Ac­ces­si­bil­ity cov­ered by char­ter, hear­ing told

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JA­SON MAGDER jmagder@postmedia.com Twit­ter.com/Ja­sonMagder Face­book.com/Ja­sonMagderJour­nal­ist

If tran­sit agen­cies had fol­lowed the law, most métro and train sta­tions would be ac­ces­si­ble by now, say the lawyers rep­re­sent­ing peo­ple who rely on wheel­chairs to get around.

“The Que­bec char­ter (of Hu­man Rights and Free­doms) went into ef­fect in 1975, so all the sta­tions built af­ter that point should be ac­ces­si­ble to every­one,” said Gilles Gareau, the lawyer rep­re­sent­ing the Re­groupe­ment des ac­tivistes pour l’in­clu­sion au Québec (RAPLIQ).

The group was in Que­bec Su­pe­rior Court Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day re­quest­ing per­mis­sion to launch a class-ac­tion suit against the So­ciété de trans­port de Mon­tréal, the Agence métropoli­taine de trans­port and the city of Mon­treal.

The group claims the char­ter guar­an­tees their right to equal­ity, and to build a tran­sit sys­tem with­out el­e­va­tors ex­cludes them and is dis­crim­i­na­tory.

The first 26 sta­tions of the métro were built in 1966 , and the first ex­ten­sion was built in 1976. That means the ma­jor­ity of the 68 sta­tions should have been ac­ces­si­ble from the get-go, Gareau said.

“They are a pub­lic agency; they can’t just ig­nore the char­ter,” he said. “If you of­fer a pub­lic ser­vice, it should be ac­ces­si­ble to every­one.”

Gareau ar­gued the tran­sit net­work is in­ac­ces­si­ble be­cause of bus ramps that rou­tinely break down, only 11 out of 68 métro sta­tions have el­e­va­tors, and only one of six com­muter train lines in the re­gion has sta­tions that are ac­ces­si­ble.

How­ever, the tran­sit agen­cies coun­tered they can’t be held ac­count­able for those prob­lems, be­cause they are not the ones de­cid­ing whether to make the net­work ac­ces­si­ble — that is the role of the elected of­fi­cials who over­see the agen­cies.

“You can’t sue the STM for de­ci­sions on how it al­lo­cates its bud­get, say­ing it should have ded­i­cated more re­sources to pub­lic tran­sit,” said Jean-Philippe Des­marais, the lawyer for the STM.

The STM al­ready pro­vides ser­vice for peo­ple with re­duced mo­bil­ity, he said. The adapted tran­sit ser­vice — which uses minibuses and vans adapted to trans­port peo­ple in wheel­chairs — may not be per­fect, he said, but it does al­low peo­ple in wheel­chairs to get around the city.

“Yes there are in­con­ve­niences with the ser­vice, but there are also ben­e­fits — for ex­am­ple, a doorto-door ser­vice that peo­ple in the reg­u­lar net­work don’t have ac­cess to,” Des­marais said.

RAPLIQ ar­gued that adapted trans­port does not give peo­ple an ef­fi­cient means of trans­porta­tion be­cause lifts must be ar­ranged 24 hours in ad­vance and can ar­rive within a half-hour win­dow, which can make it dif­fi­cult to be at ap­point­ments on time, or force pas­sen­gers to leave ap­point­ments early.

Lawyers for the AMT ar­gued the def­i­ni­tion of the group of peo­ple seek­ing a class-ac­tion is too vague, and too large. The city ar­gued it has lim­ited funds, and has to make de­ci­sions about where to best al­lo­cate its fi­nan­cial re­sources.

“The city can’t add more money to the bud­get of the STM with­out dra­mat­i­cally in­creas­ing prop­erty tax rates,” said Chan­tal Bruyère, who is rep­re­sent­ing the city.

Judge Marie-Anne Pa­que­tte will de­cide, likely in the com­ing months, whether there is cause to war­rant a class-ac­tion law­suit. If au­tho­rized, it will likely take sev­eral years be­fore the case is heard in court.

CHRISTINNE MUSCHI

Ac­tivists wait in the hall­way dur­ing a break at the court­house this week as the Re­groupe­ment des ac­tivistes pour l’in­clu­sion au Québec at­tempts to take the prov­ince, the AMT and STM to court in a class-ac­tion suit over lack of wheelchair ac­cess on trans­porta­tion ser­vices.

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