HRM Planning Dept. riddle

Q: When is a candy store no different from a surf shop?

A: When HRM’s planning department wants to avoid enforcing accessibility standards.

Just over two years ago, Halifax developer Mickey MacDonald caused a scandal by opening a Chicken Burger restaurant in a completely inaccessible building on Queen St. in downtown Halifax. HRM’s Planning Department gave MacDonald an occupancy permit despite his flagrant disregard for the Canada Building Code.

As a result of this negligence, no disabled person could patronize Chicken Burger, let alone work there. It was as if Mickey MacDonald, Mayor Mike Savage Peter Kelly*, and all the members of HRM Council had slapped a sign on the building reading, “Wheelchair users not welcome.”

Only after disability rights activist Gus Reed kicked up a fuss did the city begrudgingly enforce its own rules requiring any building that undergoes a change of use to meet Building Code requirements for accessibility. MacDonald put up a ramp, and the city received a rash of negative publicity.

Two years have passed, and less than two blocks down Queen Street, HRM’s Planning Department has once again issued an occupancy permit allowing a new business to open in a completely inaccessible building. This time, Sweet Jane’s candy store has taken over space previously used by a surf shop.

Here is the former Ifonly surf shop at Queen and Morris. Three concrete steps barred access to anyone in a wheelchair.

Sweet Jane Before

Here’s the new Sweet Jane’s candy store. Three concrete steps bar access to anyone in a wheelchair.


How could this happen?

I put the question to HRM planning staff. The answer: “It is a continuing use as long as it’s ‘mercantile.’”

A candy store, it seems, is no different from a surf shop, at least as far as keeping out people in wheelchairs.

If Mayor Mike Savage and District 7 Councillor Waye Mason put a sign on Sweet Jane’s reading, “No Jews allowed,” they’d be run out of office. Same if they put up a sign saying “Men only” or “No Negroes need apply.” But they can preside over an administration that lets new businesses bar entry to an entire class of citizens—users of wheelchairs—without a moment’s hesitation. The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, so quick to complain if a newspaper cartoon offends anyone, sits idly by.

Mike Savage is the son of the most celebrated humanitarian to enter public life in Nova Scotia in the last half century. Waye Mason is feted on social media as the very paragon of a progressive municipal politician. They and Mason’s fellow councillors are responsible for making and enforcing building standards in HRM.

It is beyond disgraceful that they allow this situation to continue.

There is one thing surf shops and candy stores have in common: Both should be fully wheelchair accessible. Let people decide their own limits. Don’t let negligent storekeepers and bureaucrats impose limits on them.

* Correction: Shaune MacKinlay, policy advisor to Mayor Savage, points out that he was not yet mayor at the time of the Chicken Burger ramp controversy, as I implied.