Stop criminalizing people with special needs, say supporters

Carla Allen
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Supporters turned out in four communities across the province on Jan. 5 to protest criminal charges being laid against people with mental health issues.

On that morning, Nichele Benn, a young woman with intellectual disabilities and mental health difficulties, was taken to the Lower Sackville RCMP station to be fingerprinted. She has been charged with aggravated assault and assault after allegedly throwing a shoe at a Cobequid Centre employee and allegedly biting another. Benn resides at the centre and has had several arrests and convictions because of actions connected with her condition.

In Yarmouth, representatives from People First Nova Scotia held a peaceful demonstration in front of the Yarmouth town RCMP office in support of Benn and her mother Brenda Hardiman.

“We think that this is really an awful way to proceed with people who have disabilities. It reminds us a little bit of the Ashley Smith case,” said Joan Paquette, an advisor for People First Nova Scotia.

Smith was a troubled teen who strangled herself in a segregation cell six years ago. Just before Christmas, the courts ruled her death a homicide. Guards had hesitated to remove the ligature she had tied around her neck after orders from senior management.

Paquette says supporters of Benn just want to have their say, along with others across the province, to get the message out that arresting special needs people for their actions is unacceptable.

“We hope the justice system and the health system will get together and provide the proper support and care for everybody – for the people who work with Nichele and for Nichele herself,” said Paquette.

Hardiman has suggested that therapeutic quiet rooms would be a better approach than arresting a special needs person for their aggressive behaviour.


Organizations: People First Nova Scotia, Cobequid Centre, RCMP

Geographic location: Yarmouth

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