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N.S. inquiry hears of slow pace of change to support to people with disabilities

The province and complainants made opening arguments last week in the potentially ground-breaking human rights case
(stock photo)

HALIFAX — An expert witness is testifying at a human rights inquiry today about the slow pace of change to the province's disabled housing system.

The inquiry is looking at whether two Nova Scotians with disabilities have the right to live in supported housing — meaning, in the community, rather than institutions and psychiatric facilities.

Michael Bach was hired by the province to help transform its system for people with disabilities about five years ago, and help close its remaining institutions.

He told the inquiry today that the province agreed in 2013 that people shouldn't have to live in institutions or psychiatric facilities if they were capable of living in the community with supports.

He said this came after numerous provincial reports calling for the shift, along with high-profile incidents of abuse in facilities.

Bach, who is also a researcher who advocates for people with disabilities, says government officials who sat on committees agreed that the system needed to be "transformed" towards an approach where people with disabilities — including those who also have mental health diagnoses — could live in the community.

The Nova Scotia government has said it may agree with the principle of providing supports, but it's not necessarily a human rights violation for the province to refuse funding or eliminate waiting lists.

Forty-five-year-old Joseph Delaney and 46-year-old Beth MacLean say they should be permitted to move from the hospital-like settings into small homes where assistance is provided in areas such as meals and personal care.

A third complainant, Sheila Livingstone, died as the case wound its way through various delays, but her story will be told by family members and the complainants' lawyer.

The Canadian Press

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