Before Omicron and protesters took over the news cycle, Nova Scotia’s new PC Premier was facing criticism for his about-face on defending in court the Province’s treatment of people with disabilities. After initially declaring that people shouldn’t have to take government to court to make it “do the right thing” Tim Houston did just that to Nova Scotians with disabilities who need supports and services to live in the community.

In October the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal wrote the latest chapter in a long-running saga, confirming a Human Rights Board of Inquiry  finding of discrimination in the Province’s  treatment of persons with disabilities. Houston indicated at the time his government would accept the  ruling as “the right thing to do, the human thing to do.” But those words turned out to be only half true. 

The government is accepting the court decision to uphold the human rights complaint of discrimination by the province against Beth MacLean, Joey Delaney and Sheila Livingstone. But in a surprise move the government filed a last-minute application to the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal the Nova Scotia court’s finding of systemic discrimination affecting hundreds of others. 

In its application for leave to appeal to the SCOC the province makes a number of arguments, a key one being whether government or “human rights adjudicators” should be “the administrators of disability benefits.” The province claims that the Court of Appeal judgment “puts courts and adjudicators in the position of determining social policy rather than simply addressing discrimination.”

In theory, in a democracy it would seem right that governments, elected by the people should be making social policy decisions, not appointed judges or arbitrators. Ironically, however, the “undisputed evidence” the province filed with its application presents a clear indictment of the government’s social policy performance in regard to the Disability Support Program (DSP) under which social assistance to some disabled people is delivered. The province acknowledges a litany of failure.

  • “DSP is unable to provide a residential placement to all applicants when they want it or need it. Moreover, the limited placements available may not be in the applicant’s preferred community, may not be in the setting preferred by the applicant, and may require relocation within the Province.
  • “The DSP, historically and currently, relies significantly on placements in large institutional settings. Best practices, and the preferences and needs of applicants, have for some time shifted away from larger congregate institutional settings in favour of community-based placements, often in “small option homes.” 
  • “Expert evidence, accepted by the Province, indicates that community-based residential placements are far superior to congregate institutional settings, provide more positive outcomes for residents, and better respect the inherent dignity of residents.
  • “It is also undisputed that, in the face of competing priorities, successive governments have limited investment in small option homes, with the result that such placements were very limited in comparison to placements in congregate institutional settings. 
  • “The evidence indicates that successive governments have committed to systemic reforms, including significantly reducing the reliance on larger institutional facilities, but the Province acknowledges that reforms have proceeded slowly.”

To recap, the Disability Support Program does not meet all needs and when it does it may require relocation or accommodation in a large institution rather than in “far superior” but severely limited community-based placements. Quite the admission – but the province’s admission fudges on an important point – the many years during which this state of affairs has existed in plain sight of elected representatives.

The “undisputed evidence” makes reference to the slow pace of the reforms to which successive governments have committed, but that acknowledgement barely scratches the surface. Policy makers, elected and otherwise, have been aware of the need for reform for decades but have failed to act in any meaningful way. What follows is an account, from the public record, of the many occasions elected representatives have been briefed on the issue.

Decades of inaction

The “undisputed evidence” notes that “for some time” best practices have shifted away from larger institutional settings. How long is “some time?” It has been nearly 40 years since the province took its first faltering steps away from institutional settings with closure of Mountain View Institution in King’s County. Around the same time, in 1983, a ministry task group called for a gradual policy of deinstitutionalization and a broad array of community based support services. And I the early 1990s, the province closed several children’s training centres.

Partly as a result of those closures, the “limited investment in small option homes” became an issue in the mid-1990s. Other factors were in play as well. Targeted federal funding disappeared with the demise of the Canada Assistance Plan, just as the province was taking over from municipalities full responsibility for small options and other community based options. The province subsequently put a moratorium on creation of new small options, the subject of opposition questions in the legislature and legislative committees over many years.

In 2001 a ministry-commissioned report from Dr. Michael Kendrick described the continued existence of institutions “a direct and persistent violation of people’s rights to be part of the community” and called for person-centred solutions. Kendrick wrote that expansion of community-based options for those living in institutions would need “political help for government,” but little of that was forthcoming. The Conservative government of the day responded that “it will not be possible to implement all recommendations  just straight overnight.”

