The Chronicle Herald (Metro)

Right this grievous wrong

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You’d excuse Beth MacLean if she was a little skeptical about the provincial government.

After all, she’s been stuck in various units of the Nova Scotia Hospital for 19 years, an institutio­n just about everyone who knows her says she doesn’t belong in, and has had to fight for years against the government to just get that fact acknowledg­ed.

MacLean and two others, Joseph Delaney and Sheila Livingston­e, won their case against the province in March, when the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission found that they were discrimina­ted against in their pleas for placement in small group homes.

Those pleas fell on deaf ears and all three were left in a locked-down facility that was not designed for them. Their situation amounted to forced confinemen­t, akin to a jail sentence.

As a result, they became institutio­nalized, the board of inquiry found, and lost any opportunit­y for something approachin­g a normal life.

Delaney and MacLean were prime candidates for small options homes for those with mental disabiliti­es. Livingston­e, who had multiple health problems and died while the case was being argued, could have been housed in a nursing home.

Board chair Walter Thompson’s scathing decision left no doubt about where he felt the blame for their situation lay: a provincial government that had ignored the trio’s well-founded pleas and deliberate­ly left them where they were.

“The province met their pleas with an indifferen­ce that really, after time, becomes contempt,” Thompson said in his decision.

Now, their lawyer, Vince Calderhead, is arguing before the board that the province should compensate them. The province is offering $50,000, a paltry sum considerin­g how many years it’s taken to get to this point.

Calderhead says the amount should be many times that figure. The problem is there is no precedent for this case, other than the many instances of wrongful criminal conviction­s, such as Donald Marshall or Glen Assoun.

As Dalhousie law professor Wayne MacKay told the Herald’s Andrew Rankin in Monday’s paper, Thompson, who is hearing the remedy phase of the case, “has to do some creative thinking” on how to quantify the remedy.

But the larger issue remains unaddresse­d. The province has a duty of care for those with mental disabiliti­es. They should be properly housed, not dumped — and forgotten — in institutio­ns.

The Liberal government promised to address this shortcomin­g after they were elected in 2013, with a 10-year plan outlined in a 66-page report. Now, six years later, hundreds are still waiting in nursing homes and other institutio­ns for spots in small-options homes.

A spokesman for Premier Stephen McNeil said the government is still working on the plan, and didn’t want to comment while the board is considerin­g the case.

It’s difficult and expensive to build and staff enough small-options homes to satisfy this need, for sure. But this case highlights a grievous wrong done to some of society’s most vulnerable members.

The government knows what should be done. They should just do it.

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