normal life
“I don’t want to live at Emerald Hall. I want to live in a home, on a street in a neighborhood and to live a normal life,” wrote one of the complainants at the time. “I have been unable to properly develop or to receive an education. I have been deprived of the chance to work and do other things in the community.”
What the residents who filed the complaint want is a small (2-3 person) living situation in a home in the community, with support staff as required. They argue that they are being discriminated against because of their disabilities, since able-bodied people on income assistance do receive shelter support from DCS.
The Disability Rights Coalition, a group of individuals and organizations who oppose institutionalization and favour community living, joined in the human rights complaint. In a recent news release the group argues things are moving too slow. It points to Community Services as the reason.
Since Walter Thompson was appointed as chair of the Board of Inquiry in June 2015 Community Services has objected at every step to disclosure requests. DCS has also argued that the Chair should withdraw because of bias, only to see that complaint dismissed in February 2017.
“Instead of recognizing that people’s lives are at stake, they tried every objection they could come up with,” says Marty Wexler, a member of the Disability Rights Coalition. “We started in 2014, and here we are in 2017. And we still don’t have the hearing date.”
Not so, says Community Services, without addressing specifics.
“It would not be appropriate to comment on the human rights process while it is still underway,” writes Heather Fairbairn, spokesperson for the department. “The department continues to provide the requested information and documents. We remain committed to offering the human rights board of inquiry our full cooperation.”
Wexler points to the results of a survey among parents and loved ones of people with developmental disabilities to argue that earlier government commitments to move residents out of large institutions into community-supported environments have not been met.
“We could cut the wait list in half in the span of a year”
“We closed institutions before, and the same goes for other jurisdictions, so it’s not as if we don’t have the skill sets,” says Wexler. “But the department is not accessing people who have been setting up community supports over the last 20 years.”
Wexler for example was involved in the closing of a large institution in the Annapolis Valley in 1978.
“My role was to go around the province and bring the kids back to their communities. In some areas I would meet with the families, and they would say, are you telling us that what we did was wrong when we placed our kid in the facility,” Wexler says. “And I would say no, those were your options at the time, but now we know better how to provide for people in the community.”
Lately bureaucrats in the department have argued that community living solutions aren’t for everybody, some people like where they are, and who are we to decide for them?
Wexler agrees, but also believes that such decisions need to be truly informed decisions. He remembers visiting somebody shortly after her move away from an institution into a community setting.
“I remember asking her, what are you doing, all you do is sit and stare out of your window? And she would say, it is just so nice to look outside and see children playing in the street.”
“So until you give people the option and show them that there is something different, it is really difficult to say this decision is based on an informed choice.“
Like many others Wexler is critical of the pace of the implementation of the so-called Roadmap Report, a report that contains government commitments that large institutions will be phased out, and care and funding will become more tailored to individuals. Community Services also promised to be more open and inclusive in its planning and policy making.
But the government isn’t doing enough. New funding in the current budget will increase the capacity in small option homes by only 12 to 16 beds, while the flex program supporting those who have insufficient, family or community support may assist another 25 individuals, critics say.
Meanwhile waiting lists have grown in the past year from about 1,100 to 1,341.
“We have closed institutions before, and we have built capacity, we have provided the necessary services,” says Wexler. If government were truly committed we could cut the wait list in half in the span of a year. It’s just a matter of political will and money.”
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