Our Campaign for Strong, Effective Implementation of the AODA

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

SEVERAL SARNIA CITY COUNCILLORS OPPOSE ANNOUNCING ALL BUS STOPS TO ACCOMMODATE VISION IMPAIRED PASSENGERS

March 25, 2008

SUMMARY

Over the past week the Sarnia Observer reported a shocking and ill-informed outcry by several members of the Sarnia City Council in opposition to taking simple steps to improve accessibility to public transit for persons with disabilities.

In the series of articles set out below, strong opposition was voiced to providing audible announcements of all public transit bus stops in Sarnia. Announcing all bus stops is needed to accommodate the needs of vision impaired bus passengers. Such steps are also needed to comply with the July 2007 ruling of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario in Lepofsky v. TTC #2. For background on that case, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/12122007.asp

According to the Sarnia Observer, one Sarnia city councillor called the Human Rights Commission “Nazis” for taking modest steps to enforce the requirements of the Human Rights Code. In a later article in the Sarnia Observer, he reportedly stood by those remarks.

For a city councillor to compare the racist, murderous Nazi regime to the Human Rights Commission’s modest efforts to enforce a Human Rights Tribunal ruling (reached after a six day hearing at which TTC advanced every defence it wished), is deeply offensive. It suggests a troubling hostility to the human rights of Ontarians with disabilities.

To his credit, Sarnia mayor, Michael Bradley appears to support the city complying with the Human Rights Tribunal’s ruling, in an article set out below, taken together with an a March 25, 2008 CBC Radio Ontario Morning interview. However, contrary to the Human Rights Tribunal ruling, he expressed concerns about having drivers verbally calling out each stop.

The opposition in Sarnia reflects a series of serious misunderstandings, as later articles demonstrate. First, some Sarnia councillors condemned the Human Rights Commission for supposedly forcing Sarnia to buy and install new technology to provide automated bus stop announcements. Yet as Human Rights Commission Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall made clear in a letter to the Sarnia Observer set out below, neither the human rights ruling in the Lepofsky case nor the Human Rights Commission were insisting on automated announcements. The ruling requires bus drivers to call the stops. This costs nothing, beyond some inconsequential training start-up costs. If Sarnia wants to buy an automated system, that is up to Sarnia, but neither the Tribunal nor the Commission was demanding it. It should be noted that a benefit of some automated systems is that they can also provide visual displays of upcoming stops, for the benefit of people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing.

Second, as reported below, some Sarnia officials seem to think that for bus drivers to announce all route stops would pose some sort of safety risk. Yet the Human Rights Tribunal resoundingly rejected that argument in Lepofsky v. TTC. That was based on the evidence that David Lepofsky presented. It showed the TTC’s “public safety” claim was bogus. TTC spent about a quarter of a million dollars trying to mount that losing argument. Moreover, over the Fall of 2007, according to TTC audits, TTC bus drivers have generally managed to call out all bus stops. There has been no claim of a threat to driver safety. Sarnia traffic cannot rival Toronto traffic.

Third, some seem to think that the absence of complaints from passengers justifies a failure to obey the law. Yet the Human Rights Code doesn’t say that Sarnia can discriminate until someone complains about it. It says no one shall discriminate because of disability, pure and simple.

The Sarnia recalcitrance was echoed in a recent article in the Sudbury Star, also set out below. In contrast, the North Bay Nugget positively reported that the City of North Bay will implement steps to comply with the Human Rights Tribunal decision against the Toronto Transit Commission. The London Free Press reports that London is prepared to provide this accommodation via automated announcements. Yet contrary to the Tribunal ruling, it isn’t providing the interim accommodation of having its drivers verbally announce each stop until that new technology is installed. What London Transit says in this article was ruled a violation of the Human Rights Code in Lepofsky v. TTC #2.

This disturbing Sarnia incident and its spin-off are further indications that there is a pressing need for the McGuinty Government to substantially beef up and speed up its implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It also shows that there is a pressing need for the Human Rights Commission to take prompt action to enforce the Human Rights Code in any situation where there is a demonstrated refusal to obey it, particularly in the case of a clear ruling from the Human Rights Tribunal.

