Last fall, Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse found herself powerless to stop abuses of mentally disabled people at residential facilities.

Dozens of cases of abuse had surfaced, including 21 instances at the Riverview adult residential centre in Riverton, near New Glasgow

In one case a man refused to drink water and a staff member “pulled down the top of the resident’s pants and poured water on him” according to reports, then held him down and forced the resident to drink.

Provincial staff were powerless to interject directly, and instead started working with the Riverton board of directors. But the abuses kept happening.

“There seemed to be still reports of staff-to-residents abuse,” Peterson-Rafuse said yesterday. “It was very frustrating, I have to tell you, as community services minister, knowing we weren’t getting at the central core of the problem.”

The case sparked the creation of new legislation introduced yesterday that grants the minister the ability to remove a board of directors and take direct control if necessary.

“It would give the minister the right to say ‘OK, this is a dysfunctional board, this is a dysfunctional executive director, unfortunately. We need to go in and we need to do something,’” said Peterson-Rafuse.

“And we can move more quickly, which is very important when you’re talking about abuse cases.”

No charges were ever laid in any abuse case, but four people were fired and 14 people have resigned since October 2007.

The new legislation also more than doubles the facilities that fall under licensing rules. Previously a building had to care for at least four people to fall under the Homes for Special Care Act. By lowering that threshold to three people, about 200 new facilities will be added to the current 122.

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