June 26, 1009

Human rights decision a victory for wheelchair athlete

Human Rights Adjudicator Lyle Smordin has found that the owners of a Neepawa hotel discriminated against Arlene Ursel when they stopped making a wheelchair accessible room available to her. Ms Ursel is a paraplegic and relies on a wheelchair for mobility. She had rented an accessible room at The Bay Hill Inns & Suites a number of times while visiting her parents.

In April 2007, however, Ms Ursel was told by one of the owners that there was no longer an accessible room at the hotel. She subsequently filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.

Ms Ursel testified that there were no other accessible hotels in Neepawa. As her parents did not have an accessible home, she was forced to drive back and forth to Winnipeg on the same day, a journey of about five hours. She said her father was very ill and she visited him many times. Her father passed away in January 2008.

There was no reply or response received from the respondent either to the complaint or at any time afterwards up to and including the date of hearing. Although the respondent was notified of the hearing, they did not attend.

Adjudicator Smordin found that the hotel had violated The Human Rights Code ordering that the accessible room be restored within 60 days, and that the Manitoba Human Rights Commission monitor the situation for a period of 2 years. He also awarded Ms Ursel with general damages of $3,000 for injury to her dignity, feelings and self respect caused by the barriers she faced in accessing the hotel.

The Supreme Court of Canada said in the recent VIA Rail case said that, "Independent access to the same comfort, dignity, safety and security as those without physical limitations, is a fundamental human right for persons who use wheelchairs." This decision affirms that right as it applies to public services and facilities in Manitoba.

For more information, please contact
Patricia Knipe
Communications Director
Manitoba Human Rights Commission