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Security screening at Toronto City Hall raises accessibility questions

Security changes at Toronto City Hall prompts accessibility questions
WATCH ABOVE: Following a tightening of security at City Hall, a miscommunication over entrances prompted major concerns about the continued accessibility there. While the policy has been clarified, an accessibility advocate still thinks more public consultation is needed. Matthew Bingley reports.

Following a tightening of security at City Hall, a miscommunication over which entrances are open to the public has prompted major concerns about the accessibility of the building.

Earlier in February, the City of Toronto changed its screening process for visitors to city hall. The south entrance off of Nathan Phillips Square is now the only place to gain access to the building for those without passes.

Visitors are required to have their bags screened and to go through a metal detector, much like they would while attending an event at a local sports arena.

READ MORE: Enhanced security screening now in place at Toronto City Hall

When the change was first announced, the City’s communications department at first said the building’s rear exit at Hagerman Street would no longer have public access. The loss of that set of doors meant a loss of access to a Wheel-Trans stop and ramp.

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It also prompted accessibility advocate Adam Cohoon to jump into action.

“It’s more a warm, safe place to be picked up,” said Cohoon, who is a regular fixture at city hall and often delivers deputations on accessibility issues for various committees.

“It wasn’t until I made some phone calls that they’ve actually updated some of their statements.”

Remapping accessibility around the world
Remapping accessibility around the world

The City eventually corrected the policy, which now allows persons with disabilities to access the Hagerman doors.

Brad Ross, the City of Toronto’s head of communications, said now that the policy has been updated, there is better access at the doors than before security was changed.

“A security guard left after 4:30 and so they were locked and only people with a pass could get in” Ross said.

“Now we have a security guard there until 9:30, so an additional five hours in fact.”

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Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who is chair of the Accessibility Advisory Committee, thinks the City’s messaging could have been better. Now that the policy has been corrected, she said it needs to be repeated — especially to those who attend her committee meetings.

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“We invite them into the building and they’re there very specifically for a purpose: to provide strategic advice of how to make the corporation more accessible,” said Wong-Tam.

“It would be quite unfortunate if they weren’t able to get into the building.”

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said there needs to be more reminders that the Hagerman St. entrance has access for people with disabilities.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said there needs to be more reminders that the Hagerman St. entrance has access for people with disabilities. Matthew Bingley/Global News

The change in security policy follows increased screening efforts that came into effect in late 2018, which have resulted in the seizure of around 300 prohibited items, Ross said.

He also noted that before the original changes were made, there were public consultations that included considerations for people with disabilities.

While that is the case, Cohoon said there were no consultations during the new changes. While he may have access to the northern doors, he said the process is slow and concerning, which is why he thinks more consultations need to happen.

Cohoon also thinks it’s time to improve the ramp for wheelchair access at a separate Wheel-Trans stop on Bay Street, which he said is out of date and unsafe.