Supreme Court of Canada to Rule on Access Rights of Persons with Disabilities
May 18, 2006
The leadership of Canada's disability community will be in the Supreme Court of Canada at 9:30 am on May 19th, where the community's access rights will be interpreted by the country's highest court for the first time. In October 2003 the Canadian Transportation Agency [CTA] ordered VIA Rail to make its recently purchased rail cars accessible to persons with mobility and vision disabilities. In March 2005 the Federal Court of Appeal overturned this decision, saying people with disabilities who can't use the new trains will have to find other means of transportation.
Before the trains were purchased, using 100% taxpayer money, former Liberal Transport Minister David Collenette promised the trains would meet the CTA's train accessibility standards. When told the trains were inaccessible Collenette washed his hands of the matter, suggesting VIA seek the CTA's guidance on the issue. VIA refused. Faced with Canada being the only developed country in the world where new inaccessible trains could be brought into service, and with the CTA unable to act on its own initiative, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), on behalf of it broad membership, applied to the CTA for a ruling on whether or not the trains were legal.
"First we were lied to, then we were left to bear the unbelievable costs of litigating against a crown corporation which seems willing to spend more on legal fees than the CTA found it would cost to make the trains accessible", said Pat Danforth, chair of the CCD Transportation Committee.
VIA boasts of having achieved an "incredible bargain" by outbidding Iraq and Morocco, for trains by paying slightly more than their scrap value. Competitive bidders were scarce for these trains. They could not have been brought into service in the United States, Britain or France for their laws enforce access.
In addition to the access problems identified by the CTA, Transport Canada has ruled the trains do not meet Canadian safety standards.
"Having saved hundreds of millions of dollars by buying inaccessible trains we believe Canadian equality rights law, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, compels VIA to give back a small portion of that amount to make the trains accessible".
This is the issue to be decided by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Court of Appeal Tells Canadians with Disabilities
The Federal Court of Appeal recently handed down a ruling in CCD's ongoing battle to make VIA Rail's Renaissance cars accessible that denies the equality rights of Canadians with disabilities. The decision does not dispute the fact that VIA's Renaissance cars are inaccessible and present barriers to Canadians with disabilities. What the Court did was allow VIA's appeal of the Canadian Transportation Agency decision that found 14 barriers for people with disabilities. The Court in essence says that the Agency erred by not looking at the whole "network" of passenger services and determining how that "network" could overcome the barriers caused by the Renaissance cars.
In 2000 the Government of Canada gave VIA Rail new money to purchase new passenger rail cars. The Minister of Transport at that time promised Canadians with disabilities that whatever was purchased would be accessible. Yet, VIA Rail purchased 139 used surplus cars from Alstrom in France - cars designed for the Chunnel and thus narrower than the standard passenger rail car in Canada. These cars were refused a license in Britain because they were inaccessible. Canadians with disabilities therefore have been put in a position of having to fight to ensure that there is an accessible washroom and tie down area in the coach cars for persons who use wheelchairs, that the doorways are wide enough to ensure easy access and that the so called "accessible suite" is fully accessible. Canadians with disabilities have not at present challenged the totally inaccessible sleeper car.
"CCD calls on Minister Lapierre to intervene and make sure that the promise made to Canadians with disabilities is kept," said Eric Norman, a member of CCD's Transportation Committee. "In the last election, the Liberal Party asked Canadians to re-elect them because they would keep their promises and deliver on their commitments. What about the promise that these cars would be accessible? Was that just more empty words?" asks Laurie Beachell, CCD National Coordinator.
CCD sees the VIA Rail issue as a significant erosion of access. CCD views the Court of Appeal decision as an erosion of equality. Canadians with disabilities are being told that they are not equal citizens in this country. CCD and other disability groups do not accept these regressive actions. "We have tried to work collaboratively with government but frankly we see little in the way of results. CCD wants the introduction of strong accessibility regulations. We no longer trust the "good intentions" and "rhetoric" of either the industry or the government," said Pat Danforth Chair of CCD's Transportation Committee.
CCD has recently conducted a study of transportation accessibility in Britain, Europe, United States and Australia and compared it to Canadian access standards. Canada is by far the least accessible and progressive. CCD's report "Moving Backward: Canada's State of Transportation Accessibility in An International Context" clearly documents the erosion of access in Canada.
on Accessible Travel from the Transportation
Committee of the
for VIA Rail disappoints disabled - Court quashes order to modify
Rail Decision dd March 3, 2005
Letter to Minister of Transport dd January 6, 2005
Backwards: Canada's State Of Transportation Accessibility In An
dog, trip out in the cold; Vacation scuttled at last minute
Rail Appeals the Ruling
with Disabilities Win Battle with VIA Rail
Canada and Via Rail Ignore Disabled in New Services
Canadians Win First Round with VIA Rail
Rail Defies Canada's Accessibility Laws
Rail Stopped in Its Tracks
Wants Canadians with Disabilities to Pay for their Rights
Via About to Waste Tax Payer Dollars?