N.S. hearing delayed on housing for disabled people as province decides on exemption

·2 min read

HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia government must decide by July 11 whether it will try and exempt itself from a Court of Appeal ruling that stated the province had discriminated against people with disabilities who were seeking housing.

Donald Murray, chair of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission board of inquiry, set the deadline for government lawyer Kevin Kindred during a hearing Monday.

The Court of Appeal ruled last year that the government's failure to offer “meaningful'' access to housing for people with disabilities amounted to a violation of their basic rights. But under Section 6 of Nova Scotia's Human Rights Act, the province can exempt itself from that ruling if it can prove the discrimination is justified in a free and democratic society.

Kindred told the board of inquiry hearing the province would be willing to forgo the exemption if it is assured the government would be able to offer housing and services to people with disabilities in a pragmatic way regarding matters such as wait times and relocation.

“I almost would say we are eager to not have to put on a Section 6 case,” Kindred said. “It only makes sense that we move to the remedy stage as quickly as is pragmatic.”

For example, Kindred said, the province wouldn’t be able to offer housing to people within days of it being asked, nor would it be able to relocate people into areas where housing isn't available.

Claire McNeil, a lawyer for the Disability Rights Coalition of Nova Scotia — which launched the original case — said she didn’t see Kindred's concerns as a potential problem.

“Any kind of remedy is going to take into account those kinds of concerns and come up with a solution that is not going to ask the impossible or provide for something that can’t be implemented,” McNeil told the hearing.

The original human rights case was also launched by three people with intellectual disabilities who spent years confined in a Dartmouth, N.S., psychiatric hospital despite medical opinions stating they could be housed in the community.

Murray also set a hearing date of July 12, during which the board of inquiry and lawyers for the province and disability rights coalition are to discuss how to proceed with the case. Hearings are scheduled to take place Oct. 3.

However, McNeil said her legal team may not be ready by October to explore remedies to fix the system, adding that it will take time to line up experts and review what are expected to be volumes of financial records from the province.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2022.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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