Don’t criminalize people with special needs, say New Minas demonstrators

John Decoste
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“There are too many people who just don’t understand.”

This and other sentiments were front-and-centre when more than 20 concerned citizens took to the streets of New Minas Feb. 2 to raise awareness of the issue of the criminalization of people with special needs.

The demonstration, which included members of Kings People First and Advocating Parents of Nova Scotia, was the second held in Kings County on the issue. Similar walks were being held in Truro, Amherst, Halifax, North Sydney, Yarmouth and Windsor.

“The message is to stop criminalizing people with special needs,” said Advocating Parents of Nova Scotia representative Tressa Haney of Greenwood.

“Right now.” Haney said, “we have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ justice system. Everyone is treated the same, but we’re not all the same.”

The group is calling on the premier and justice minister “to sit down and do something to change the way people with special needs are being treated.”

Some people, Haney suggested, “can’t help what they do,” but are being treated like common criminals.

“They’re in care for a reason,” she said. “They need help.”

The demonstrators carried placards with the names of people  with special needs who advocates feel have been (or are being) dealt with unfairly by the criminal justice system.

“The names on these placards are just the tip of the iceberg,” said local videographer Kimberly Smith, who was taking a video of the demonstration.

“Any of us here could fall victim to a brain injury tomorrow.”

All people with special needs, for whatever reason, he said, “need our help and support.”

Michelle Morgan-Coole noted, “there is help out there.”

The Department of Community Services “has people trained to deal with issues like these. Why aren’t they doing so?”

To Morgan-Coole, who has an adult daughter with special needs,  the problem is funding  and a realization by the province that the criminalization of people with special needs is a problem that needs addressing. 

“Things are only going to change with public awareness, which is what events like today are all about," she said.

“Issues like this shouldn’t be anywhere near the criminal justice system,” Morgan-Coole added. “The Department of Community Services are the ones with the responsibility. We have to make sure they’re getting the message.”

”To my mind, it’s better to spend money on awareness, and catch it at the front end, than to spend that money on the criminal justice system.”

“People with intellectual disabilities are the most vulnerable in our society,” suggested Janet Kroetch from Middleton, who has a child with autism.

Kroetch added, “anyone could end up in this kind of a situation. Not everybody with special needs has an intellectual disability, but those who do are our most vulnerable. They need our help and support, not to be treated like criminals.”

Click here for more on the event, including statements from the departments of community services and justice.

For a video of the demonstration, click HERE.

Organizations: Community Services

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, New Minas, Truro Amherst Halifax North Sydney Yarmouth Windsor

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