This article was originally posted on the website of the James McGregor Stewart Society. Re-posted with permission.
KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – This is an especially tragic moment in Nova Scotia history, where there are plenty of tragedies to go around. How does the murder of 22 people compare with the expulsion of the Acadians, the genocide of first people or ecocide at Boat Harbour?
By such standards, the moral error committed by J. Walter Thompson, Q.C. might seem small. Except that it was committed in the name of human rights.
In his Human Rights Board of Inquiry decision in March 2019 he found “Joey Delaney (one of the complainants) is so disabled that payment to him of a very large sum will not have a greater impact on his life than a moderate sum.”
Here is a terrific letter by Lois E. Miller, published in the Herald December 12, on the same subject.
The Human Rights Commission has lost its way and its moral authority
The chair of the NS Human Rights Board of Inquiry, having found that three persons have been discriminated against, one for 19 years, “on account of physical disability or mental disability”, has now limited their compensation because of those same disabilities.
Following an extensive inquiry, chair J. Walter Thompson ruled last March that our province had discriminated against three complainants by subjecting them to years of “soul-destroying” institutionalization (Mr. Thompson’s words) at the Nova Scotia Hospital, a setting medical professionals had agreed was inappropriate for them. Two of the complainants survive, Beth MacLean and Joey Delaney. The third complainant, Sheila Livingstone, has died.
In his second written decision of Dec. 4, the chair awarded compensation to Ms. MacLean and Mr. Delaney. Once legal costs have been paid, each will receive $100,000 in trust.
It looks to me that the chair has based his decision on the amount of compensation on those physical and mental disabilities which were the basis of the original discrimination. Mr. Thompson declares that, as it will be difficult for these complainants to receive “substitute comforts and pleasures” from any compensation, a “measured” level of compensation is sufficient. (I describe his award instead as “modest.”) Mr. Thompson asks rhetorically, “What, besides seeing them safe, clean, warm, fed, clothed and healthy in a home, can one reasonably ask for them?”
The complainants and their supporters may well reply that they can “reasonably ask” to be able to participate fully in the life of the community from which they have long been excluded. After all, they were “safe, clean, warm, fed and clothed,” if not truly healthy, in the Nova Scotia Hospital. Yet they endured a lengthy process in order to get out
Beth MacLean herself has outlined what she wants to ask for. Mr. Thompson included her list of needs in his first written decision in March. Her list includes these needs which I’ve shortened: support for daily living; 24-hour supervision; a carefully-planned transition to the community; ongoing support in learning how to live in the community, travel and shop; and ongoing support to engage in recreational activities and hobbies that are meaningful to [her].
That looks to me like a reasonable list to ask for. During my years of working in the Nova Scotia disability community, I learned that people with disabilities share many life goals with their able-bodied neighbours. They want to live independently in the community, engaging as family members and friends, as workers and learners, and as volunteers and participants in, as Ms. MacLean says, “recreational activities and hobbies that are meaningful.”
Just hours before writing this article, I attended a gala dinner-dance hosted by Independent Living Nova Scotia. At this annual event, persons with diverse abilities and disabilities enjoy an evening with fine food and entertainment, including the evening’s highlight: the dance. Everyone is included. I spoke with a man who uses a wheelchair and does not speak. He was joking and laughing with friends at his table before he left to twirl on the dance floor. I am sure that’s the kind of meaningful recreational activity Ms. MacLean and Mr. Delaney might want to put in their calendars for next year.
Trustees will be appointed to manage the compensation awards. Having served in similar roles in the past, I can imagine what I might do if I were a trustee appointed to manage one of the awards. I would immediately explore options that could enhance the person’s participation in the community. With sufficient funds, I could hire attendants to provide one-on-one support for independent living skills development, and for social and recreational activities that the person finds enjoyable and stimulating. I could also set up a Registered Disability Savings Plan to build a nest egg to cover additional support costs as the person gets older.
The current awards are pitifully inadequate to provide reasonable supports like these so that the complainants can enjoy good lives in the community, this year and in the future. They have a lot of missed experiences to make up.
Lois E. Miller
Just for interest, let’s estimate what the province spent to arrive at this decision. In Public Accounts Volume 3 — Supplementary Information For the fiscal year ended March 31, 20xx, the following payments are listed under the Human Rights Commission:
- (2019) Walter Thompson Law …….42,299.01
- (2018) Walter Thompson Law …….18,391.22
and under the Department of Justice
- (2018) Walter Thompson Law ……..58,520.96
- (2019) Walter Thompson Law ……..51,160.78
for a total of $170,371.97
Unless I miss my guess, the first $60,690.23 went for the 32 day discrimination hearing (not including another 3 days for the remedy), and Walter received another $109,000 from the DOJ for some other work. A very conservative estimate for the discrimination hearing might be:
|For 32 days of hearings February 2018 to March 2019|
|Thompson||$60,690||includes written decision|
|Complainant Lawyer (2)||$31,232||$61/hr * 256 hrs|
|Respondent Lawyer (2)||$31,232||$61/hr * 256 hrs|
|Commission Lawyer (2)||$31,232||$61/hr * 256 hrs|
Such is the cost of defending the indefensible.
I’m baffled as to why the province can’t admit it made a mistake. They’re caught in the act, yet they make a huge and expensive pretense of an inquiry. They aren’t embarrassed or ashamed. They should be. And you taxpayers foot the bill.
I’m confused about why Thompson imagines Joey only needs $100 grand for the rest of his life. All those expenses Lois enumerates, a trip to Disney, a medical consult in Vancouver, a computer that supports the latest AI technology, home safety. It all adds up.
Joey was doing well in his Dartmouth group home as attested by his sister. “The home was warm and inviting. Joey knew that this was his home, and he felt comfortable there. Joey would be doing his own little thing. One could relax, have a cup of coffee and be with Joey. He would play with puzzles, and phone books. He would roam around and grab a puzzle, or get his shoes if he wanted to go out. Joey did not come home overnights, but the family would take him out for the day. Joey also had a little job with the Dartmouth Adult Services Centre, in Burnside, doing something with plastics which lasted until his admission to Emerald Hall. He came and went from Skeen Street by bus accompanied by staff.”
Emerald Hall, Ms Delaney said, was not a nice place to be, nor a nice place to visit him.
$100 grand? An act of discrimination. Brought on by government, minimized by Thompson, condoned by the Human Rights Commission.
What a waste.
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