In 2010, Laura King was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her mother, a mental health nurse, hoped her daughter would be eligible to receive assistance from the provincial government of Prince Edward Island. The provincial government however, refused to provide her with the financial support she initially requested. According to Reid Burke from the Prince Edward Island branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association everyone can recover from mental illness. The disability support program was meant only for those people who are incapable of working because they will never recover. Burke also stated that labelling people with mental illness as being permanently disabled was wrong, as they have the ability to recover. Although the provincial government did provide some financial support for King, including helping her find a place to live, this was not enough and she was forced to move in with her mother.
King’s mother has been able to cope, but it has been difficult. “If we hadn’t had the support of family and friends, co-workers along the way, I don’t know how we would’ve survived, really, because there’s been a lot of doors shut,” she said. King’s mother stated the issue was bigger than just her daughter and that there are many others who would be similarly discriminated against based on this policy.
Although the provincial government offered her a settlement, King’s mother refused and decided to take action. In 2016 she initiated a human rights complaint. Last week the Prince Edward Island Court of Appeal overturned the initial judicial review of the human rights case, saying that the original decision applied an incorrect standard in assessing the case. The court found the government’s refusal to provide full support for those with mental illnesses constituted discrimination. Although this was a big win for the King family, the provincial government announced last year it would add mental health issues to the disability support program. The government stated this was unrelated to King’s human rights complaint.
Even though the court found the government was discriminatory to King and possibly countless others, could this lead to further discrimination? If the support program was only for those with permanent disabilities, those with potentially curable mental illnesses may find that an additional stigma is associated with their condition. If a condition is curable, then provided the right support and amenities are available the individual with the disability could get better. This means any stigma associated with a permanent disabilities program should not transcribe to those with curable mental health conditions. Mental health awareness is already lacking in this county; the last thing we need is for those with these issues to suffer further. Regardless of this, King was in need of support and the provincial government initially did not provide her with what she required. Hopefully, given the past year this will no longer be the case.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC Rights Watch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PPSC.