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The Sarnia Observer Saturday March 15, 2008

Transit adopts new alerting system

The Ontario government is forcing Sarnia Transit to adopt an expensive solution to a nonexistent problem, the manager of the city's bus company says.

Jim Stevens said Friday the municipality is being ordered to adopt a system in which drivers will have to announce every stop.

And the bill to implement it could be as high as $200,000.

Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, has written to transit services across the province, asking them to remove barriers faced by riders with disabilities.

Stevens said the province has gone a step further, ordering municipal bus companies to comply with her request by June.

That means Sarnia Transit will have to retrofit its fleet with an automated system at a cost of up to $200,000 or put in a PA system at an unspecified cost.

The whole thing, he said, could be a nightmare.

If a PA system is used, drivers would have to take training every time they switched routes, he said.

"We'd have to do some training, have an inventory of all stops and make some kind of signage."

Hall defended the move, saying, "announcements are not only necessary for visually impaired riders but can benefit all transit users, including visitors and even many of us who can't see the stops due to crowds or weather conditions."

But Stevens said while calling out every stop may be necessary in Toronto, it's not needed here.

"Passengers get on and ask where the stop is if they don't know. Currently, and for the past 30 years, our drivers have been very good at telling people where stops are. We have a more personalized service than they do in Toronto. We've never had a complaint that that's not working."

Sophie Jackson, president of the Sarnia-Lambton White Cane Centre, agrees the current system works.

"Our Sarnia Transit drivers are so helpful and courteous," she said. "We are very fortunate to have such great bus drivers in Sarnia. If you ask them, they will let you off at your stop. I don't know why we have to add more stress on the drivers when their job is driving and keeping us safe. To announce every stop seems like a bit much." City council is expected to discuss the issue when it meets Monday. But Stevens is not hopeful the problem can be solved.

"At this point, they're (the province) not giving us any alternative," he said.

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The Sarnia Observer - Ontario, CA March 18, 2008

OHRC under fire

By CATHY DOBSON

City councillors are outraged that the Ontario Human Rights Commission is demanding that they approve a $200,000 automated announcement system for Sarnia’s buses.

“Refuse and see what happens,” said Coun. David Boushy at Monday’s council meeting. “I think this is a threat. It’s not about Sarnia. We don’t have this problem.”

Larger cities like Toronto need to accommodate disabled riders who can’t see which stop is approaching on the bus or subway. But small cities should not have to follow suit, Boushy said.

“We say no,” he said. “Defy the Human Rights Commission decision.”

As criticism of the commission became more pointed, staff advised council to go in-camera with their complaints.

New city manager Bruce Peever said that for legal reasons the issue should be tabled until it can be discussed behind closed doors.

Councillors were reacting to a request from Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, to all transit services across the province.

She’s asked them to adopt a system in which drivers will have to announce every stop. That means Sarnia Transit will have to retrofit its fleet with an automated system, according to transit manager Jim Stevens.

The city faces the cost even though there has never been a single related complaint in the history of Sarnia Transit, said Coun. Andy Bruziewicz.

He is a member of the city’s transit accessibility and advisory committee and said the committee wants a meeting as soon as possible with MPP Bob Bailey.

Insisting that drivers call out every stop creates many problems and distracts them from their driving, Bruziewicz said.

“Couldn’t we have an ask-the-driver program?” asked Coun. Terry Burrell.

That’s been tried by other municipalities that were later told it wasn’t acceptable, said Lloyd Fennell, the city’s director of corporate services.

The Human Rights Act “trumps” every other kind of bylaw and legislation, he added.

After council’s meeting, Coun. Jon McEachran did not mince words.

“I have real frustration,” he said. “To be frank, (the human rights commission) act like Nazis, which is complete hypocrisy to me.

“They’re supposed to be looking out for human rights but they rule with an iron fist. There’s no due process. It’s their way or you get screwed.”

By insisting that Sarnia taxpayers foot the bill for an unnecessary announcement system, the commission is denying the rights of local residents, McEachran said.

