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Nichele Benn makes short court appearance

Mother raises spectre of Ashley Smith case

by Robert Devet

Brenda Hardiman (left) and Nichele Benn (centre) leave the Lower Sackville RCMP detachment where Nichele had her fingerprints taken last week. Photo Robert Devet
Brenda Hardiman (left) and Nichele Benn (centre) leave the Lower Sackville RCMP detachment where Nichele had her fingerprints taken last week. Photo Robert Devet

K'JIPUKTUK (Halifax) -  Nichele Benn, a young woman with special needs who at times acts aggressively, made an appearance in the Dartmouth Provincial Court on Pleasant Street on January 15. She was accompanied by her mother and about a dozen supporters.

The court appearance took all of fifteen minutes. Crown attorney Melanie Perry and defence lawyer Jane O’Neill requested that an assessment be done to determine if Benn can be found criminally responsible. Benn's next court appearance is scheduled for January 22nd.

Benn is alleged to have thrown a shoe at staff of Quest, the Lower Sackville institution where she lives. The police were called and Benn was promptly charged.

Supporters and organizations such as People First Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living believe that Benn does not belong in the criminal justice system.

At the courthouse, Camera crews and journalists were also present. Last weeks rallies at the Lower Sackville RCMP detachment and several other Nova Scotia towns, as well as a recent promise by Premier Stephen MacNeil to visit with Benn's mother have turned the case into a matter of considerable public interest.

Benn's mother, Brenda Hardiman, told reporters that charging her daughter with a criminal offense is not appropriate.

Hardiman's big worry is that her daughter will end up incarcerated. She raised the spectre of Ashley Smith, the teenager who died by self-inflicted strangulation while she was in custody in Ontario.

"We all know what [incarceration] does to people with special needs," said Hardiman. "Ashley Smith is a prime example, and Nichele, with her health issues, if she is incarcerated, will continue [to be aggressive], because it is a health issue, not a learning process."

"If she reoffends while she is in there, more charges will result and her stay in there will be longer, it will just continue," said Hardiman.

Hardiman believes that her daughter's stay at Quest, a large rehabilitation centre, has not been a good experience.

"Nobody should be living in an institutional environment," said Hardiman. "They feed off each other's behaviour, and it is like warehousing people. We need to look at other options, like small options homes."

The stress is taking its toll on both Hardiman and her daughter. Hardiman described the experience of seeing her daughter in court as horrific, and Nichele told reporters that the whole ordeal has been a nightmare.

"It is hard for me to even sleep at night, I am that upset," said Nichele.

Dave Kent, Vice President of People First Nova Scotia, a self advocacy group of people who have been labeled with an intellectual disability, added his voice in support.

"Demonstrations will keep on going until we get justice," said Kent.


Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert









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