‘This is a problem across the country’: Clothing donation bin deaths prompt demand for action
EDITORS NOTE: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that one of the bins belonged to Diabetes Canada. In fact, it belonged to Inclusion BC. Global News regrets the error.
And now a large manufacturer of clothing donation bins used by charities across Canada said Tuesday it has stopped producing the metal containers, while it works on coming up with safer designs.
On Tuesday morning, a woman was found partially inside a clothing donation bin in Toronto. Authorities attempted to cut a part of the metal box to try and get her out and then performed CPR, but she was later pronounced dead. Police are treating her death as an accident.
WATCH: Donation bins are set for an overhaul due to several people losing their lives attempting to make their way inside
RangeView Fabricating, a Toronto-area company that produces bins for donations (and the one the woman in Toronto died in), said charities have not experienced these problems over the last 25 years, but now the time had come for immediate action.
The woman’s death comes more than one week after a 34-year-old man died when he became trapped inside a clothing donation box in West Vancouver (also manufactured by RangeView).
After this, the district temporarily shut down its donation bins, stating it was “committed to making the necessary changes to ensure [the] tragic accident in a clothing donation bin … doesn’t happen again.”
WATCH: Charities look to make donation bins safer after tragedy in B.C.
How often does this happen?
Last week, the Canadian Press reported that since 2015, at least seven Canadians have died after getting stuck inside a clothing donation bin — meaning the tragedy out of Toronto brings the number to eight.
In July, a woman died in Vancouver after trying to look inside a donation bun and became stuck. Last November, a 32-year-old man was discovered dead inside a donation box in Cambridge, Ont., and a man in his 20s died in a similar container in Calgary in July 2017.
Jonathan Gormick, a spokesperson of Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, said although he has seen a spike in these type of deaths in Vancouver lately, they are still very rare.
Why does this happen?
Many donation bins have a gate mechanism designed to prevent animals from climbing in and clothes from getting stolen. But people who look inside can become trapped, as the bins have a mailbox-design with an internal flap that prevents people from sticking their arms inside.
Gormic said there is an entrapment hazard either in the bin or in the mechanism.
Jeremy Hunka with Vancouver’s Union Gospel Mission (UGM), said many vulnerable people get hurt or killed using the bins.
“A lot of the time people who go into the bins are cold and don’t have clothes for the winter,” he said.
WATCH: West Vancouver clothing bin ban to be in place until safer design is found
Many of the people see a bin that has donations inside and know it is “full of clothes for people in need,” he said.
“But some people don’t understand the risks associated with reaching into the bin, as some of them may be dealing with mental health and trauma and not able to make the cognitive decision that this will hurt them,” he said.
What are charities saying?
B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish advocacy group, owned the bin in which the Toronto woman died Tuesday morning. In an email to Global News, the group said it was “saddened at this terrible and tragic incident. We are in direct communication with police on this matter.”
The organization said it operates a clothing donation program that provides used clothing to people who live at or below the poverty line.
B’nai Brith has since removed the bin from the location.
Diabetes Canada said it is “very saddened to learn of the death,” and as a result, around 4,000 of the charity’s clothing donation bins across Canada are in the process of being retrofitted or modified in an effort to prevent injury or death to those misusing or trying to gain entry to its clothing donation bins.
Deanna Barlow, a spokesperson for the Developmental Disabilities Association, which also owned a bin in which a woman died, said the agency has had donation bins for almost 20 years now but has “seen a real spike in problems in the last few years.”
“Our biggest challenge with the clothing donation bins is people are stealing donations from the bins so it’s a constant battle to keep people safe and out of the bins,” Barlow said.
What is being done?
Vancouver’s UGM has been calling for the bins to be fixed or removed from the streets for years. Hunka said until the bins are made safe, “it’s not a matter of if someone dies next, it’s a matter of when.”
“Two people have died in Canada over the past week because of this, and these are vulnerable people,” he said. “This is a problem across the country.”
UGM says the bins should be sealed until cities can figure out how to make them safer.
WATCH: Safer clothing donation bins under design
“It’s a terrible, horrible way to die,” he said. “They should be taken out of service; people are not going to stop dying.”
The City of Vancouver says 90 per cent of the more than 100 donation bins in the city have been removed in the wake a woman’s death back in July.
Earlier this year, UGM connected with an engineering professor from UBC Okanagan to work on a new bin design that is safe and won’t trap people, and Hunka is hoping this will prevent future tragedies from happening.
Rangeview, which produces roughly 1,000 donation bins of varying styles each year, is actively working on new designs for future products. The company said this will involve modifications to current designs and active searches for new ones, which may require charities to sacrifice some anti-theft measures.
“We obviously believe there’s a bigger picture to this than just donation bins .. .causing death and injury to these unfortunate people, but we’ve got to step up our stuff over here and make sure everything’s safer for everybody,” Brandon Agro with Rangeview said.
— With files from CKNW’s Terry Schintz and the Canadian Press
© 2019 The Canadian Press