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Farting rainbows and unicorns – Paul Vienneau on the government’s response to the accessible washrooms decision

Paul Vienneau speaks with reporters during the human rights tribunal earlier this year. Photo Robert Devet

Note: Paul Vienneau was one of several complainants in the human rights tribunal that recently found government to act in a discriminatory manner by not enforcing food safety regulations that forbid restaurants from having non-accessible washrooms.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The provincial government’s press release from Friday, October 12 sounds as if the goal was to work together with the accessibility advocates from the start.

Yet here we are, not a word of acknowledgement that they fully intended to continue to act in a discriminatory fashion against wheelchair users in Nova Scotia. When wheelchair users asked the government to stop selectively enforcing their own regulations relating to hand washing in restaurants, their response was to fight us.

Selectively not enforcing regulations for a specific group is the textbook definition of discrimination, and the adjudicator for our human rights tribunal agreed with us, and we prevailed.

Way back in very early September the adjudicator told them to fix the problem from that day on, and to enforce their regulations. Yet the government’s press release speaks of “working with the stakeholders” to find a solution, as if this was their idea all along.

The solution is to do what you have been told you must do under the law: enforce your regulations relating to our  right of hygiene, which the United Nations has designated a basic human right. Instead of solving this issue the very next day (as they were told to do), they sent out their press release the day after this sitting of the legislature, and very late on a Friday, the day colloquially known as The Day Press Releases Go To Die.

The provincial government is justified in speaking proudly of Bill 59, The Accessibility Bill. Our community was invited to help create the content for the bill, which is unprecedented, I have been told. It is one of the highlights of my life that I was part of the Bill 59 Community Coalition, a deaf and disabled group of activists and citizens who worked hard over several months to brief the legislature’s Law Amendments Committee on our aspirations for the coming bill.

Meanwhile, the government defends cutting of funding for long term care homes where disabled and elderly people (who are disabled by age) are suffering and dying from easily prevented pressure sores. It is death by neglect for these folks.

And when asked to enforce their own regulations, their reaction was to fight us.

Our own Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission denied us TWICE, and had to be told by a Supreme Court justice to perform their stated mission, to investigate(at the very least) any and all complaints they recieve.

I believe it was an 800-odd day space between our complaint and the human rights tribunal. The Human Rights Commission, from which the Bill 59 Community Coalition received a human rights award this year, offered no assistance yet sent two lawyers(one a student) to “observe”.

I encourage all of you to rise above writing angry emails and letters, to do more than just share things on social media. Make contact with those who can help your cause and build relationships based on acknowledging the humanity in each other and working together to fix what’s wrong.

I’m grateful our hard work paid off. This just shows the importance of disabled people being a part of the process where our rights are concerned. The government’s instinct is to continue to treat us as children and do “for us”.

As we say in the advocacy business: “nothing about us without us.”

See also: Victory for wheelchair users in human rights case, and another embarrassment of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission


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