Overnight has stretched into decades. Very little changed as a result of the Kendrick report. The government spent several years, beginning in the late 1990s, attending to an urgent need – relocating in the community residents affected by the shutdown of two large aging institutions that would have needed replacement or major renovation. Those moves reduced institutionalization but the re-located residents increased demand for small option homes. Because of the moratorium on such homes, increased wait lists resulted, putting pressure on families supporting adult children with intellectual disabilities. This problem was one about which elected representatives were made aware.

Here’s Marilyn More, at the time the official opposition critic for the Department of Community Services (DCS), speaking during a committee meeting in 2007

MS. MARILYN MORE: Mr. Chairman, I have to say I share the increasing frustration out there with the slow pace of the improvements to services for people with disabilities. When I talk to clients, to their advocates and to families and the service providers, they’re almost reaching the level of outrage in terms of the slow pace and the impact that has on the clients. I sat perhaps a month ago at a consultation that the Disabled Persons Commission held in Truro. A mother gave the story of her young adult son and it was a very powerful story. He has been on a wait list for years and will continue to be on the wait list for years and she ended up by looking at everyone in the room and said, my son is treated less respectfully in this province than a prisoner – now can you explain that to me? And there was utter silence in the room. She went on to explain and describe all the programs and services that someone who breaks the law and is sentenced in this province gets compared to her son. It was an amazing experience and it really transformed my sense of immediacy in terms of how quickly we have to deal with these things.

In 2008, Marilyn More chaired a legislative forum on disabilities, during which both the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living (NASCL) and People First Canada addressed the de-institutionalization process, which had virtually ground to a halt following the two closures at the turn of the millennium.  Mary Rothman, then Executive-Director of NSACL, addressed the forum in March 2008, highlighting the continued over-reliance on institutions which continued at least 25 years after deinstitutionalization became the preferred policy.

The figures that I received last week from the Department of Community Services indicate that there are 691 Nova Scotians housed in adult residential centres and regional rehabilitation centres…That does not include those people with intellectual disabilities who are housed in nursing homes, and we know that there are people in nursing homes but the Department of Health can’t tell us how many people live in nursing homes with an intellectual disability. It does not include those people who happen to live in 30- bed community homes around the province, it is simply the adult residential centres and the regional rehabilitation centres – 691 people, that is more people placed in institutions than in any other province or territory in Canada and it is simply unacceptable. (Mary Rothman)

“Adult residential centres”  (ARCs) refer to seven facilities spread across the province providing long-term supports to adults in congregated settings. Capacity ranges from 32  to as high as 70. In two cases, Kings in Waterville and Breton Abilities in Sydney,  the ARCs are paired with “regional rehabilitation centres (RRCs), which serve adults requiring, according to DCS, “an intensive level of support and supervision related to complex behavioural challenges and skill development needs.” By 2021, the 691 population for ARCs and RRCs, cited by Mary Rothman, had fallen to about 500.

In addition to ARCs and RRCs, Residential Care Facilities (RCFs) are frequently included in the definition of large institutions. However, unlike the others, residents of RCFs require minimal support and supervision. What they have in common with residents of ARCs and RRCs is that they are forced to live with as many as 30 others, often with shared bedrooms.  

John Cox of People First also addressed the 2008 forum.

When asked, people with intellectual disabilities choose not to live in institutions. We know that institutions deny basic rights of citizenship, personal control, decision making and independence. Based on personal stories, as told by people who have lived in these facilities, we know of the abuse, isolation and personal suffering that more often than not occurs in these facilities. (John Cox)

Waiting at home

In the years following the Kendrick report there was a slight reduction in numbers living in large institutions, and to reduce demand for supported community living funding was provided to encourage families to keep adult children with disabilities at home. A number of  six-eight person group homes were also added to the inventory. But a 2008 report prepared for DCS noted growing waitlists, a lack of community based capacity and a critical shortage of appropriate housing.

By 2011, when the newly-formed Community Homes Action Group (CHAG) made its first of several submissions to committees of the legislature, the shortage of supported community living had become even more acute.  As  the advocacy group’s co-chair, my partner and former Member of Parliament Wendy Lill, told the Community Services committee there was an urgent need for action to deal with a wait list that CHAG understood to number about 650.

