TORONTO, Feb. 12 /CNW/ - Rev. Peter Hughes just wanted to exercise his fundamental right to vote. Rev. Hughes is physically disabled and was appalled when he arrived at his polling station in downtown Toronto and faced a flight of stairs. At a federal by-election in March 2008, he had to crawl down on the seat of his pants to the basement polling station.
To add insult to injury when he complained to Elections Canada they dismissively said it was not their problem and Rev. Hughes was in error. Elections Canada took no steps to address accessibility and Rev. Hughes was faced with the same flight of stairs in the General Election in October of 2008.
Rev. Hughes, represented by Kate Hughes and Jan Borowy of Cavalluzzo Hayes Shilton Mclntyre & Cornish, LLP, filed a human rights complaint asking for Elections Canada to address the problem not just for himself at his polling station, but to make all polling stations across Canada accessible for all voters. At the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal hearing, Rev. Hughes testified about crawling down the stairs and then the humiliation and the safety concerns of pushing his walker through the snow to exit the polling station through "a backdoor ramp that is used for freight and garbage."
On February 12, 2010, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal agreed with Rev. Hughes and in a ground-breaking decision ordered national-wide remedies.
The Tribunal said that:
"it is disappointing that in the disability rights/accessibility-
heightened time in which we find ourselves living as we enter the second
decade of the 21st century, that Mr. Hughes would have had to experience
the humiliation and indignities of those two voting events, followed by
the tardy investigation, inaccurate conclusions and poor handling of his
verbal and written complaints."
The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered comprehensive nation-wide
improvements and a timetable to comply including:
- A cease order that Elections Canada not have any polling stations in
any electoral district in Canada that do not have barrier-free
- Monitoring and consultation with disability groups
- New nation-wide accessibility verification procedures;
- New training for all Elections Canada officials including the highest
official, the Chief Electoral Officer, and senior management at
Elections Canada National Headquarters and staff in all electoral
- A new complaints procedure;
- Report to Parliament on Polling Station Accessibility complaints;
- Improved Accessibility signage at all polls;
- And other important nation-wide systemic remedies.
Rev. Hughes was supported in his case by the expert Dr. Catherine Frazee, Co-Chair of the Ryerson-RBC Institute for Disability Studies, who the Tribunal noted, was "eloquent in articulating the barriers people with disabilities face in our society, structurally and attitudinally". She said that "there should be no hierarchy of citizenship when it comes to voting in Canada: no second class voters."
The Council of Canadian with Disabilities, represented by ARCH Disability Law Centre, intervened in support of Rev. Hughes and his request for nation-wide remedies.
For further information: Kate Hughes, Cavalluzzo Hayes Shilton Mclntyre & Cornish, (416) 964-1115; Rev. Peter Hughes may be contacted through his Counsel