Canadian Supremes Rules Against VIA

This disability world is all abuzz about the latest Canadian Supreme Court ruling, in an ongoing battle that pitted a grass roots Canadian disability organization against Canada?s rail transportation giant. In a sense, it?s a true David and Goliath story.

It?s all about rail cars, the Renaissance rail cars used on the popular overnight VIA train between Montreal and Toronto, to be specific. VIA purchased these French-manufactured cars, which were previously used on European overnight trains, from Alstom Transport in 2000. Although these narrow cars have accessible sleeper units, their width presents a few barriers to independent wheelchair access. So the Council of Canadians with a Disability brought these access shortcomings to the attention of the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).

And in 2003, the CTA ruled that VIA must make access modifications to the Renaissance cars; including widening the doors and adding wheelchair tie-downs to the accessible suites, modifying the economy washrooms, installing companion seats for the economy class wheelchair tie-down spaces and adding more moveable armrests to the economy class cars.

VIA of course challenged that decision, and in 2005 a Federal Court ruled in their favor by deciding that VIA did not have to make the access modifications.

Fridays decision by the Canadian Supreme Court reversed that ruling. And as a result VIA will have to make access modifications to 30 of the 139 Renaissance rail cars.

But the ruling goes beyond making train travel more accessible. Disabled advocates hope it will also establish a legal precedent for other modes of travel, including air and bus services.

And with the ?one-person, one-fare? issue (One-Person,-One-Fare) still up in the air, this ruling couldn?t have come at a better time.