Autistics United Nova Scotia strongly condemns the insufficient compensation by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission's board of inquiry in the case of Beth MacLean, Joey Delaney and the late Sheila Livingstone.
It is important that the board of inquiry did recognize that Beth, Joey and Sheila suffered discrimination and violence while institutionalized at Emerald Hall, and that they should receive compensation from the province for it. We must also commend the order to have Beth and Joey placed in community-supported housing and that the progress on this will be monitored. However, we object to the comments by the board chair of the inquiry, Walter Thompson, used to justify the amount of compensation.
Mr. Thompson said, “Joey Delaney is so disabled that payment to him of a very large sum will not have a greater impact on his life than a moderate sum. Beth MacLean does have capacity but the potential benefit to her of a very large damage award is limited.”
Particularly troubling is when Mr. Thompson said that Beth, Joey and Sheila have “a lack of capacity to benefit from the fruits of a (larger award).”
This kind of statement is extremely ableist. It is shockingly similar to what many people often say in support of sheltered workshops, where disabled people work for mere pennies on the dollar. When disability rights activists call for sheltered workshops to be closed, their parents often intervene, with statements such as:
“My son is 37. He can’t read or write. He’s not worth $14 an hour, but he is worth something.”
Mr. Thompson called it compensation for “soul-destroying” institutionalization, yet he still awarded Beth MacLean a mere $5,263 per year for each of the 19 years she spent confined in prison-like conditions. She lost 19 years of her life. This decision communicates that disabled lives have a low monetary value.
Our human worth and dignity are not determined by our perceived competence and ability. Moderating the amount of compensation based on disability is discriminatory. The implication is that the harm suffered does not matter as much if it happens to a disabled person.
Mr. Thompson also said that the province did not discriminate against others in similar situations because it is commonplace. However, just because discrimination is common does not mean that it does not exist or that it does not have similar long-term damaging effects on other disabled people. While it is probably too late to increase the amount of compensation awarded, we call on Mr. Thompson to immediately retract and apologize for his comments suggesting that disabled people are not entitled to large damage awards on the sole basis of their disabilities. We also urge the provincial government and the Human Rights Commission to address larger issues of neglect in institutionalization as the widespread crisis that it is.