Nova Scotia

N.S. progress report undermined by blown deadline, says disability rights advocate

A disability rights advocate is raising questions about the Nova Scotia government’s assertion Monday that it is making substantial progress in implementing a five-year plan to ensure people with disabilities receive better support.

Vicky Levack, who sits on the board of the Disability Rights Coalition, said the government’s one-year progress report shows it is moving in the right direction, but she said the province can’t ignore the fact it failed to reach a key deadline earlier this year.

Under the five-year plan approved last June, the province agreed to stop admitting disabled people into large institutions as of March 31 of this year, but the government recently confirmed the deadline had been extended to Jan. 1, 2025.

Levack said that failure has cast a shadow over the government’s other accomplishments.

“They did meet some goals and we have to praise them for that,” Levack said in an interview after the progress report was released.

“But I think they’re patting themselves on the back a little too hard …. If they moved the date once, they can move it again. That is a fear we have …. If you want to get people out of institutions, you have to stop filling the institutions.”

Provincial officials have said additional time is needed to hire staff to support people with disabilities in their new homes and to adjust the funding model so money is tied to the individual person and not the facility where they’re living.

The plan is the result of a legal battle that started in 2014 when three people with intellectual disabilities came forward to say it was wrong for them to be kept in a Halifax psychiatric hospital for years, despite medical opinions that they could live in the community with appropriate supports.

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In October 2021, Nova Scotia’s highest court decided there was systemic discrimination in the province against people with disabilities seeking services and housing in the community.

In that landmark decision, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal sided with the Disability Rights Coalition, saying the province’s failure to offer people with disabilities “meaningful” access to housing and care in the community amounted to a violation of their basic rights.

In June 2023, a Nova Scotia human rights board of inquiry approved the province’s five-year plan.

On Monday, Community Services Minister Brendan Maguire said the plan represents “generational change” for people with disabilities. He said the plan included 90 “targets” for the first year, which the province has either met or made substantial progress on reaching.

Nova Scotia Community Services Minister Brendan Maguire spoke to reporters on Monday, June 3, 2024. (CBC)

“It’s a fundamental rethinking of what we do and how we do it,” Maguire told a news conference in Halifax. “We are turning the system inside out, and building in its place one that not only rights historical wrongs, but also supports Nova Scotians with disabilities to build a life of their choosing, in a community of their choosing.”

Among other things, the minister said 304 disabled people have been added to an independent-living program, and another 144 people have been moved from institutions to community housing with the help of a new transition program.

Levack applauded those moves.

“They did do a good job on that,” she said. “Anyone who’s no longer in an institutional setting, that is a win.”

On another front, the government has introduced a new disability support benefit for people on income assistance, which provides an additional $300 per month.

As well, the waitlist for Nova Scotians seeking government programs has been reduced by 13.3 per cent during the past year, the minister said.

To help with these changes, Maguire’s department has added 120 full-time positions to support the work being done.

“We understand the urgency and we are moving fast,” Maguire said. “[But] it’s going to take some time to get to everyone …. It’s a lot to get done in five years, but we have to do this.”

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