“They’re very narrow-minded. It’s tunnel vision. It’s their way or they’ll come down on you and it will cost you extra money.

“I question that any government body should have this much power.”

Before council moved on to other business, Bruziewicz suggested that council invite the human rights commissioner to Sarnia to experience the local transit system. Council unanimously agreed.

An in-camera meeting will be scheduled soon, McEachran said.

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The Sarnia Observer March 19, 2008 On Line

Point Edward might abandon Sarnia Transit

Point Edward may pull out of Sarnia Transit.

Mayor Dick Kirkland says the village could take that step if an Ontario Human Rights Commission decision results in the municipal bus company installing a $200,000 automated announcement system in its vehicles. Sarnia Transit depends on funds from the city, village and province to operate, with Point Edward chipping in $204,000 a year.

"Busing is costing us a fortune as it is," Kirkland said Tuesday. "We only have 2,100 people, so it's costing us $100 for every person in Point Edward, and that's including kids. If you add more to the cost, we'd have to look at some other way of transporting people."

He said he did not know what kind of alternative the municipality could come up with.

Kirkland said village council will discuss the issue Tuesday.

"I think we'll send a letter to the city saying 'we're not interested in paying any more for this,'" he said.

Kirkland believes an automated system makes sense for Toronto, but not Sarnia and Point Edward.

"Our bus drivers let people out wherever they want," he said. "The bus drivers here are very good."

Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the human rights commission, asked all transit systems across the province to adopt a setup in which drivers will have to announce every stop.

Municipal transit systems will be expected to comply with the request by June. Some transit providers intend to install automated visual and audio systems.

Some city councillors were critical of the proposal Monday. They plan to discuss the situation at a closed-door meeting in the near future.

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The Sarnia Observer - Ontario, CA march 20, 2008

Editorial
Public business should be public

We hope the new city manager's first decision on the job was a result of opening day jitters and is not a sign of things to come.

At city hall on Monday, some councillors were expressing outrage at an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal decision that will require transit operators to call out every bus stop.

As criticism of the Human Rights Commission became more pointed Coun. Dave Boushy actually wanted to defy the ruling council was advised to take their complaints behind closed doors.

City manager Bruce Peever cited legal issues as reason to table the discussed until the next in-camera meeting.

The Municipal Act is pretty clear about this stuff: closed-door meetings should only be allowed for matters relating to personal, personnel, legal, or property issues.

Frankly, we don't see how a lively debate about the Human Rights Commission became a "legal" issue. Uncomfortable, yes. Sensitive, sure. But legal?

Being obstreperous isn't actionable, although the discussion was indeed sharp enough to spark a letter from Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall, which appears below.

The need for more comprehensive open meeting legislation has been underscored by Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner. Former MPP Caroline DiCocco's open government bill might have accomplished that, but never did become law.

Sarnia wisely decided last year to let the Ontario Ombudsman's office handle closed-door complaints, rather than appoint its own investigator or hire one through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).

Monday was Peever's first council meeting and it was unfortunately for him that Mayor Mike Bradley, a master at chairing meetings, was away.

We're sure the new manager will appreciate that Sarnia council prides itself on conducting the public's business in public.

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The Sarnia Observer - Ontario, CA March 20, 2008

Removing barriers benefits everyone

Sir: Re: Article "OHRC under fire" by Cathy Dobson (The Observer, March 18, 2008)

There are a number of misunderstandings about transit stop announcements that I would like to clear up.

First, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has not said transit providers must install "automated" stop announcement systems. Neither did last year's Human Rights Tribunal decision in "Lepofsky."

Nor did the tribunal find any evidence that manually calling out all stops posed a risky distraction for drivers.

They did find, however, that a policy of announcing stops only upon request doesn't work.

The commission is asking transit services about their plans to ensure all transit stops are announced.

The commission will then report publicly and consider its next steps so that Tribunal decisions are applied equally across Ontario and the duty to accommodate riders with disabilities is respected.