There’s going to have to be a very large collaborative effort on the part of a lot of people and a lot of departments to make this start working because we’ve left it too long. Many governments have gone by and have just allowed this to slide and the numbers have continued to grow. The numbers of individuals who need assistance, supportive living, continue to grow while the options do not continue to grow.  (Wendy Lill)

As revealed later, CHAG’s wait list estimate was low. A January 2012 submission to Treasury Board by the Deputy Minister of Community Services described the DSP budget as inadequate to address minimum needs. The submission revealed a waitlist of 802, including 273 receiving no supports at all and 529 requesting a different level of support. There were also 36 people in hospital awaiting community placement.

The Roadmap

About a year after that memo, the NDP government, nearing the end of its mandate, took some initiative. As a demonstration by advocates took place outside the legislature, Premier Darrell Dexter included in the annual “state-of-the-province” speech to business leaders a promise to “finally move continuing care and services for persons with disabilities beyond the old institutional framework into a model of care focused on the individual.” Three months after Dexter’s announcement Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse appointed a joint government-community advisory committee “on transforming services for persons with disabilities.” It was co-chaired by the Lynn Hartwell, Associate Deputy Minister, later Deputy Minister of DCS, and Wendy Lill, one of five community representatives.

The committee worked quickly, and within three months produced the “Roadmap” – shorthand for a report entitled “Choice, Equality and Good lives in Inclusive Communities – A Roadmap for Transforming the Nova Scotia Services to Persons with Disabilities Program.” The Roadmap repeated many of the same concerns and solutions that had been discussed for decades but seemed to have a few more teeth: a community-government consensus and a deadline for completion. The committee recommended five years but the Dexter government, in announcing acceptance of  the report in the early days of the 2013 provincial election campaign, insisted on a ten-year timeframe to carry out the transformation.

After defeating the NDP in the 2013 election, the new Liberal government endorsed the NDP  initiative but was vague with details of what that endorsement entailed,  vagueness that resided in the Roadmap report itself.  A person-centred approach with more choice would by definition require expansion of community-based choices, but there was no clarity about what that would entail.  The other key recommendation reiterated the familiar call for deinstitutionalization, but hedged with language about reducing reliance on large institutions. While calling for a moratorium on new admissions to institutions, there was no timetable for closure of  the large institutions and the dozens of smaller Residential Care Facilities. The emerging issue of supported community living for adults at home who’d come of age since closure of institutions for children two decades earlier was not addressed directly. There were no specific targets for expansion of long-standing arrangements such as small option homes, group homes or supported apartment/independent living support.

The Community Homes Action Group was quick to inform members of the Community Services Committee, some newly-elected, of the need for immediate action on the Roadmap. As Wendy Lill of CHAG told a February, 2014 meeting of the committee, “we can’t overstate the urgency of moving forward with it (the Roadmap) immediately. It’s time to move from words on a page to real action. The crisis continues for thousands of Nova Scotians.”

But a month after that call to action, the lukewarm quality of the new government’s endorsement of the Roadmap became apparent during a presentation to the Committee by the associate deputy minister Nancy MacLellan. Amidst a great deal of rhetorical support for the collaborative process and the Roadmap it produced, she made two key points.

The Roadmap, although “an incredible piece of work” provided just “a really good aspirational framework for where we want to be,” said MacLellan.

And the department intended to take its sweet time getting to its destination.  “The range of services that are available in Nova Scotia has evolved over many years to create the situation we find ourselves in today. It took many years to arrive at this point and it will take time and planning to realize the new vision.”

McNeil government stalls

And so it would be. Instead of immediate action, the first two budgets tabled by the Liberal government announced no new money to implement the Roadmap. The spring budget of 2016 mentioned  $3 million – from a total budget of $10,145 million –  to transition 25 people from institutions to community-based care. It appears that most of that transition involved movement of people with chronic mental health issues from low-cost residential care facilities (RCFs) to equally low-cost independent living (ILs).

The lack of progress during the McNeil government’s first term did not go unnoticed, and was regularly brought to the attention of legislators. In December of 2015 the Community homes Action Group booked space at the legislature to unveil the first of several survey-based “report cards” on progress in implementing the Roadmap and found failure on most fronts, a finding referenced by NDP MLA Marian Mancini during a Community Services Committee meeting in April, 2016.

The report card prompted this exchange during a a committee meeting. It involved  Mancini, Conservative MLA (and now cabinet minister) John Lohr, Wendy Lill and Jean Coleman, director of the Nova Scotia Association for community living. 

