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Letter to Minister Furey on accessible washrooms in restaurants

You promised a fast track to enforcement of the Human Rights Commission’s order, yet in five months nothing is done.

Dear Minister Furey,

I am writing to ask you to order the Human Rights Commission to fine the Department of the Environment for not complying with the order to enforce food safety regulations, made by a Board of Inquiry September 6, 2018.  Despite the clarity and simplicity of the order, it is evident that the department has not made a good faith effort to comply.

I wrote to you and other officials on November 24, asking about timelines and offering suggestions.  I did not hear from you. Adrian Fuller, Executive Director of the Inspection, Compliance and Enforcement Division of the Department of the Environment replied with an incorrect characterization of the order:

As you know, the Human Rights Board of Inquiry has ordered Nova Scotia Environment to require restaurants to have accessible washrooms in order to comply with the Food Safety Regulations, unless the permit holder applies for an exemption based on undue hardship.

There is clearly a misunderstanding of the order.  It is not directed at restaurants, but at the Food Safety Division.  There is no mention of undue hardship. How the order is enforced will have greater or lesser effects on restaurants, but it will improve their hygienic conditions and improve public health.  It’s perplexing that the Department of the Environment cannot comprehend such measures.

It needs to be stated unequivocally that wheelchair users have no desire to enforce the order in a manner that would result in the closure of restaurants. On the other hand, as the decision of the Board of Inquiry makes clear, no restaurant should be a threat to health.  Restaurant owners in violation of the food safety regulation have been put in this awkward position by government’s failure to follow its own rules. You promised a fast track to enforcement of the order, yet in five months nothing, nothing is done.

Over the past months, I filed four food safety complaints.  If they were acted on at all, none resulted in an inspection deficiency for washroom convenience.  The University Club at Dalhousie was inspected on November 15, 2018 and no deficiencies were found.  Their statement on accessibility is a clear indication that the Food Safety Inspector did not follow the HRC order:

The Club Provides a ramp at the Alumni Crescent entrance, and a motorized stair climbing chair for guests who find climbing stairs difficult. Currently there is no elevator or accessible washrooms. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with G.M. Janice Tate at 902-494-3492

Your department has proposed that the parties engage in some variation of Restorative Justice.  On January 21, I participated in a lengthy phone call and was led to believe that a suitable solution could be in place by June 30.  I received only a brief summary of the Restorative Justice process and a misstatement of the issue at hand. Given that two weeks have passed with not even a hint of progress, it appears that Restorative Justice is just a synonym for delay.  The better choice, in keeping with with the idea of justice in Nova Scotia, is to carry out the order.

Confidence in the Human Rights Commission is essential.  If people come to believe that inefficiency and delay will drain a just judgment of its value, then the law cannot fulfill its primary function to protect them.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours truly,

Warren Reed

Warren (Gus) Reed writes about accessibility issues on the website of the James McGregor Stewart Society.

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

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