N.S. premier to discuss case of woman with brain disorder charged with assault

CTV Atlantic
Published Wednesday, January 8, 2014 7:12PM AST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 8, 2014 7:13PM AST

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil is taking an interest in the case of a young woman with a brain disorder who is facing assault charges.

An advocacy group for people with intellectual disabilities has been asking for a meeting with the premier and his ministers to discuss the case of Nichele Benn.

Benn, 26, was born with brain damage and diagnosed with a brain disorder that results in periodic aggressive outbursts.

She lives at a facility under the care of Community Services and her mother, Brenda Hardiman, says she bit a staff member during one of her aggressive outbursts last month.

Benn is due in court this month to face assault charges in connection with the alleged incident but her mother and supporters say the provincial government is treating a person with special needs as a criminal.

CTV News has learned that McNeil will meet with some of his ministers and department officials on Thursday to talk about Benn’s situation.

“We’re lucky we have a new government to take a fresh look at this and we’re hopeful Mr. McNeil and his government will look at this as a priority,” says Cindy Carruthers of People First Nova Scotia.

Archie Kaiser is a law professor at Dalhousie University and also teaches in thepsychiatry department. He believes police involvement is not the answer in Benn’s case.

“The justice system unfortunately tends to be a pretty blunt instrument which can be quite damaging to persons with mental illness or persons with intellectual disabilities or some combination of them,” says Kaiser.

He says the justice system isn’t geared toward prevention but is more reactive and used to finding fault and dealing with punishment.

He says every citizen has the right to call police about threats or injuries but in cases like Benn’s, he would rather see the justice system getting involved as a last resort.

Kaiser says we should be trying to prevent such incidents from happening and understanding why they happen in the first place is key.

“It may be that they’re unsuitably housed, or it may be that there’s insufficient stimulation in the community, or it may be that the facility hasn’t evolved adequate de-escalation procedures that are sensitized to the individual,” says Kaiser.

He also believes public attention is a positive thing.

“Because it ensures the kind of accountability that’s often missing in cases like this,” he says.

The premier will meet with the ministers involved after a cabinet meeting on Thursday.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Jacqueline Foster


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