Air Canada and Via Rail Ignore Disabled in New Services

For Immediate Release

August 20, 2001

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) is a national non-profit advocacy organization of people with disabilities. During the last twenty years, the disability community has witnessed many progressive measures to make transportation services accessible to people with disabilities. For example fully accessible trains are now the norm in the United States and across Europe. Canadian regional carriers, such as GO Transit in Ontario, have made major strides towards full accessibility. A Canadian manufacturer, Bombardier, is the world's leading supplier of accessible train technology.

Unfortunately, at the national level, the disability community is witnessing its first ever deterioration in the provision of accessible transportation. Inaccessible transportation has a negative impact on the social and economic opportunities of persons with disabilities. The national trend hurts citizens with disabilities making us more dependent upon government support, because we are being denied the means of self-sufficiency.

As evidence for its claim that transportation access is deteriorating at the national level, CCD cites two particular case examples: the VIA Rail purchase of Nightstock rolling stock and Air Canada's decision to replace accessible aircraft with inaccessible airplanes. The deterioration in access means that people with disabilities are being sent back to the dark ages of segregation, dependency and marginalization.

The CCD has made 2 complaints to the CTA with regard to accessibility at VIA Rail and Air Nova.

Via Rail

Canada's Transportation Act protects Canadians with disabilities from the creation of "undue obstacles" to our mobility. The intent behind the Act is said to be the "elimination" of these barriers. CCD filed an application with the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) December 4, 2000 seeking a CTA ruling whether the Nightstock cars purchased by VIA would create an undue obstacle to travel for Canadians with disabilities.

VIA Rail has purchased 139 Nightstock 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. This means they carry far fewer passengers per car. In their current inaccessible configuration, they are therefore economically marginal. If their aisles were widened to accommodate persons who use wheelchairs, walkers, crutches or braces they would be completely uneconomic to operate. The service car has one single accessible sleeper unit. The coach car is totally inaccessible as is the sleeper car. This 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. It also proceeded with the purchase without consulting representatives of persons with disabilities or ensuring the trains met Canadian accessibility standards.

VIA's actions are similar to those of a bully who seeks to use greater resources to quash any opposition. VIA's actions have caused CCD to spend $45,000 in legal fees just to ensure that the Canadian Transportation Agency's jurisdiction is not undermined. VIA on the other hand used taxpayers' money to undermine the interests of people with disabilities. VIA appears to feel no shame in using its substantial public resources to deprive Canadians of their right to access.

Making this situation worse is the inaction of the Minister of Transport who hides behind the fact that legal action is underway and says therefore he is powerless to do anything. It is his Agency whose authority is being challenged. It is his responsibility to ensure that the powers of the CTA proscribed in the Canada Transportation Act are protected and used to ensure a safe and accessible transportation system for all Canadians. It is he who told representatives of persons with disabilities that VIA would receive its government grant to purchase the trains with Treasury Board restrictions requiring that the trains be accessible.

He then failed to follow through.

Air Canada

On July 16, 2001, CCD laid a complaint with the CTA because Air Canada is replacing service accessible to persons with disabilities with inaccessible services. Airlines are replacing accessible service with inaccessible service; and this presents an undue obstacle to the mobility of Canadians with disabilities. One example, which we fear is indicative of things to come, is on the Gander, Newfoundland-St. John's, Newfoundland route. Air Nova has replaced a previously accessible passenger airline service, using DASH 8 aircraft, with an inaccessible service, using Beech 1900 aircraft. With the DASH 8 service, persons with disabilities using mobility aids were able to travel and have their mobility aids transported by the carrier. The configuration and size of the Beech 1900 aircraft makes it unusable by many people with mobility disabilities. Air Nova's decision to replace the DASH 8 with the Beech 1900 was made for reasons of operational convenience and economic benefit for the airline. CCD believes that Air Nova's decision to replace an accessible service with an inaccessible service violates the spirit of the Canada Transportation Act. CCD believes that the CTA has a role to play to prevent the level of service accessibility in the Canadian transportation system from ratcheting backwards.

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Background information on both the VIA Rail and Air Nova claims is available.


Pat Danforth, Chairperson CCD Transportation Committee: 250-387-1433
Eric Norman, CCD Transportation Committee member: 709-256-8630
David Baker, Legal Counsel: 416-533-0040
Laurie Beachell, CCD National Coordinator: 204-947-0303