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Toronto restaurant discriminated against woman who uses mobility aids, tribunal rules

A Toronto restaurant discriminated against a woman who uses mobility devices and "publicly humiliated" her by refusing to let her use its bathroom four years ago, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has ruled. Haily Butler-Henderson is photographed near her Toronto home , Friday, March 17, 2017.
A Toronto restaurant discriminated against a woman who uses mobility devices and "publicly humiliated" her by refusing to let her use its bathroom four years ago, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has ruled. Haily Butler-Henderson is photographed near her Toronto home , Friday, March 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — A Toronto restaurant discriminated against a woman who uses mobility devices and “publicly humiliated” her by refusing to let her use its bathroom four years ago, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has ruled.

In a decision issued this week, the tribunal says Haily Butler-Henderson “experienced adverse treatment” when she was repeatedly refused access to a downstairs washroom at the Pentagram Bar and Grill on Aug. 19, 2016.

The tribunal says a server also physically blocked Butler-Henderson’s path and loudly proclaimed to other patrons that the then-23-year-old was accepting the risk and liability associated with going down the stairs.

Read more: Toronto woman launches human rights complaint over washroom access issue

“Instead of asking the applicant if she needed any accommodation or assistance to use the facilities, the server made a spectacle of the applicant in front of its other patrons which was discriminatory,” adjudicator Romona Gananathan wrote.

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“She was eventually allowed to use the facilities but only with conditions.”

The tribunal ordered Pentagram, which did not participate in the proceedings, to pay Butler-Henderson $10,000 in compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect.

The restaurant’s current management and staff must also undergo training on their obligations under the Human Rights Code of Ontario, and post signs related to those responsibilities on the premises.

Butler-Henderson welcomed the ruling on social media, saying it “sets a huge precedent for disabled people in the future.”

Her lawyer, Lorin MacDonald, said the ruling will “serve restaurateurs to take notice.”

“While it was distressing to have the restaurant owners completely ignore the human rights application and to wait so long for validation of the discrimination, the decision is important for two reasons: it is now a matter of public record, and it initiated and continues a worldwide discussion around the broader issue of access to public restrooms,” MacDonald said in a statement.

Read more: As economy recovers, some Toronto restaurants to end tipping

In her complaint, Butler-Henderson, who has spina bifida and uses forearm crutches as a mobility aid, said the incident took place as she was waiting for friends at a nearby coffee shop.

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Lineups for the washroom there were too long so she went down the block to Pentagram and asked for permission to use the facilities, she said.

Butler-Henderson said the server specifically cited her use of crutches as a reason to deny her access to the washroom, stressing the restaurant would be held liable if she were to fall.

At one point, she said, the server physically barred her from going down the stairs. Eventually, staff relented and allowed her to use the washroom, but Butler-Henderson said the incident was humiliating and infringed on a basic human right.

The human rights complaint argues people with disabilities have the right to assume a certain amount of risk for themselves.

Butler-Henderson said it was not the server’s place to assess her ability to navigate the stairwell on the basis that she has a disability and relies on a mobility aid.