In the Barrier Capital of Canada, your business can exclude customers using wheelchairs as long as it’s located in a building that never accommodated wheelchairs.
Take Fox Hill Farm’s trendy new Halifax outlet on Robie Street. The previous tenant sold computers. Selling organic milk and cheese is deemed not to be a change of use. The law, in its wisdom, says that if a property’s use has not changed, it’s refusal to accommodate wheelchair users needn’t change either.
Here’s Fox Hill’s front door. Two steps. No wheelchair users need apply.
But wait! A sign on the front door promises an accessible entrance to the side of the building:
And here it is. An accessible entrance with an out-swinging door, no automatic door opener, and no button to summon help. The narrow path to the door is built up, so anyone using a wheelchair would be hard put even to approach it from the side and knock on the door.
The sidewalk in front of the Fox Hill store is nice and wide. It would have been easy for the inspector who approved the renovations before Fox Hill moved in to press for construction of a small ramp at the front entrance.
Building inspectors don’t push accessibility because they are untrained in barrier-free construction, and because their supervisors don’t encourage them to push accessibility. Their supervisors don’t push accessibility because the Chief Administrative Officer doesn’t push accessibility. The CAO doesn’t push accessibility because Mayor Mike Savage and Halifax Council doesn’t exercise meaningful political leadership in support of accessibility.
Savage and his councillors content themselves with empty lip service.
If Fox Hill posted signs reading, “Jews and Negroes, please use the side entrance and call ahead for assistance,” a huge uproar would ensue. But it can effectively bar customers with mobility challenges, and no one in our fair capital bats an eyelash.
This should be socially unacceptable. Why does Halifax condone it.