MARIAN MANCINI: On December 3, 2015, I did have the privilege of hosting the Community Homes Action Group and the release of the 2015 report card on the government’s actions on transforming services for Nova Scotians with disabilities. Unfortunately, the results were overwhelmingly negative and it seems as though there is a disconnect between the needs of the families and individuals on the ground and the response from government. That’s probably not shocking news to you. Many of the comments made by families of persons with disabilities said that they feel like the government has abandoned the roadmap created in 2013. So my question to you is, in the view of the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living, do you feel the government has abandoned the 2013 roadmap?

JEAN COLEMAN: It’s not whether NSACL believes it – families are telling us. The families throughout Nova Scotia are telling us that there was so much hope when this was first released and they have yet to see any changes made. I understand that there is an advisory committee and that there is action taking place within the department, but our families and their sons and daughters are not seeing any changes. So that’s why they were so hopeful when this was first released in 2013, and the comments in the companion document are heart-wrenching. One person’s son had died before they got a placement in a small options home. That’s pretty distressing and pretty severe. So I think families are feeling abandoned.

JOHN LOHR: I’d like to thank you, Ms. Coleman, for the presentation. One very gripping part of your story was about the elderly lady with her elderly son, praying at night that he would die before her. That was very compelling. If I think about it, I know three families that would be in the same – maybe not exactly that situation but similar, where they are aging. I’m just wondering if you can connect the dots for me between that situation and what the roadmap or where we should have been with the roadmap and how that would have been addressed in the roadmap. How come we’re still dealing with that? Where were we supposed to be with the roadmap and where are we right now?

MS. WENDY LILL: I don’t think I can really speak for the advisory committee, other than that I believe there is a great deal of work going on. .. I think we all know that politically there needs to be a pressure and commitment continuing at the political level to move the work of the departments forward, and I think that’s why we continue to come to this body. You are the elected representatives and you are the ones who are going to be asking the questions about where we are on these important issues that are affecting our population. I am impressed with the foundational work that’s being done at the department. I think they are listening, but they are dependent on the political will. I think that’s what we all have to keep our eye on in the next budget… We have to make sure that the money is there to make this promise come true.

As it turned out, the the next budget, prelude to the 2017 provincial election, had even less money for Roadmap initiatives than the previous one – a promise of only  $2.1 million to fund four small option homes over the next two years That number was doubled to eight in the Liberal election platform. Those eight small option homes, providing supported community living for up to 32 individuals, were finally nearing completion at the end of 2021. 

The eight homes, representing an expansion of less than five per cent in small option home capacity, were mentioned prominently in budget speeches in 2017 and 2018. But the largest expansion took place largely under the radar – Flex, formerly named In-Home Support, which grew by over 50 per cent between 2014 and 2021. Flex, defined by DCS as “individualized funding which provides supports and services to adults with disabilities who live at home with their families”  was never high on the list for advocates. Indeed, the concerns of aging parents that their  loved ones should not be dependent for support on their diminishing capabilities was central to the foundation of CHAG.

The Flex program essentially kicked the problem down the road, as Wendy Lill argued in a 2019 presentation during the Law Amendments Committee’s examination of the provincial budget implementation bill. I will quote it at length because just as she had in her first post-Roadmap presentation five years earlier, Lill clearly makes the point that it is up to elected representatives to take the appropriate action.

In the mid-nineties, a moratorium was placed on creation of small community based homes for persons with developmental disabilities. By 2010, this had led to a critical and growing shortage of community options for people. Hundreds of young people with disabilities — including those with Downs Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder, (ASD) had come of age since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into force. They and their parents had grown up with the belief that, like their brothers and sisters they have the right to live and work and enjoy life in their communities. To make that happen however, they needed community-based housing supports. At the same time, there were still with some 1,100 people living in large congregate facilities — at a time when provinces across the country were far ahead of us in terms of deinstitutionalization. The lack of community capacity had grown through several governments and all political stripes. We realized then and we realize now that the issue is one of political will…

In early 2013 the province struck a joint community-government committee – to develop a roadmap for the transformation of the Nova Scotia Services of Persons with Disabilities Program guided by the UN Convention. The Roadmap Process called for: Number one, greater self direction, choice and control by persons with disabilities and their families;  modernized delivery systems for supports and services to advance social and economic inclusion;  and thirdly, increased community capacity – meaning more supported living choices within the communities. The government accepted the plan…. There were some very high hopes that real change would occur for our population…For the many hundreds of individuals living in institutions who should have the opportunity to live in community. For the hundreds of people living with their aging parents and wanting to start their lives. So how has this all unfolded? Families, advocates and the very hopeful members of the Roadmap process have been very disappointed at the lack of real change on the ground, on the central issues – the lack of capacity in community based options. Waitlists continue to grow. Although there has been some investment and some progress, it is the glacial PACE with which change is happening that is so frustrating…

