The Université de Montreal has been ordered to pay $10,000 after a wheelchair-bound man complained there were no accessible washrooms in one of their buildings.

The complaint stems from an incident in August, 2014 when Omar Lachheb went for an eye exam at the school. Following the appointment, he urgently needed to use a washroom but was unable to find one he could access in his wheelchair.

All public institutions are required to have bathrooms that are wheelchair accessible.   

“The washroom on the first floor was not accessible so, basically, I tried six floors and wasn’t able to find an accessible washroom,” said Lachheb.

He said he spent half an hour looking before being forced to cross the street. By the time he managed to get there, he realized he had already urinated.

“I felt embarrassed. I still remember that,” he said. “I also felt embarrassed when I had to take the taxi to my place and I felt that I had to take action.”

Lachheb took his case to the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations, which filed a complaint of discrimination with the Quebec Human Rights Commission. CRARR co-founder Fo Niemi said the university had a legal duty to accommodate people like Lachheb.

The commission agreed – the school had been told to pay Lachheb $7,500 in moral damages and $2,500 in punitive damages.

“The concept of universal access has to be reminded to people day in and day out and now there’s a $10,000 price tag attached to the failure to accommodate,” said Niemi.

In a statement, the university said the building’s accessible washroom for men was under repair for two weeks and that Lachheb could have used the women’s washroom instead. The men’s washroom has since been repaired but Lachheb said he hopes the decision will put pressure on other institutions to make sure bathroom facilities are always available for everyone.

“I think it’s a question of dignity and of human rights and the embarrassment that I had that day, I hope that by taking action, nobody else will have to face this embarrassment,” he said.