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Nova Scotia mother hopes special needs changes to be addressed

Nichelle Benn, right, and her mother Brenda Hardiman wait at provincial court in Dartmouth, N.S. on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014. Benn is facing charges after an incident at the rehabilitation facility where she lives. Hardiman says her daughter has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and an organic brain disorder that causes periodic episodes of aggressive behaviour.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The mother of a young woman accused of biting a health-care worker says she hopes a conversation she had on Friday with Nova Scotia's Premier will lead to changes in policies concerning people with intellectual disabilities.

Brenda Hardiman said she had a meaningful discussion with Premier Stephen McNeil about her daughter's case and about the broader systemic issues related to putting people with intellectual disabilities before the courts.

Although no commitments were made, Ms. Hardiman said the meeting left her "cautiously optimistic." Ms. Hardiman's 26-year-old daughter, Nichele Benn, was charged with assault and assault with a weapon after she allegedly bit and hit an employee at the Quest Regional Rehabilitation Centre in Halifax on Dec. 12.

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Ms. Benn lives at the centre. "[The Premier] was truly interested in how we got to where we are today and the direction we wanted to go," Ms. Hardiman said. "The Premier cannot be involved directly with justice issues that relate to Nichele's case, but can spark change to policy with justice, community services and health."

Ms. Benn has epilepsy, cerebral palsy and an organic brain disorder that causes aggressive behaviour.

Her mother says Ms. Benn should not be dragged through the justice system, and her greatest fear is that her daughter will go to prison rather than receive treatment and appropriate housing.

Mr. McNeil said no promises were made during the meeting, but the Community Services Department will follow up with Ms. Hardiman.

"It was really just an information session for me to kind of get a chance to view the situation from the eyes of a parent," Mr. McNeil said. "She wants her daughter to be able to live as independently as possible in the community in a safe environment."

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