Federal Court of Appeal Tells Canadians with Disabilities Separate is Equal

For Immediate Release

March 15, 2005

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. The report is available on CCD's website at www.ccdonline.ca

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For More Information Contact:

Marie White - National Chairperson (709) 739-8233
Eric Norman - Transportation Committee Member (709) 256-8630
Laurie Beachell - National Coordinator (204) 947-0303