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Mother elated after charges dropped for daughter with intellectual disability

03/26/2015 02:01 EDT | Updated 05/26/2015 05:59 EDT
HALIFAX - The mother of a woman with an intellectual disability says she is relieved her daughter's battle with the Nova Scotia justice system has come to an end after assault charges were dropped Thursday.

Nichele Benn was accused of biting and hitting a staff member at a Halifax care facility two years ago.

But the Crown told provincial court Thursday that after assessing the case, it decided not to proceed with charges of assault, assault with a weapon and breach of probation against Benn.

Benn's mother Brenda Hardiman said she was ecstatic with the outcome.

"We just hope that other families that are experiencing the same thing will take a look at this and continue their fight and hopefully they'll have the same result that we have," Hardiman said outside court.

Halifax police alleged Benn bit and struck an employee of the Quest Regional Rehabilitation Centre with a foam letter and a shoe on Dec. 12, 2013.

Hardiman said she didn't believe the case should have been before the courts because her daughter has a brain disorder, adding that it was a health issue, not a criminal one.

Outside court, defence lawyer Jane O'Neill said the Crown's decision was the result of months of discussion on both sides of the case.

"I've been in discussions with Crown counsel Alex Keaveny, who very thoroughly looked at the situation, followed up on Nichele's progress and rightfully made the decision that he would exercise his discretion not to proceed with the charges," O'Neill said.

Hardiman said she hopes the outcome of her daughter's case will lead to broader changes in the way care is provided to people with intellectual disabilities.

"I'm hoping that Community Services is going to take a look at their policies and procedures and maybe work with their staff that calling police rather than putting supports in place may not be the appropriate way to go."

But Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard said the policies are not a government responsibility and it is up to care providers to decide how to handle incidents inside their facilities and call police if necessary.

"Each service provider is independent and has their own set of health and safety regulations," Bernard said.

"Workers have rights to be safe. The individuals involved in these facilities have the right to be safe as well."

Cindy Carruthers with People First Nova Scotia, which advocates for people with intellectual disabilities, said care needs to be tailored to individual needs and provided by well-trained staff.

"The justice system is not designed to handle these kinds of situations," she said.

Follow @tim_callanan on Twitter.

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