(September 14/18) An independent board of inquiry has ruled that the Nova Scotia government “discriminated against individuals who use wheelchairs for mobility” by failing to enforce regulations that require restaurants to have accessible bathrooms.

In a decision released on Sept. 6, through the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, the board’s chairwoman, Gail Gatchalian, stated that the province discriminated against five complainants, and ordered that they each receive $1,000 in general damages. She said the failure to ensure that restaurants with patios provide accessible bathrooms to customers in wheelchairs was a failure in its administration and enforcement of the Food Safety Regulations that went against the Human Rights Act.

She ordered the province to interpret, administer and enforce the regulations as they appear. This means that effective immediately, government officials will be required to inspect bars, restaurants and other foodservice establishments, to ensure that accessible washrooms are available for customers in wheelchairs.

The complainants in the case argued that the language in the regulations are vague and do not take the experiences of people with disabilities into account. They also stressed that it’s particularly important for wheelchair users to be able to wash their hands before eating in a restaurant, because their palms are in “almost constant contact” with dirt and germs as they rub against the wheels and rims of their chairs.

Under Nova Scotia’s Health Protection Act, food establishments must have washrooms available for the public in a “convenient location,” unless exempted by an administrator. The complainants argued that while some restaurants might consider their bathrooms conveniently located, they sometimes are inconvenient — even inaccessible — for people with disabilities.

The human rights board stated that the province can grant businesses an exemption or extension to comply with the regulations, on a case-by-case basis, for reasons where compliance would cause undue hardship. Restaurants Canada will release the provincial government’s response and any criteria for applying for an exemption or extension, once available.

Click here to read a copy of the decision.

If you have any questions or concerns, you can send an email to Luc Erjavec, Restaurants Canada Vice President, Atlantic Canada, at lerjavec@restaurantscanada.org.

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