Premier McNeil to meet with mother of Nichele Benn

Staff ~ The Truro Daily News
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Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil

TRURO - Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said he plans to meet with the mother of a special needs woman who is facing criminal charges because of alleged behavioural issues.

Premier Stephen McNeil plans to meet with the mother of a special needs individual who is facing criminal charges because of alleged behavioural issues.

"We will reach out to the mother who is looking for a meeting with me, that I will have that meeting," McNeil told TC Media, following a meeting he had Jan. 9 with the ministers of the Justice and Community Services departments.

The premier met with the two ministers, he said, to ensure he had a "full understanding" of services that are being provided by the province to people such as Nichele Benn, a 26-year-old woman who has intellectual disabilities that have left her with the mental capacity of a 12-year-old.

Benn is facing assault and aggravated assault charges after allegedly biting the finger of a staff member and for throwing a shoe at another staffer at the adult support and rehabilitation facility where she lives in Lower Sackville.

Benn's mother Brenda Hardiman of Bible Hill has been fighting to have the system changed so that special needs individuals do not have to face criminal charges or penalties for behavioural issues they cannot control.

The meeting between the premier and his two ministers followed on the heels of peaceful protests held in various parts of the province Jan. 5 to try and initiate changes to the current system. Demonstrations were held in Lower Sackville, Truro, Yarmouth, New Minas and Windsor to protest Benn's treatment. 

"That doesn't happen very often but I do feel very comfortable with the professional people in our province who are providing both medical advice and supports, as well as those who protect us," McNeil said of such criminal charges.

"The province provides a vey high-level professional service that is based on professional medical advice and direction and as that is being provided, if at times any Nova Scotian feels that they are in a situation where things are not working right or where things are escalating to a point where safety is an issue, than there's public agencies that they call to provide that level of comfort."

McNeil added that such policies and procedures should be reviewed on a regular basis. But he said he also believes that workers in such institutions should retain the right to be protected by the justice system if they feel they have been wronged.

While Hardiman said she is "grateful" the premier has agreed to meet with her, she strongly disagrees with his position that staff in such institutions should be able to press criminal charges against people who have such mental disabilities.

"I really disagree with that. They've chosen the profession that they work in. They've chosen the type of personalities that they're dealing with," Hardiman said, making a comparison with firefighters, police officers and others who know that their vocations carry a certain degree of risk.

"You've chosen your path. I don't think that they should be provided with the option of pressing charges against a person with special needs.

"That's their job," she said.

"You don't hear of a nurse pressing charges because an 85-year-old man hit her."

Nonetheless, Hardiman expressed guarded optimism at the fact that the McNeil has agreed to hear her arguments first hand.

"We hope that the premier and the minister of Community Services, Justice and Health and Wellness are sympathetic and eager to take action," she said.

"But we'll have to see if they're prepared to react to it because people (in the previous NDP government) have told us before they were going to look at it but they never got back to us. Nothing changed so I'm hoping that this time something will change."




Organizations: Justice and Community Services

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Lower Sackville, Bible Hill Yarmouth

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Recent comments

  • LeeAnn Simon
    January 13, 2014 - 14:41

    I work in this field with people with special needs, and while it is rewarding it is also very draining. Everyone wants people with special needs to be treated like everyone else, I agree. But these same people need to have the same consequences as well.. You can't have one with out the other. As a worker in this field I chose to go to work every day and work with the people I support but I also show them the consequences of the their actions. My job is to guide them to have a good quality of life but I am not a punching board or anything else for that person. I do not get paid enough or as a member of society deserve to be treated that way. If a person is so violent that they can not be part of society they need to be in a special place. Why do people with special needs have different rights then anyone else, if you hurt someone there is a consequence. If the lady with the daughter does not like that charges can be pressed then perhaps she should take care of her own daughter and if she wants to have her fingers bitten off it's her choice.. If a 12 yr old bite the finger off someone would we say " don't worry about it she is only 12" I don't think so. If there is no consequences for your actions, then this young woman will continue to behave in an unacceptable way and bite more fingers off. Really lady get your head out of your ass and take the responsibility for your daughter or let the care givers pursue the natural consequence for your daughter, so that she can learn what is acceptable behavior.

    • Meg
      January 15, 2014 - 11:56

      LeeAnn Simon, you work in this field and so do I. Natural consequences are one thing, but sometimes the people we support simply cannot understand or control themselves. Consequences may mean absolutely nothing to the individuals we support. We as support people must understand that, and support people accordingly, with proper training to do so. As professionals, we must assume that this work can come with certain risks. If you don't feel comfortable working with people who tend to be violent, or feel that you're not paid enough to do so, then work with other people or pursue another field of work. I would suggest that you might want to pull your own head out of your own rear end if you really think that someone with a disability should be prosecuted because they have behavioural issues.