Human Rights Commission Takes Disabled Voter’s Case to Court

John Meagher
Montreal Gazette, January 13, 2016

All Linda Gauthier wanted was a little mercy when she tried to enter imposing St-Stanislas-de-Kosta Church in Montreal seven years ago.

She was there to vote, not to pray.

While her motorized wheelchair could have made it down an access ramp to the church basement where the polling station was located, leaving afterward posed a far more difficult task.

Gauthier balked after deeming the ramp far too steep and therefore too dangerous to attempt an exit.

I asked them to bring a table and the polling box so I could vote outside, Gauthier recalled. They refused and said it was against the law. Apparently, it is against the law.

So she left without exercising her right to vote in the municipal elections of 2009, but that was not the end of it.

Gauthier is head of RAPLIQ, a Montreal-based advocacy group for the disabled. Her battle to gain accessibility to polling stations for people with disabilities got a boost Wednesday when the Quebec Human Rights Commission announced it was taking up her cause by taking the case to Superior Court.

The commission asked the Superior Court to strike down a provision of the Act respecting elections and referendums in municipalities because it does not guarantee access to polling stations for people with reduced mobility on election day, it said in a statement on Wednesday.

The commission said that because repeated requests to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to amend the Act have not been implemented, the commission turns to the court so that people with disabilities are entitled to vote on equal terms in accordance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the next municipal elections in 2017.

Gauthier filed a complaint with the commission shortly after the 2009 election.

The commissions subsequent investigation found that the discrimination she had suffered was a direct result of the wording of section 188 of the Act, which does not oblige universal accessibility of polling stations on election day. Indeed, the Act provides that only the advance polling stations must be accessible to persons with reduced mobility when holding elections or referendums in municipalities of Quebec.

The provision violates numerous sections of the Charter of Rights, including the right to equality and the right to vote, the commission argues.

Gauthier said its sad that a human rights commission has to go to court to fight for something like universal accessibility on election day.

They treat us like second-class citizens, Gauthier said.

We want to have the same rights as someone who has no limitations.

Gauthier doesnt think shes asking for much.

We ask them to change the law thats all. We dont even ask for moral damages. We ask for no money at all.

In 2009, Gauthier was only trying to access the church basement to cast her ballot. She cant imagine trying to reach the altar of the church itself.

There are 21 steps and no ramp to go in the church, she said.

The commission will be heard March 22 in Superior Court.

Reproduced from