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Supporters rally behind woman with special needs as she appears in court
Supporters of Nichele Benn gathered at court today to rally behind the 26-year-old woman.
Benn is facing charges of assault and assault with a weapon in connection with an incident at the Halifax-area residential facility where she lives.
Benn has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and a brain disorder that results in periodic aggressive outbursts.
She is accused of biting and hitting a staff member with foam letters and a shoe during one of her outbursts on Dec. 12.
“I don’t know how much to thank you for all my family, friends, caregivers, everybody that’s been supporting me,” said Benn on Wednesday.
Benn’s court appearance only lasted a few minutes. The next step in the case is to determine whether there are grounds to have Benn assessed as not criminally responsible for her actions at the Quest Regional Rehabilitation Centre.
“Police intervention in the beginning and then resulting in her having to appear in court is not the way to deal with these types of situations,” said defence lawyer Jane O’Neill.
Benn’s mother worries people with special needs are being criminalized. She is pushing the provincial government to look at her daughter’s situation, and others like it.
“It’s not something anybody wants to experience, particularly with somebody with special needs,” said Brenda Hardiman. “It’s a horrific experience.”
Benn’s case has also touched the hearts of those living with intellectual disabilities, some of whom appeared in court to show their support.
“It brought real tears to my eyes about a young lady being charged with something that she should have never been charged with,” said Dave Kent of People First Nova Scotia.
CTV News has learned Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil plans to meet with Hardiman Friday to discuss her daughter’s case.
Benn is due back in court on Jan. 22.
“I just hope that the judge takes a good look at this and sets a precedent for this situation,” said Hardiman.
“We don’t want to come back here every time something like this happens, and neither do others.”
With files from CTV Atlantic's Jacqueline Foster