Premier McNeil to meet with mother of Nichele Benn

Staff ~ The Truro Daily News webcomments@ngnews.ca
Published on January 13, 2014
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."