featured Inclusion

Restorative injustice: Still waiting for accessible restaurant washrooms one year after human rights decision

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – In a decision issued in September 2018  a Nova Scotia Human Right Board of Inquiry ordered the Department of Environment in no uncertain terms to enforce food safety regulations that make it mandatory for restaurants to provide wheelchair-accessible washrooms.  

Almost a year later plaintiffs in that case are still waiting for actual changes to materialize. One of them, Warren (Gus) Reed, submitted this op-ed.

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

Almost a year ago, a Human Rights Board of Inquiry ordered Nova Scotia Environment to enforce Food Safety regulations without discrimination.  Another patio season is half over. Lack of progress marks awkward attempts to shoehorn the case into the Restorative Justice process. Government is responsible for this continuing injustice. Restaurants are complicit.  

Of all the specious arguments brought forth at the inquiry, none was more offensive than this statement from the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia.  

  • “In our sector when we refer to the term “public” we are speaking about the general good for the largest number of people. This unfortunately does not include all people.”

This discriminatory language is an insult to every Nova Scotian. To say that it’s OK for certain customers who vote, pay taxes, work, have families, hold office and win athletic events to be excluded is a nasty message.

“The public” of course, pays for the transit system that delivers customers to restaurants, the services that clear sidewalks and the infrastructure that brings water and removes waste. “The public” includes job seekers who are physically excluded from restaurants.

For example, taxpayers contributed $6.8 million to recent improvements on Argyle Street. Thirty percent of Nova Scotians claim a disability. 30% X $6.8 million = $2.04 million. Several well-known Argyle Street restaurants continue to discriminate in public health, service and employment, and the government continues to tolerate this behaviour.

So the statement of the Restaurant Association really means:

  • “In our sector when we refer to the term “public” we are speaking about the general good for the largest number of people. This unfortunately does not include all people. We are happy to accept the generosity of taxpayers with disabilities, but we won’t consider having them as customers and we certainly won’t employ them. And thanks for the $2.04 million!”

We have endured months of foot dragging by government and restaurants. Perhaps they hope to wear us down. Both may be hoping for an innocuous resolution like “efforts are underway to comply with Food Safety regulations by 2030”. 

I don’t know what they’re thinking because they’ve been completely silent.

They underestimate us. The Human Rights Board of Inquiry made an order, not a suggestion. Restaurants should be undoing the harm they have caused. The province should take public health seriously and stop giving restaurants a pass to discriminate. Restaurants should employ people with disabilities. Most of all, both should stop treating us as second-class Nova Scotians.

Gus Reed

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

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