DAWN Ontario: DisAbled Women's Network Ontario

Supreme Court of Canada to Rule on Access Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Council of Canadians with Disabilities

Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD)
Press Release - May 17, 2006

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.


  • April 2000 Government of Canada announces funding to VIA for purchase of new passenger rail cars. Minister Collenette assures disabled community anything purchased will be accessible.
  • November 2000 disability community invited to view cars and identify a number of barriers.
  • December 2000 CCD asks CTA to determine if the cars create new barriers to Canadians with disabilities. CCD informed that VIA has already purchased the cars.
  • December 2000 VIA requests disabled community put up a security equivalent to the purchase price of the rail cars to protect VIA should it need to break its contract with Alstom.
  • January 2001 Minister of Transport's Advisory Committee on Accessible Transportation told by Minister that cars can be retrofitted for access.
  • February 2001 CTA asks VIA to provide plans for making cars accessible.
  • April 2001 VIA goes to Federal Court to challenge CTA's authority to rule on CCD complaint.
  • May 2001 Federal Court of Appeal dismissed VIA's application for leave to appeal CTA decision that it had the jurisdiction to review the proposed design for the Renaissance cars. Court awarded costs to CCD.
  • May 2001 the remainder of the purchased cars arrive in Canada. Bombardier in Thunder Bay given contract to retrofit the cars.
  • September 2001 Representatives of disability community allowed to view cars again and once again significant barriers are found.
  • February 2002 CCD submits final brief to CTA. VIA indicates it is putting some cars into service.
  • December 2002 CCD marks anniversary of two year old complaint, CTA standard is that complaints be handled within 120 days.
  • March 2003 CTA rules that the Renaissance cars do not meet the Agency's voluntary Rail Code and present serious obstacles to the mobility of Canadians with disabilities.
  • October 2003 CTA orders VIA to make substantive modifications to ensure access for travelers with disabilities.
  • November 2003 VIA announces decision to appeal CTA ruling to Federal Court of Appeal.
  • March 2004 Federal Court of Appeal agrees to hear VIA appeal.
  • June 2004 CTA awarded CCD the Centennial Commemorative Award acknowledging CCD's ongoing contribution to Canada's national transportation system.
  • March 2005 Federal Court of Appeal decision does not dispute the fact that the Renaissance cars are inaccessible. Court rules that CTA did not look at the entire VIA network and determine whether access could be achieved by using other options. Federal Court suggests that an accessible train once a week might be sufficient or VIA could use other means of transporting people for point A to B such as taxis etc.
  • April 2005 CCD seeks Leave to Appeal Federal Court Decision to Supreme Court of Canada.
  • November 2005 Supreme Court of Canada grants CCD leave to appeal and orders VIA to pay CCD for their Leave to Appeal costs.
  • April 2006 Canadian Human Rights Commission, and Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec provincial Human Rights Commissions, DisAbled Womens Network, Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres, TransAction Now, Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, Canadian Association for Community Living, all are granted intervener status and support the position of CCD.
  • May 19 2006 Supreme Court of Canada hears CCD's complaint against VIA Rail.

Other Facts:

  • No contract was ever tendered by VIA for purchase of new rail cars.
  • Bombardier in Montreal builds some of the most accessible passenger rail cars in the world. These cars are fully accessible and are being purchased by the United States because their law requires access.
  • VIA's 50 year old passenger rail cars are more accessible than the new cars purchased.
  • CCD focused primarily on wheelchair access to the coach car but these cars present other barriers to persons who are blind and the sleeper cars and service car present a number of other barriers.
  • The passenger cars purchased would not be granted a license to operate in the United States, Britain or Europe because they do not meet access standards.
  • Canada was once a leader in accessible transportation but is no longer seen that way.
  • The Charter of Rights and Freedoms prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.
  • Canadians with disabilities comprise approximately 12% of the Canadian population. Incidence of disability increases with age and Canada is an aging society. Ensuring access is not only a matter of equality but also a matter of good business.

Council of Canadians with Disabilities
Press Release

March 15, 2005

Federal Court of Appeal Tells Canadians with Disabilities
Separate is Equal

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.

"Canadians with disabilities have been told that they cannot have full access, Canadians with disabilities have been told by the Court that it does not matter if the Renaissance cars are inaccessible, as long as some part of the system is accessible.

One judge even suggests that an accessible train once or twice a week may be okay. Is this equality of opportunity?

Would this be considered acceptable for any other group?

What if women or Aboriginal people were told they could only travel on certain trains once a week, would we consider that acceptable?" asked Marie White, CCD National Chairperson.

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.



Relevant Links


Council of Canadians with Disabilities Information on Accessible Travel from the Transportation Committee of the
Council of Canadians with Disabilities

arrowFederal Court of Appeal Tells Canadians with Disabilities Separate is Equal - Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) Press Release dd March 15, 2005

arrowRuling for VIA Rail disappoints disabled - Court quashes order to modify 139 cars
Paul Waldie, Globe and Mail dd March 11, 2005

arrowVia Rail Decision dd March 3, 2005
Federal Court of Appeal - VIA Rail Canada Inc. v. Canadian Transportation Agency, 2005 FCA 79

arrowCCD Letter to Minister of Transport dd January 6, 2005
CCD suspends participation/withdraws from the Advisory Committee on Accessible Transportation (ACAT)

arrowMoving Backwards: Canada's State Of Transportation Accessibility In An International Context
Researcher: David Baker,
Final Report to the Council of Canadians With Disabilities (CCD)

arrowThe Lemieux-Brassard Case
Air Travel for People Who Use Wheelchairs

arrowGuide dog, trip out in the cold; Vacation scuttled at last minute
Bruce Owen, Winnipeg Free Press Staff Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press dd 12 January 1997

arrowVia Rail Appeals the Ruling
CCD Press Release dd December 3, 2003

arrowCanadians with Disabilities Win Battle with VIA Rail
CCD Press Release dd October 29, 2003

arrowAir Canada and Via Rail Ignore Disabled in New Services
CCD Press Release dd August 20, 2001

arrowDisabled Canadians Win First Round with VIA Rail
CCD Press Release dd February 22, 2001

arrowVIA Rail Defies Canada's Accessibility Laws
CCD Press Release dd February 1, 2001

arrowVia Rail Stopped in Its Tracks
CCD Press Release dd January 26, 2001

arrowVIA Wants Canadians with Disabilities to Pay for their Rights
CCD Press Release dd December 20, 2000

arrowIs Via About to Waste Tax Payer Dollars?
CCD Press Release dd December 5, 2000

Other Links

arrowCanadian Transportation Agency - Accessible Transportation

arrowTransport Canada - Accessible Transporation Unit



Up Arrow - go to top of document Go To Top

Return to DAWN Ontario index page

Featured News & Alerts

What's New
additions to the site indexed daily

Contact Us


Page last updated March 18, 2006

Website designed & maintained courtesy of Barbara Anello