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National groups to join human rights legal fight on behalf of people with intellectual disabilities

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A little bit of good news for anybody wants people labelled as living with intellectual disabilities to have better access to community-based housing options.

Lawyers Vince Calderhead and Claire McNeil, Barb Horner of the Disability Rights Coalition, and Katrin MacPhee, a member of the legal team.

This morning the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal allowed three national organizations that advocate on behalf of people with disabilities to join an appeal of a human rights Board of Inquiry decision made earlier this year.

These organizations are the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL), and People First Canada,

The Appeal Courts judge also told the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission (NSHRC) to speed up the creation of transcripts of the tribunal, so that the actual appeal will not be delayed.

The appeal was launched by the Disability Rights Coalition, a group consisting of  People First Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living (NSACL), and individuals.

The advocacy groups want to appeal a Human Rights Board of Inquiry decision delivered in early March by board chair Walter Thompson.

Thompson found that three individual complainants were indeed discriminated against by the government, but that people with intellectual disabilities face no systemic discrimination by the province in terms of housing. Institutionalization in-and-of-itself is not discrimination, Thompson stated in his decision.

See also: NS Human Rights Board ruling of discrimination in warehousing case disappointing

Many hundreds of Nova Scotians with intellectual disabilities are either institutionalized against their will or are on lengthy wait lists for supported living accommodations in the community. Many of those citizens, as well as their loved ones and allies, consider Thompson’s ruling both flawed and dangerous because of its broad implications.

After all, the absence of systemic discrimination implies that individuals have no choice but to launch their own human rights complaint if they want their issues addressed.

As well, when systemic causes are ignored you cannot make a human rights-based argument that policies, practices and systemic attitudes must be changed.

This is also why the three national organizations want to join in the appeal.

“We are deeply concerned about the decision and its national implications in terms of the systemic discrimination analysis,” said Byron Williams, arguing on behalf of the three national organizations.

Human Rights lawyers Claire McNeil and Vince Calderhead expressed concern that the NSHRC could not deliver the necessary transcripts of the inquiry until September 2020, causing the appeal to be delayed until sometime after that date.

NSHRC lawyer Kendrick Douglas explained that the process could maybe be accelerated to May 2020, but that would drive up the cost from its current $35,000 to $50,000.

That response did not satisfy the court, and Douglas was told to provide the court with a better timetable than that in another month.

The Disability Rights Coalition has a Facebook page, and a brand new website with lots of information on the human rights case and other issues.

See also: Ableism and austerity behind Nova Scotia’s shortage of community living options, human rights inquiry told

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