Dozens of Nova Scotians held peaceful demonstrations across the province on Sunday in support of a young woman with an intellectual disability who is facing criminal charges.
Nichele Benn’s mother and her supporters say the provincial government is treating a person with special needs as a criminal and are calling for immediate action.
“I came out because I really believe that people with special needs need to be supported and not treated like criminals,” said Emily Churchill, who joined a group of people who walked to the police station in Lower Sackville.
Peaceful demonstrations also took place at police stations in New Minas, Yarmouth, Truro and Windsor.
Brenda Hardiman says her 26-year-old daughter was born with brain damage and diagnosed with a brain disorder that results in periodic aggressive outbursts.
Benn lives at a facility under the care of Community Services and Hardiman says she bit a staff member during one of her aggressive outbursts last month.
Benn is due in court this month to face assault charges in connection with the alleged incident.
“I mean, we’re not talking about somebody here that’s coordinating a liquor store theft,” said Hardiman. “We’re talking about somebody with special needs who needs to be treated like that and not treated like a criminal.”
Janet Kroetch says the story has struck a chord because her own son has autism.
“It breaks my heart and I live in fear that maybe one day my son will say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing and I won’t be there to protect him and he’ll end up where Nichele is now,” said Kroetch, who took part in Sunday’s demonstration.
“It could happen to any one of our kids.”
Hardiman is calling on the government to review how her daughter and other people with special needs are treated in the criminal justice system.
She says the way Benn has been treated is devastating and she worries her daughter could end up like Ashley Smith, a young woman from Moncton who died in an Ontario prison.
“Her behaviours will not change if she’s incarcerated and if she assaults somebody while in jail her time will be extended, just like Ashley Smith was, and that’s a huge concern…in the treatment that they get there.”
With files from CTV Atlantic's Amanda Debison