Provincial Profile: Nova Scotia

Everybody wants a home.

The human rights crisis in Nova Scotia is alarming.

Many of us take for granted that we will be able to make our own decisions on where we will live, who we will live with, and what we can do in our own homes. For adults with disabilities in Nova Scotia who need support to accomplish daily activities, this is too often not the case. However, independent living and being included in the community is not an extravagance or a luxury. It is a basic human right, and is protected by Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Our government is legally obligated to provide supports and services to allow people with disabilities to access their right to live in the community.

— UN CRPD, Article 19

Nova Scotia is failing at this.

In 2013, the government of Nova Scotia accepted the recommendations outlined in Choice, Equality and Good Lives in Inclusive Communities: A Roadmap for Transforming the Nova Scotia Servicers to Persons with Disabilities Program and committed to implementing the plan within ten years. This document outlined a clear path to closing institutions and ensuring that adults with disabilities have the supports necessary to live and participate in their communities.

But here we are, eight years later, and what has been accomplished?

We still have over 500 people institutionalized. We have over 1,500 adults living at home with their parents, languishing on a waitlist for a suitable home.1 When placements come available, the typical process is that someone on the waitlist gets a call to say a bed is available, and they are often given only 24 hours to respond if they want to accept it. As a result, there is usually no time to view the home or meet the other residents. The placement could also be in another area of the province. This means people have to move far away from their friends and family to accept the placement This is a difficult decision for families and often leaves people feeling isolated and lonely. The placement may be in another area of the province, away from family and friends. This is our reality in Nova Scotia.

As this housing program report from 2020 shows, large provincial facilities cost more tax payer dollars ($252,000+ per person) than individualized funding ($18,500 per person).

This timeline depicts the journey of institutionalization from 1916 to the present day.

Life In Nova Scotia M3.V4

In this video you will hear from the People First Nova Scotia executive team about what is happening in the province today.

A map of institutions in Nova Scotia.

On April 4, 2019, Premier Stephen McNeil met Donnie MacLean to accept a letter, signed by individuals and groups representing over 100,000 Nova Scotians calling on the government to address the waitlists and housing needs of people in the province.


“The Human Rights Crisis In Nova Scotia”

The Nova Scotia Disability Rights Coalition

“Suffice it to say now, however, that I cannot imagine how frustrating and even soul destroying it must have been for Ms. MacLean to live in hope and to have those hopes dashed day by day. I cannot imagine how frustrating it must have been for the good and faithful servants of the Province, all dedicated to Ms. MacLean’s welfare, to have their opinions and advice ignored in 2002 and for the next 13 or 14 years. The Province met their pleas with an indifference that really, after time, becomes contempt.”

— J. Walter Thompson, QC2

Nova Scotia has a long and shameful history of institutionalizing people with intellectual disabilities. There has been limited action on behalf of the provincial government to make changes and, as a result, there is a human rights crisis happening in Nova Scotia right now.

On Aug. 1, 2014, three people who had been institutionalized in Nova Scotia decided they had enough. They joined together and filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. These three people had been discriminated against, and mistreated since they were children.

In 1981, when Beth MacLean was 10 years old, her parents were told she was no longer welcome in the public school system. Between 1983 and 1986, Beth was bounced around between various institutions, until she was moved into the Kings Residential Rehabilitation Centre. Beth remained there for almost 15 years. In October 2000, Beth was moved to a psychiatric hospital. At the time, a commitment was made to provide her with housing in her community within one year. When the human rights complaint was filed in 2014, she was still living in this hospital. Beth remained institutionalized for another 14 years.3

Sheila Livingstone was moved into the same psychiatric hospital in 2004, to stabilize her mental health condition. She had been successfully living in supported housing in her community prior to this. When her condition was stabilized, and she was ready to move back into the community, Sheila was told her previous residential care provider no longer had a space available for her. She remained in the hospital for the next nine years, even though she didn’t require medical or psychiatric intervention during this time. Over those nine years, Sheila experienced multiple assaults at the hands of other patients. In 2014, she was moved to an institution in another part of the province, where it was difficult for her family members to visit because of the distance from their home to the hospital.4

Joseph Delaney entered the same hospital in 2009, after having an adverse reaction to medication. Because of a change in his care needs, his previous residential care provider could no longer care for Joseph. As a result, Joseph had no home to return to. In 2010, he was medically discharged, but with nowhere to go he remained in the hospital while awaiting a placement.5

The complaint finally came before a board of inquiry in February 2018, and in March 2019 the commission ruled that the three individuals had suffered discrimination. Sheila Livingstone never had the opportunity to appreciate this ruling. She passed away in 2016.

Later that year, a decision on compensation was released. Despite the recognition of how “frustrating and even soul-destroying it must have been,”6 the commission awarded each of the surviving complainants $100,000 in compensation for their years of suffering and discrimination. However, the commission stated that, “Joey Delaney 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. Beth MacLean does have capacity, but the potential benefit to her of a very large damage award is limited.”7

Ultimately, the commission discriminated against them again, suggesting that their disabilities rendered them incapable of deriving the same benefit from a financial award that a person not living with disability would.

Although the commission did find that these three complainants had faced discrimination, it failed to recognize that the discrimination is systemic. Systemic discrimination is happening daily to many other Nova Scotians living with disabilities.

The ruling state: “Each disabled person’s circumstances must, in my opinion, be assessed individually and then a decision made.”8 But it has taken over seven years to conduct an examination of the circumstances of three individuals. As of April 2021, it was still not complete. The province has appealed the award of damages, and Nova Scotians are still awaiting the results of this appeal.

There are over 500 people who are still institutionalized in Nova Scotia. It is unrealistic to suggest that each person’s case should be examined individually to identify discrimination. It would take decades!

One of the complainants in this case didn’t live to see the results, and many of those currently institutionalized would suffer the same fate if they are made to wait for all these cases to be reviewed individually.

 Questions to think about:

  1. What has shocked you the most from learning about Nova Scotia’s institutions?
  2. What questions do you still have?
  3. What human rights have people been robbed of in Nova Scotia?