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Nova Scotia Government Faces Decision on Discrimination Against Disabled Individuals in Housing

The Nova Scotia government must decide by July 11 whether it will attempt to exempt itself from a Court of Appeal ruling that found the province had discriminated against people with disabilities seeking housing.

Donald Murray, chair of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission board of inquiry, imposed the deadline on government lawyer Kevin Kindred during a hearing on Monday.

In a ruling last year, the Court of Appeal determined that the government’s failure to provide “meaningful” access to housing for people with disabilities amounted to a violation of their fundamental rights. However, under Section 6 of Nova Scotia’s Human Rights Act, the province can exempt itself from this ruling if it can demonstrate that the discrimination is justified in a free and democratic society.

Kindred indicated during the hearing that the province would be willing to forgo the exemption if it is confident that the government can offer housing and services to people with disabilities in a practical manner, addressing concerns such as wait times and relocation.

“We are willing to not have to put on a Section 6 case,” Kindred stated. “It only makes sense that we move to the remedy stage as quickly as is practical.”

He pointed out that the province cannot provide housing to individuals within days of their request, nor can it relocate people to areas without available housing.

Claire McNeil, a lawyer for the Disability Rights Coalition of Nova Scotia, the organization that initiated the original case, did not see Kindred’s concerns as a potential problem.

“Any kind of remedy is going to take those types of concerns into account and come up with a solution that does not ask the impossible or provide for something that cannot be done,” McNeil said during the hearing.

The initial human rights case was filed by three individuals with intellectual disabilities who spent years confined in a psychiatric hospital in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, despite medical opinions indicating they could live in the community.

Murray also scheduled a hearing for July 12 to discuss the next steps in the case with lawyers for the province and the disability rights coalition. The substantive hearings are set to take place on October 3.

However, McNeil mentioned that her legal team might not be ready by October to discuss remedies for addressing the system’s issues. She explained that it would take time to secure experts and review the expected volumes of financial data from the province.

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