We sometimes hear, and most recently from the Premier, that this is all very complex and people aren’t ready to be moved into the community. There may be a few instances amongst the hundreds remaining in institutions that will take a little more time. But forty years ago, it took only a few years for communities, with the support  of municipalities and federal and provincial governments, to create hundreds of community based group homes and small option homes to meet the needs of people leaving institutions. It is not rocket science. All it takes is political will and the commitment to get on with it. (Wendy Lill)

Changed circumstances – money taps open

The budget under consideration by the committee in the Spring of 2019, like those of 2014 and 2015, contained no new spending for community homes, an omission made more glaring by two new developments. The first was on the fiscal front. The first term of the McNeil government was marked by general spending restraint. Not only people with disabilities requiring social assistance, but most other parts of government were subjected to belt-tightening. But that changed in the second term when, for example,  the Liberals introduced  pre-primary for four-year olds and launched an ambitious program of near universal broadband.

The latter program is particularly noteworthy in that it was aimed at a perceived disadvantaged minority – households and businesses in rural areas without access to high speed internet and suffering from annoyingly slow download speeds.  The money for the initiative came as the result of a windfall stemming from a settlement relating to offshore petroleum royalties. I’ve harped on this in previous posts, questioning why a province with so many social problems to contend with would spend millions to fix a problem caused by lax federal regulation of highly profitable telecommunications giants like Bell, Rogers and Telus.

The Nova Scotia Auditor-General recently reviewed the process through which the McNeil government took most of  the windfall – $193 million – and turned it over to a trust, hastily-constructed to extend internet access to the impatient disadvantaged minority. AG’s have been known in the past to question policy, which is outside their remit. In the present case, the AG didn’t comment on the policy, just its execution. The observations were damning and illuminating of an approach to public policy.

The Liberals were in such a hurry to put as much of the windfall as possible into expanding internet access that they went ahead with no comprehensive cost analysis. Instead, they threw the $193 million at the trust, and then started the tendering process. (It would be like homeowner announcing she has $20,000 to spend on a new deck, then inviting bids). As it turned out, the project appears to have cost less than $193 million, leaving about $29 million in the kitty. Thanks to the hurry-up trust arrangement, that money can’t go back to the province but but is earmarked  to top up successful proponents, such as Bell. 

Several points should be noted. First, new spending to fulfill the government’s Roadmap commitments obviously did not factor into dispensing the windfall. Second, as the broadband initiative shows, when the government wants to spend on something, planning is dispensed with. By contrast, Roadmap implementation was all about years of planning – funds for implementation perhaps later.  And then there is the demonstration of political reality – the disadvantaged annoyed internet users were larger in numbers, located in rural electoral districts where their votes counted. Those who may have benefitted from real progress on the Roadmap were much smaller in numbers and nowhere constituted a voting bloc.

Changed circumstances – human rights case

By 2019, any validity to the notion that the province’s fiscal situation precluded progress on the Roadmap was gone. Swift introduction of pre-primary and rural broadband were just two examples of the departure from austerity. Between 2018 and 2020 overall program spending increased by $1.2 billion, or 12 per cent while capital spending ballooned.  And a more direct development that should have affected the budget for 2019 was the Human Rights Board of Inquiry into the complaint of discrimination brought by Beth MacLean, Joey Delaney and Sheila Livingstone.

Over several weeks of hearings in 2018 the Board heard that the three had been confined to a psychiatric hospital for years because of a lack of community-based supported housing options. In finding discrimination, inquiry chair Walter Thompson called the government’s failure to respond to their pleas for small-option homes “indifference that really, after time, becomes contempt.”   The Board of Inquiry’s decision of March 2019 was followed up by an open letter to Premier McNeil signed by 70 individuals and 250 organizations, including half a dozen unions, the United Nations Special Rapporteur and Amnesty International. Dated April 4, 2019, the letter called upon:

our democratically elected government to take action to fix what it admits is a broken and inequitable system for persons with disabilities. Elderly or ill parents are in crisis as they struggle to ensure their adult children with disabilities receive choice, inclusion and equality in their day to day lives through meaningful access to social services to meet their needs —justice delayed in these circumstances is truly justice denied. In 2013 your Liberal government endorsed the Roadmap for Choice, Inclusion and Good Lives for people with disabilities, and set a ten-year time frame for emptying institutions and clearing waitlists. We call on you to fulfill your government’s promises by 2023—Including addressing the needs of everyone on the waitlist in a timely manner, and ensuring that no one is unnecessarily institutionalized in large congregate care facilities — through a legislated, multiyear funding commitment. It is within your power to put an end to indifference and contempt for the rights of people with disabilities in this province.” 

