‘New low’: Advocates upset as Vancouver council waters down motion to ensure Stanley Park Train accessibility

A disability advocate says she’s shocked and upset after Vancouver city council heavily amended a motion meant to ensure the Stanley Park Train is accessible to those who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices.

Gabrielle Peters, a disabled writer and policy analyst, says she’s bewildered that the city couldn’t pass the motion — which already had its language couched — without the significant amendment.

“Perhaps it was naïve, but I was surprised,” she said. “I feel that this is a new low in local municipal politics.”

Coun. Pete Fry, who brought forward the motion on behalf of the Vancouver City Planning Commission, says the motion lost its “teeth and intention” when an amendment by Coun. Peter Meiszner was passed by the eight ABC councillors present. Fry and fellow Green Coun. Adrienne Carr voted against it, while Coun. Christine Boyle was absent.

Fry’s motion, which aimed to have the city “commit to making all efforts” to maintain or improve previous levels of accessibility during renovations or upgrades, was voted on Wednesday. The amendment by Meiszner changed the majority of the motion’s text and removed a call to amend the city’s Accessibility Strategy to prevent a loss of existing accessible infrastructure.

Originally, the motion’s text read, in part: “THAT Council direct staff to amend the Accessibility Strategy to include a requirement that all efforts be made to prevent any loss of existing accessibility in any of the City’s programs, services, communications, events, environments, or spaces…”

Per Meiszner’s amendment, the passed motion read, in part: “FURTHER THAT Mayor and Council affirm the City’s commitment to accessibility and the rights of persons with disabilities to take part and fully participate on an equal basis with others in the cultural life of the city…”

Fry says he thought the original motion was a “very reasonable ask” in terms of the city’s Accessibility Strategy.

“And to ignore that is insulting for folks who have really been advocating in the disability community,” Fry added.

Another part of the motion that was struck down included requiring organizations working with the city to adopt the same responsibility of preventing any loss of existing accessibility infrastructure during changes or upgrades.

These sections of the motion were replaced with a suggestion that mayor and council acknowledge the collective disappointment regarding the Stanley Park Train’s inaccessibility and affirm their commitment to accessibility. The motion also states that mayor and council “continue to remove, identify and prevent barriers” to children with disabilities.

Peters says she’s completely lost on why Meiszner chose to specify children in this part of his amendment.

“So it’s okay to have barriers for adults with disabilities?” she questioned. “You’re either creating accessibility or you’re not creating accessibility. These things are not (age-based).”

Motion language already watered down

The rewrite of the motion is disheartening for Peters because it had already been altered from the Vancouver City Planning Commission’s original proposal, passed unanimously on Feb 24. Before it was brought to council by Fry, Peters says it underwent revision by a lawyer, who recommended the motion be changed from calling for a “ban on any loss of existing accessibility” in city infrastructure, to simply requiring “all efforts be made” to prevent the same loss.

“They couldn’t let that stand, that even, all you have to do, not even a ban, you just had to agree to make all efforts,” Peters said.

“Then ABC thought, ‘How could we dare to expect this of people? We can’t expect this of organizations, we can’t expect this of businesses. We can’t give our city funds to people and then put a condition on them that they not discriminate against disabled people. That would be just outrageous.'”

Fry adds the choice of the word “effort” in the motion he ended up bringing to council was a “pretty low bar” to agree to.

“It certainly wasn’t a binding piece,” he said. “It was just like, ‘Make every reasonable effort you can to ensure that we don’t roll back accessibility.'”

He adds the commitment to anything tangible was entirely missed with this amendment, as was the opportunity to acknowledge and make amends for the fact that people with disabilities were left out of the excitement surrounding the Stanley Park Train at Christmas when its accessible carriage was out of commission.

“Honestly, it’s not a great look when we, as a council of able-bodied people, just miss the lived experience and advocacy of people with disabilities,” he said.

“I would have hoped that through this motion, we would be thinking about how we can do better. And instead, it’s been flipped on its head and the message is clear that we don’t value the input of people’s lived experience.”

Fry adds he’s unsure of what the resolution will be on whether or not the Stanley Park Train will be accessible when it runs for Easter 2024, since the suggestion to offer free tickets to individuals who missed out at Christmas time, was wiped out.

At Christmas, Peters says it felt like the city was throwing a party that people with disabilities weren’t invited to.

“It was as if the city sent out an invitation that read ‘We are having a party, everyone is invited, come join us,'” she said. “And then they forgot to tell you the fine print and it only came out a couple days later and it said ‘Oh, we didn’t mean you. You’re not invited.'”

Federal accessibility legislation not consistent with amendment

In the U.S., it’s enshrined in Section 504 of the country’s Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that no person with a disability “shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service.”

Peters says she’s astounded a city council couldn’t pass something with similar wording to a federal act in the States.

“So, here we are now, in 2024 in Vancouver, and we can’t do what they did in 1973 in the United States,” Peters said.

In Canada, the Accessible Canada Act was adopted by the federal government in 2019 and states all federal organizations must provide barrier-free access to everyone. In B.C., the Accessible British Columbia Act received royal assent in 2021 and enforces a similar message.

This council motion was important, Peters says, because it goes beyond the Stanley Park Train and addresses the greater, systemic issue that cities aren’t built for people with disabilities.

“Inaccessibility happens because it already exists, because it was built inaccessible to start with, because things are replicated based on that being the normal or the right way to do something,” she said.

“And because when people go to make repairs, maintenance, adjustments or renovations it just slips off their radar.”

Now, Peters says she’s fed up with her efforts to advocate for people with disabilities being ignored by the current city council.

“I’m really quite upset because, as a disabled person, I live in poverty. I have been volunteering for the city since about 2017. I’ve given hundreds and hundreds of my hours as a volunteer, and with very little success, ” she said.

“I will hold myself accountable to the people of the city, not to (Mayor Ken Sim) and I wish he would do the same.”

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