Disabled Canadians Win First Round with VIA Rail

For Immediate Release

February 22, 2001

Today the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) ruled on the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) compliant regarding VIA Rail's untendered purchase of 139 rail cars that are inaccessible for persons with disabilities. VIA said CTA had no jurisdiction to rule on CCD's complaint because the cars were not in service at this time. CTA completely rejected VIA's argument. CTA gave VIA until the end of the day tomorrow to convince it that VIA will not be retrofitting the cars before CTA can rule. If VIA cannot persuade CTA, then CTA will have no option but to grant the interim injunction sought by CCD. CCD opposes any retrofit because it would cost Canadian tax payers millions of dollars to return the cars once CTA confirms their inaccessibility.

"This is a major victory for Canadians with disabilities," said Pat Danforth Chairperson of CCD Transportation Committee. "VIA thought they could ignore the access needs of persons with disabilities and they have been told that they cannot, this decision sends a clear message that we are full citizens with the same rights as everyone else," said Danforth.

VIA has purchased 139 cars from Alstrom, a French company, which built these cars for use in the Chunnel. The cars are narrower than those in use in Canada, the service car has one single accessible sleeper unit, the coach car is totally inaccessible as is the sleeper car. This hasty purchase by VIA ignored the needs of people with disabilities. Although Minister Collenette promised any new rolling stock would be accessible VIA chose to ignore this commitment even though the Government of Canada provided $130 million dollars for upgrading rolling stock.

"Canadians with disabilities took on Goliath and won," said Eric Norman CCD Executive member. "This decision affirms that the law applies to all," said Norman. "For a small non profit organization like CCD to challenge VIA and win gives us hope that our needs as people with disabilities are finally being recognized," said Norman.

"We understand that the purchased cars may be arriving in Montreal soon," said Laurie Beachell National Coordinator of CCD. "Bombardier Industries in Montreal, a Canadian company, is building accessible train cars and selling them to the United States where the law requires full access. Why are we not supporting our own industries?" asked Beachell.

For more information, contact:
Ms. Pat Danforth- 250-383-4443
Mr. David Baker- 416-539-0226
Mr. Laurie Beachell- 204-947-0303 (wk) 204-467-5926 (hm)
Mr. Eric Norman - 709-256-8630