The combination of the open letter, the Board of Inquiry finding and the negative headlines produced by the Board’s 18 days of hearings seems to have had some effect. The government finally announced closure of an institution – the smallest of the seven ARCs, Harbourside Lodge in Yarmouth with about 30 residents. And the final two Liberal budgets promised investments to speed up transition to the community from ARCs and RRCs. Budget 2020 promised $7.4 million and budget 2021 $20.4 million. (How much has actually been spent has been affected by the pandemic. The public accounts for 2020-21 reported that implementation delays in disability support Program initiatives saved the department $15.6 million). 

Despite the recent surge of activity, the glacial pace referenced by critics is clear from the numbers, derived mainly from data provided by Community Services to the Disability Rights Coalition and posted on the latter’s website.

Table 1. Change in Institutional placements

March 31, 2014 March 31, 2021 Change
RRC 184 155 -15.8%
ARC 373 350 -6.16%
RCF 420 382 -9.05%
Total 977 887 -9.21%


Table 2. Change in Community placements

March 31, 2014 March 31, 2021 Change
Small Options 631 723 14.58%
In-Home/Flex 1,203 1,825 51.70%
Other Community 1,459 1,543 5.76%
Total 3,293 4,091 24.23%

As Table 1 shows, there was less than a ten percent decline in institutional population during the first seven years of Roadmap implementation and, according to Table 2, almost a 25 percent increase in community placements. But most of that gain is the result of an increase of more than 50 percent in Flex programs, under which adults must also rely on support from families or friends.

And more unfortunately, the modest success in reducing reliance on institutions and increasing community-based options has been offset by a significant increase in waitlists. Table 3 compares waitlists reported by the Deputy minister in 2012 with those reported in 2021.

Table 3. Change in Waitlists

2012 2021 Change
Different level requested 529 1,155 118.3%
No Service 273 536 96.3%
Total wai list 802 1,691 110.8%

The majority of those on the ballooning waitlist want either independent living support or placement in a small option home. But as Table 2 shows, increased capacity in those categories has been far outpaced by the growth in the Flex program, which many participants view as a stop gap measure.

Closing argument

In light of the government’s argument to the Supreme Court of Canada that “human rights adjudicators” should not be setting social policy it is noteworthy that despite years of passionate appeals to elected representatives it took until 2020, after the Board of Inquiry finding, to get a funding increase and the closure of an institution.

Even then, as the discussion above illustrates, the response inspires no confidence that the Roadmap will be implemented within the next two years, as promised by the last two governments of Nova Scotia. As for the new government, its voluminous 100-plus page election campaign platform was totally silent on the subject. But in a move that surely demonstrates the weakness of the government’s argument to the Supreme Court, the announcement that the Appeal Court decision would be appealed was accompanied by a promise to spend $16 million a year over the next four years to implement the Roadmap.

Would that have happened without the initial finding by the Board of Inquiry, and the subsequent ruling by the Court of Appeal that not only upheld the Board’s finding of discrimination against three individuals but found systemic discrimination? The record of the last 40 years suggests otherwise.

Advocates have been bringing the issues facing disabled people requiring social assistance to the attention of government and opposition MLAs on a regular basis, through survey-based report cards, correspondence, meetings with party caucuses and presentations to legislative committees. Government officials, cabinet members and MLAs have been consistently made aware of  those very actions and inactions that the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal declared, in its landmark ruling, amount to systemic discrimination against people with disabilities.

The shortcomings of the Disability Support Program, clearly acknowledged in the government’s submission to the Supreme Court of Canada, have occurred in plain sight of elected governments.That these governments have failed to recognize and remedy this systemic discrimination is clear evidence of why – contrary to the Houston government’s argument – human rights tribunals are needed to protect minorities who are too often overlooked by a political system catering to the needs and desires of the majority.