Updated: People First plans New Minas protest to support special needs woman in legal trouble

Kirk Starratt
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Brenda Hardiman of Truro is afraid her 25-year-old daughter Nichele Benn, who has physical and intellectual disabilities, could meet dire consequences if changes are not made to Department of Community Services policies and practices.

By Kirk Starratt



The Kings County chapter of People First is planning a demonstration Jan. 5 in New Minas to protest Nichelle Benn’s treatment by law enforcement.

People First volunteer advisor Kimberly Smith said the organization is an advocacy group for people labeled with an intellectual disability. He said the case of Nichelle Benn is significant to People First, as she is a person who has been labeled and who is not getting the right type of support because she has become violent.

 “Any one of us could find ourselves mentally disabled at any point,” Smith said, especially as the population is aging and more people are going to need extended care.

 “We could all be intellectually challenged.”

Benn’s mother, Brenda Hardiman of Truro, has said she doesn’t believe the justice system is the right way to address her daughter’s behaviour.

Smith said his experience has been that when people such as Benn become violent, it’s because the professionals working with them are making bad decisions about how to handle the person. Smith said it’s “absurd” that professionals working with someone such as Benn have to call the police to deal with her.

“I think every citizen has to stand up and say help this person and let’s invest in the types of services that need to be in place,” Smith said.

He said he thinks it’s right to associate Benn’s story with that of Ashley Smith of New Brunswick, who ended up committing suicide while serving federal time. He said she was a young woman facing intellectual challenges and mental illness who was not properly cared for and “dumped” in the criminal justice system.

“Do we want to take people who are suffering and just dump them in prison?” Smith said. “This could easily become the case.”

Benn has been arrested and charged on numerous occasions following violent outbursts and has served time in prison. She is scheduled to appear for fingerprinting in Sackville on Jan. 5. Protests are also planned for Sackville, Truro and Windsor.

Smith likens the case of Benn to “a canary in a coal mine” and said the protest is for “anyone who wants to stand up for the idea of helping each other.”

The New Minas group will gather at the Louis Millett Community Complex at 9:30 a.m. They will proceed to the RCMP detachment on Jones Road at 9:45 a.m.

More information is available on the Facebook event page.


Earlier story:

Supporters of Nichelle Benn are planning to protest the young woman’s treatment by law enforcement Jan. 5 in New Minas.

Benn’s mother, Brenda Hardiman, has said she  doesn’t believe the justice system is the right way to address the behaviour of her daughter, who has physical and cognitive delays.

"I think it's a time when we've got to get together as a human race of people with respect of how people with disabilities and intellectual disabilities are being treated,” Hardiman told the Truro Daily News last spring. “Incarcerating them and forced injecting them and handcuffing them is not a humane way of doing things and it has to stop and I really hope that people will speak up because now would be the time.”

Benn is to appear for fingerprinting Jan. 5 in Sackville. A protest is planned there, as well as in Truro and Windsor.

The New Minas group will gather at the Louis Millett Community Complex at 9:30 a.m.  and proceed to the RCMP detachment at 18 Jones Rd. at 9:45.

More information is available on the Facebook event page set up by Benn and Hardiman’s supporters.

Organizations: Truro Daily News, Louis Millett Community Complex, RCMP

Geographic location: New Minas, Sackville, Truro Windsor

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