Today, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal released a ground breaking decision regarding the rights of persons with disabilities, Disability Rights Coalition v Nova Scotia (Attorney General), 2021 NSCA 70.

The Court of Appeal found that the Province of Nova Scotia did discriminate against three individual complainants, Beth MacLean, Sheila Livingstone, and Joey Delaney, by keeping them in segregated institutional settings for many years without any medical or legal justification.

The case also involved a human rights complaint of systemic discrimination brought by the Disability Rights Coalition, the Coalition was represented by Claire McNeil of Dalhousie Legal Aid Service. The Court found that the Disability Rights Coalition succeeded on a prima facie basis in establishing that the Province systemically discriminated against persons with disabilities by keeping persons on years-long wait lists for necessary supports, by institutionalizing some persons with disabilities unnecessarily, or by requiring people with disabilities to move communities in order to receive support.

The case is remarkable for being the first Court ruling in Canada regarding whether it is discriminatory to require persons with disabilities to live in institutional settings in order to receive necessary supports.  It will justifiably be considered a hard-won victory for the many disability rights activists who have struggled for decades to end the practice of institutionalizing persons with disabilities.

The case is also ground-breaking with respect to the quantum of general damages awarded to the individual complainants. Beth MacLean was awarded $300 000 in general damages for the suffering she endured, which now stands as the largest human rights general damages award in Canadian history. Tragically, Ms. MacLean died less than two weeks before the Court’s decision was released. The Court invited submissions from the Parties regarding how her death will impact the Court’s award. Joey Delaney was awarded $200 000 in general damages for being unnecessarily institutionalized. Sheila Livingstone died in 2016, before the Complaint went to a Board of Inquiry Hearing. Her estate was not awarded any damages by the Court.

The systemic complaint has been remitted to a Board of Inquiry of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, where the Province will have the opportunity to justify the manner in which it provides support for persons with disabilities.

Pink Larkin is very proud to have supported this litigation on a pro-bono basis. Two of our lawyers, Vince Calderhead and Katrin MacPhee represented the individual complainants in the case, and along the way they received countless hours of advice from other lawyers in our office, and incredible support from our administrative team.