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Code of Silence at Community Services

Department not sharing information, say community partners

by Robert Devet

Rally in front of the Quest Rehabilitation Centre in Lower Sackville after a violent death occurred there earlier this summer. Worried protesters wanted information, but Community Services isn't saying much. Community partners are also in the dark about progress of a large transformation project that was announced last year.  Photo Robert Devet
Rally in front of the Quest Rehabilitation Centre in Lower Sackville after a violent death occurred there earlier this summer. Worried protesters wanted information, but Community Services isn't saying much. Community partners are also in the dark about progress of a large transformation project that was announced last year. Photo Robert Devet

K'JIPUKTUK, HALIFAX - Earlier promises by the Department of Community Services to become more open and accountable have not been met, say community groups who advocate on behalf of people labelled with intellectual disabilities.

In September of 2013 the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services announced that it would phase out large institutions. In a decade, through an orderly transition, the warehousing of people who live with so-called intellectual or physical disabilities would stop.

The department promised that the transformation would happen in a spirit of inclusion and meaningful communication. “We’re making every effort to communicate with stakeholders at every stage of the process,” writes Lori Eggleton, spokesperson for the department.

But even community partners who are part of the project governance structure don't know what's going on.

Jean Coleman, executive director of the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living (NSACL), is one of the people who feels left out in the dark.

No meetings have occurred since July, she tells the Halifax Media Co-op, and meetings scheduled for September and October were cancelled.

“I just received an email that there is a meeting on November 10th,” says Coleman. “The communication hasn't been good at all. Even though there is a website, they're not saying anything.”

Cindy Carruthers agrees that the department has not been sharing information. Carruthers is a coordinator with People First Nova Scotia, another group that was invited to provide input while the transformation unfolds.

“Were not hearing much and we're not seeing much, there is not a lot of sharing,” Carruthers says.

“There is certainly a lot of community concern that things are not moving at all,” Coleman adds. “Families certainly are very concerned and restless, waiting for things to happen.”

A similar code of silence applies to a best practices review of the Quest Rehabilitation Centre that minister Joanne Bernard announced after a resident died as the result of a violent incident.

“We want this review to be open and transparent,” writes Errington on behalf of Community Services.

Yet neither NSACL nor People First Nova Scotia know what's going on. Parents of Quest residents are also not told anything, they say.

“The Minister will make a decision on the report’s release once she has had an opportunity to review it and decide what actions, if any, are needed,” Errington continues.

“In other words, open and transparent only if and when it suits the minister,” says Brenda Hardiman, “and only after the report is completed.”

Hardiman is co-founder of  Advocating Parents Nova Scotia,  an organization that helps parents of children with special needs navigate the system. She is also the mother of Nichelle Benn, who lives at Quest against her will and has been charged with assault.

“I would love to hear how the best practices review is progressing,”say Hardiman. As a parent you'd think that they would tell us.”

 

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert

 


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