‘You’ve got to keep pushing’: CTA rules in woman’s favour over Regina bus accessibility

After waiting over two years, a Regina woman who uses a wheelchair is happy the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) ruled in her favour against a bus company.

In October 2018, Terri Sleeva called Rider Express Transportation to book a ride from Regina to Saskatoon for a date in November.

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Sleeva told the operator that she uses a wheelchair and was told that the bus was not wheelchair accessible. The operator told Sleeva the company would be receiving wheelchair-accessible buses in the future but was not told a specific date.

Sleeva is part of a group called Transportation for All with individuals who mostly use wheelchairs. The group was founded when Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC) closed in 2017.

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“They couldn’t go home for Christmas. They couldn’t go to funerals, they couldn’t go to weddings. Nothing, because the (Saskatchewan Transportation Company) was gone and a (taxi) trip to Saskatoon and back costs $600,” Sleeva told Global News.

Armed with knowledge of Canadian transportation and accessibility rights, Sleeva filed a claim against Rider Express with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.

Sleeva’s claim was passed onto the Canadian Human Rights Commission because the company is headquartered in Calgary. The claim was passed on again for a final time to the Canadian Transportation Agency.

Sleeva said it was frustrating process. She was even told by peers that her claim wasn’t going to get anywhere and it was “no action thing.”

“The thing is you’ve got keep pushing, you’ve got to. If you feel that’s the right way to do things, keep going and persevere, it comes to pass eventually.”

According to subsection 172(3) of the CTA, the agency may require corrective measures be taken on determining that there is an undue obstacle to the mobility of a persons with disability.

“Transportation service providers, including (Rider Express), have a duty to accommodate persons with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship,” the CTA added.

In their decision, released on April 14, the agency found that there is no basis to conclude that removing the obstacle to Sleeva’s mobility would cause undue hardship for Rider Express.

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“The agency therefore finds that appropriate corrective actions should be ordered,” the decision read.

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The CTA added in their ruling that in order for Rider Express to meet its obligation to provide accessible services to persons with disabilities, they must provide bus services that are wheelchair accessible.

Rider Express has until May 12 to confirm that a number of measures set out by the CTA are in place for all of its routes.

The decision adds that if Rider Express does not have buses that can accommodate a wheelchair or if not all of its routes are served by wheelchair-accommodating buses, they must provide alternate transportation for someone who makes the request 48 hours before scheduled departure time, or make a reasonable effort to do so if the request is made 48 hours before departure time. This may include providing a wheelchair-accessible van or taxi for a person in need.

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Rider Express is required to confirm that the alternate transportation means are in place no later than June 10.

Sleeva said she went into disbelief when she received the decision.

Dylan Morin from Transportation for All said the decision was “fantastic.”

Morin said people with disabilities and mobility issues face a number of challenges since the STC shut down.

“If they can’t get a ride, they stay home. They can’t go and see family, they can’t go and see friends. They can’t go to community events. If you’re on a provincial board, you may not be able to get to meetings, if you don’t have transportation,” he said.

Morin is hoping that things will change now based on this ruling.

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In their decision, CTA said that Rider Express chose not to participate in the proceeding though CTA made several attempts to contact the company by phone, email and mail.

“(Rider Express) remained silent throughout the process and did not respond at any point, even when the onus shifted to it, in the second part of the proceeding, to explain how it would remove the obstacle or why it believed it could not do so without experiencing undue hardship,” the CTA decision read.

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Rider Express did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls from Global News. This story will be updated when a statement is provided.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Accessibility advocates raise serious concerns with new policy allowing dogs on Nova Scotia patios – Halifax

One day after the Nova Scotia government announced a new policy allowing dogs on outdoor patios, some accessibility advocates and guide dog users are raising concerns that the presence of pets could compromise their safety.

While service animals are well-trained, any barking or play from dogs at other tables may still distract them, interfering with their ability to keep their owner safe, said guide dog user Shelley Adams.

“I’m just worried about the extra distraction it’s going to bring,” said Adams, sitting next to her own guide dog, Rookie.

“I don’t want to have to be sitting there worrying that another dog is going to try and engage with him, or I don’t know, hurt him in any way … He is my mobility aid.”

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Adams said she is not opposed to the policy, and would still attend an outdoor patio but ask to be seated away from other dogs.

In the event someone else’s dog were to start misbehaving, however, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) said the desire of the service dog user to sit on the patio must be prioritized.

“If there are going to be other animals on a patio, there’s potential for the other animals to negatively interfere with the work of a guide dog. I think the behaviour of the animals needs to be held to the same high standards that we as guide dog users have our dogs following,” said CNIB guide dog program president Diane Bergeron.

It’s important to distinguish between the rights and needs of a service dog user and the preference of a pet owner, she added.

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The provincial change came into effect on Tuesday, answering a longstanding request from the restaurant industry to remove barriers for dog owners, who may be more likely to stop for a meal or a drink if their dogs can accompany them.

In a Wednesday statement, Environment Department spokesperson Barbara MacLean it’s important for Nova Scotians to do their part not to distract service dogs or interfere with their ability to do their job, but ultimately, establishments are responsible for enforcing the policy properly.

“It’s up to restaurant owners to ensure that dogs on patios are not impeding their customers, including those from the accessibility community and service dogs,” she wrote.

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Businesses that choose to allow pets must also follow certain rules, she added, including keeping their dogs leashed, on the ground and away from the aisles. Pet dogs are still prohibited from entering bars and restaurants, while service dogs are not.

Luc Erjavec, vice-president of the Restaurants Canada Atlantic chapter, emphasized that the new patio provision is voluntary and not every restaurant will choose to adopt it.

Restaurant owners who do choose to allow pets, he added, will do their utmost to accommodate all customers.

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“I don’t think any operator wants 10 dogs on a small patio. I think they’re going to look at each individual situation, the time of day, what’s going on and respond accordingly,” he said. “Our goal is to keep our customers happy.”

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Accessibility advocate Paul Vienneau, who helped win the case for accessible washrooms in Nova Scotia restaurants, said he shares the concerns of guide dog users.

He loves dogs and sympathizes with the restaurant industry, he told Global News, but he fears the policy decision was taken without consultation from the disability community, casting a shadow over years of accessibility progress.

“There are other ways to make money than doing this,” said Vienneau. “For the government to just wave their hand and basically wipe away decades of hard work by disabled and blind folks that they’ve done is pretty disrespectful to these people.”

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David Fraser, a privacy lawyer who represented wheelchair users in the 2018 challenge for accessible restaurant washrooms, also wondered whether the new policy was “thought through.”

“My concern is by allowing dogs access to patios, you might be reducing the access to those patios that are otherwise accessible to individuals who use service animals, and I think that’s a real concern,” he said.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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