In fact, many transit providers now have plans to do just that. Some have even told us they see stop announcements as a step toward greater accessibility and improved customer service.

A number reported they intend to install automated visual and audio systems to maximize accessibility for all transit riders.

Others will call out stops manually, either as an interim measure while they work towards automation or as the most appropriate option for their organization at this time.

Since stop announcements, which are a standard practice in many parts of the world, have now begun in Toronto, feedback from all kinds of riders with disabilities, older persons, visitors, newcomers and families with young children has been extremely positive.

Whether you ride the bus in a big city or a smaller community, this shows that like all forms of inclusive design, removing barriers benefits everyone.

Barbara Hall
Chief Commissioner
Ontario Human Rights Commission
Toronto

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Sarnia Observer Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bus stop decision defended; Drivers calling bus stops 'a simple thing to do,' said champion of the issue

By CATHY DOBSON

Sarnia city council is not above the law and must tell its bus drivers to call out each stop, said the Toronto man who successfully fought to have the ruling incorporated into the Ontario Human Rights Code.

"I'm not asking any transit system to buy a single piece of hardware," David Lepofsky told The Observer. "It's a simple thing to do. Call out the stops. It costs nothing."

Lepofsky, a 50-year-old criminal lawyer, is blind. He spent 13 years fighting to have subway and bus stops consistently announced.

When a tribunal with the Ontario Human Rights Commission agreed with him last year, transit systems across the province were told that all stops must be announced by June 30, 2008.

City staff are recommending an automated system that could cost as much as $200,000. They say it's not reasonable to expect bus drivers to call out every stop, that their voices won't carry to the back of the bus, and that it would distract drivers from the road. Staff also said some operators would need to call out bus stops 600 times in an eight-hour shift.

"If they can do it in Toronto, why not everywhere?" Lepofsky asked. "If it's not a safety risk on busy Toronto streets, why would it be in Sarnia?"

At Monday's city council meeting, several councillors were frustrated by the the Human Rights Commission ruling.

Coun. Dave Boushy suggested council "defy" the ruling. "Refuse and see what happens," he said.

After the meeting, Coun. Jon McEachran said the commission "acts like Nazis, which is complete hypocrisy to me. They're supposed to be looking out for human rights, but they rule with an iron fist. There's no due process. It's their way or you get screwed," McEachran said.

Lepofsky called McEachran's comments appalling and offensive.

"Enforcing the law (in Ontario) cannot be compared with a regime whose record is one of vicious war crimes and grotesque atrocities." Lepofsky said the Sarnia's current "ask-the-driver" policy for disabled people needing to get out at a specific stop is not good enough.

"Drivers can forget to call your stop, but they'll remember if they routinely call all the stops. In Toronto, we blind people know drivers can forget. If you miss your stop and you're blind, you're in a mess."

Lepofsky argued at the six-day tribunal hearing that some Toronto bus drivers voluntarily called all stops.

"They were commended for it. It wasn't a burden. I have to assume in Sarnia you have fewer stops to learn."

Since the Toronto Transit Commission began announcing all stops last August, many people, including the sighted, have said it's a benefit, Lepofsky said

The president of Sarnia's White Cane Club has told The Observer that blind members of the community have no complaint with the status quo on local buses. And city councillors said there have been no complaints.

McEachran said he stands by his position and made no apologies for his comments.

"Calling all stops may make sense for Toronto but not for Sarnia or other small municipalities," he said. "It's too much of a burden for our drivers to call all stops because they stop every couple of blocks.

"Mr. Lepofsky asks some good questions and I want our staff to look at it again, but this isn't the first time people have had problems with Human Rights Commission rulings. They are not always fair or equal," McEachran said.

Mayor Mike Bradley did not attend Monday's meeting but said Thursday that he respects the commission decision. An automated system can be purchased using gas tax monies from the province, Bradley said.

"In the long term, we need an automated system."

A delegation has requested time to speak at council's April 7 meeting about language used at city hall on Monday, the mayor added.

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Sudbury Star Tuesday March 18, 2008

Small cities don't need to announce stops

Over the years we've become resigned to the fact that, from time to time, the blockheads at Queen's Park will try to force solutions to Toronto's problems on the entire province.

