Disabled Montrealers file human rights complaint against STM
Published Thursday, December 8, 2011 5:12PM EST
A group of 11 disabled Montrealers has filed a complaint with Quebec's Human rights Commission against the STM over access to the city's public transit.
The precedent-setting case comes as part of a long-fought battle by disability rights advocates Regroupement des activistes pour l'inclusion au Québec, who say the city's transit corporation discriminates against the disabled.
Eight of the transit system's 68 metro stations offer access to the disabled, and the bus system, they say, is inadequate and unreliable for those with restricted mobility.
Each plaintiff is asking $20,000 in damages.
"When I want to go to McGill, I have to get off at Berri (metro), which has an elevator, and go with my scooter from Berri to McGill which is quite long. It's at least 20 minutes," said Julien Gascon-Samson of RAPLIQ.
The STM chose not to speak about the issue Thursday, because it said it has spoken to the complaint before.
In September, following a protest by a group of people with limited mobility, STM Chairman Michel Labrecque left a symposium on the future of public transportation in Montreal to talk to the demonstrators.
At that time, he said the cost to install elevators in metro stations is much more than initially anticipated, and the agency's budget cannot accommodate building more than one elevator per year.
Labrecque said it costs "between $10 and 15 million per station depending how deep it is."
With an annual budget of $100 million per year for repairs and maintenance, building elevators any faster would be "impossible, absolutely impossible," he said.
It could take up to year for the Human Rights Commission to rule on the complaints, but advocates say they are ready for a battle.
"We really need to make this political, because it is political," said Laurence Parent, president of RAPLIQ.
A case of this magnitude would be a first in Quebec, said QHRC coordinator Real Tremblay.
"We are receiving a lot of individual complaints, but a collective complaint like that it is the first to my experience," he said.
The STM will be obligated to react to any decision by the QHRC, said Fo Niemi, executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations.
"It's in the public interest that the STM sit down and possibly negotiate a settlement," he said. "If it doesn't, the whole thing will go to court."