Windsor residents participate in Freedom Tour movement

Ashley Thompson
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Leta Jarvis spent most of her teen years under constant surveillance.

The 63-year-old vividly remembers feeling trapped in a place where she was misunderstood, mistreated and miserable during her days as a resident of a youth training centre in Truro from ages 11 to 18.

“They watched every move you make,” said Jarvis, who recalls seeking permission to go outside for a walk.

Name-calling and physical abuse was commonplace in the institution said Jarvis, who was labeled a slow learner. She never felt she belonged.

“I didn’t think I had anybody that loved me.”

She wanted to be out in the community. She wanted to meet friends her own age, and find her way in the world.

“I just wanted everybody to give me a chance,” she said.

Now she’s fighting for others to have that chance.

Jarvis, a Windsor resident who has spent most of her adult life living in the community with the help of support programs, is a strong advocate for people labeled with intellectual disabilities as a member of the Windsor People First Society.

She recently shared her personal story in a film that takes an in-depth look at the institutionalization of people with intellectual disabilities in Nova Scotia.

“I’m against it really because I’ve been there; I know what’s going on,” said Jarvis.

The film, dubbed The Freedom Tour, was created by People First Nova Scotia and Flow Productions with help from People First of Canada and the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living. It aims to raise awareness of the civil rights of people with intellectual disabilities.

The Freedom Tour touches on the fact that although Youth Training Centres were closed in 1996, there is still a need for additional housing, employment and social services options for people with intellectual disabilities.

Institutions, Jarvis stressed, are not the answer. She’d rather see people requiring additional support living in a group home setting.  

“I think they need people like us to go into institutions and talk to them and tell them our stories,” she said.

A province-wide bike tour promoting the Freedom Tour film that features a testimony from Jarvis recently reached Windsor. Money raised through sales of the film will be used to launch a civil rights education program.

The local People First group, including the film’s narrator Calvin Wood, hosted a film screening celebration at the Hants County War Memorial Community Centre this month.

Wood, a Windsor resident with experience serving as an executive for the local, provincial and federal People First branches, agrees that individuals should not be spending the rest of their days in institutions, but he doesn’t want to see people lose their support systems entirely.

“Closing them down is one thing but they have to make sure they’re adding the right support too,” he said, noting that not everyone has family members to turn to for help.

“I think it would be really scary if I didn’t have any support.”

Bottom line, Wood said a solid plan must be in place to ensure there is a smooth transition.

“I’d like to see them all closed down but in the right way.”


Organizations: Windsor People First Society, Nova Scotia Association for Community Living

Geographic location: Windsor, Truro, Nova Scotia Canada Hants County Town of Windsor

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