But even we're taken aback by the latest display of nincompoopery coming from the Ontario capital.

We're referring, of course, to the McGuinty government's decision to order all municipal bus companies to adopt a system in which drivers will have to announce every stop.

In Sarnia, that means our buses may have to be retrofitted with automated systems that could cost the municipality up to $200,000. Either that or Sarnia Transit will have to install a PA system in every bus, change signs all over the municipality and introduce a training program for all of its drivers. The cost of this alternative is not known, although it's bound to be in the tens of

thousands of dollars.

All because the Ontario Human Rights Commission says every stop should be called out to remove barriers faced by riders with disabilities.

It's a scheme that probably makes sense in Toronto, where buses are often jammed to capacity.

But in places like Sarnia, it's sheer lunacy.

As Sarnia Transit manager Jim Stevens points out, we have a smaller, more personalized service in which drivers routinely tell those unfamiliar with the route where they need to get off. Passengers simply ask for help and get it, without the need for a $200,000 system.

When it next meets, city council should fire off a letter to the premier, demanding he reign in his overzealous bureaucrats.

He needs to be told, in no uncertain terms, that the days are gone when places like Sarnia can afford to adopt expensive solutions to nonexistent problems.

*****

North Bay Nugget March 18, 2008

City moves on plan to announce transit stops

The city will develop a plan to announce stops for passengers on its buses at the behest of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Councillors agreed Monday to implement the plan after the commission said the practice of announcing stops when requested by riders could still be violating their rights, based on a recent decision by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

The tribunal ruled the Toronto Transit Commission violated the rights of riders by not announcing every stop.

The commission asked all Ontario transit operators to report back on their accessibility standards.

The local plan will include naming all transit stops and buying equipment, estimated at $500,000. Staff suggested $130,000 in recent provincial funding may help offset those costs.

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London Free Press Tuesday, March 25, 2008

LTC challenges stop calls timing
But by next fall, London will have an electronic call system.

By DANIELA SIMUNAC, SUN MEDIA

The Ontario Human Rights Commission is calling on all transit services to start announcing stops in June, but the head of London Transit says there'll be no changes made here by that deadline.

Larry Ducharme, general manager of the London Transit Commission, says while it can't meet the provincial deadline, a change in the works will exceed what's expected.

He said LTC drivers already call out bus stops for passengers who request it.

The LTC has in the works a new electronic system to be put in all buses that will announce and display stops, but it won't be ready until at least September, he said.

Meeting the OHRC's demand "can be done," Ducharme said yesterday.

"Our problem is the time frame and the competing need for resources . . . Our current program is a good one. If we can install the systems before the fall, we will."

Transit systems across the province must announce all stops by June 30.

Ducharme said naming and numbering all stops, and training drivers to call them out two months before the installation of the new electronic system, would be "an expensive undertaking in a limited period of time."

There are 2,500 bus stops on city streets.

The LTC has $6.5 million set aside in its budget to pay for its new system, which will include satellite positioning, a screen display and speakers.

The LTC board will meet tomorrow to finalize its decision on the rights commission's demand.

Meanwhile, city staff in Sarnia are recommending automated systems be used on their buses because it's unreasonable to expect bus drivers will call out every stop and their voices be heard. But Sarnia city council is not above the law and must tell its drivers to call out each stop, says the Toronto man who successfully fought to have the ruling incorporated into the human rights code.

"I'm not asking any transit system to buy a single piece of hardware," said David Lepofsky. "It's a simple thing to do. Call out the stops. It costs nothing."

Lepofsky, a 50-year-old criminal lawyer, is blind. He spent 13 years fighting to have subway and bus stops consistently announced and a rights commission tribunal agreed with him last year. He said Sarnia's "ask-the-driver" policy for disabled people needing off at a specific stop isn't good enough.

"Drivers can forget to call your stop, but they'll remember if they routinely call all the stops. In Toronto, we blind people know drivers can forget. If you miss your stop and you're blind, you're in a mess."