Disabled Winnipegger plans human rights complaint after broken elevator leaves him 'trapped' in home
Cam Slimmon hasn't been able to use the elevator in his downtown apartment for more than a week
By Brett Purdy, CBC News Posted: Apr 27, 2017 4:00 AM CT Last Updated: Apr 27, 2017 4:00 AM CT
Disabled Winnipeger filing human rights complaint over access issues wants to set precedent
CBC News Manitoba
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Cellphone video shows Cam Slimmon and his 160-kilogram wheelchair being carried down four flights of stairs by a group of friends and family in his downtown condo building last weekend.
The elevators at The Colonnade, a 12-storey building on Edmonton Street in Winnipeg, haven't worked since April 18. Slimmon, who has muscular dystrophy, said watching the video even days later is hard.
"It's disturbing. I have had my wheelchair lifted before but never to get out of my own home," said Slimmon.
Cam Slimmon hopes filing a human rights complaint over access issues will help set a set precedent for other disabled people. (CBC)
The incident and the nine days Slimmon hasn't been able to access his fourth floor condo unit are the reasons he is planning to file a human rights complaint.
"Having to create a way just to get out of my own home, I don't know that that's right," said Slimmon.
The issue with the elevators arose during boiler repairs last week, according to a spokesperson for Towers Realty Group.
Power to the elevators had to be shut off and when it was restored, there was an electrical issue with the wiring, the company said. It said the elevators should be operational by Thursday, but Slimmon and several seniors and people with mobility issues who live in the building have had to find ways to cope with limited or no ability to use the stairs.
Slimmon is now staying with a friend until the repairs are complete, but he's hoping a complaint to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission will set a precedent for how property managers deal with people with disabilities in the future.
The elevators at The Colonnade, a 12-storey building on Edmonton Street, haven't worked since April 18. (CBC)
"I feel it's a right to come and go from my own home in a safe fashion, and being trapped in your home is simply unsafe," said Slimmon.
Elevators not uplifting
Elevator repair can be an issue for property managers, too.
Avrom Charach, a spokesperson for the Professional Property Managers Association — which represents nearly 100 Manitoba landlords — showed CBC a receipt for more than $1,200 for a short elevator service call to one of his properties.
He had to foot the bill even though his building had a full-service contract with an elevator service company, because the problem happened just before 5:00 p.m., which was considered after regular hours.
Charach said there are only a handful of companies that service elevators, which ties property owners' hands.
Professional Property Managers Association spokesperson Avrom Charach has a receipt for more than $1,200 for a short elevator service call to a one of his properties. (CBC)
"You're stuck dealing with two or three people. There's no kind of open market and a lot of us feel, whether that's right or wrong, that the reason it's so expensive to maintain elevators is because it's oligopoly," said Charach.
He said the situation with Slimmon and others who have faced prolonged difficulties because of building maintenance issues is unfortunate, but that anyone moving into a building should know there can be prolonged issues with elevators.
"Landlords hopefully err on the side of customer service but when it comes to an elevator, if the parts are going to take a week to arrive, I'm not sure what the landlord could possibly do to make the parts come more quickly."
Slimmon said he is frustrated with being forced to find alternative arrangements on his own, and that buildings don't have separate mechanical and electrical systems for each elevator to ensure that one is always operational. He's hopeful his complaint will force property owners to make their buildings more accessible for others.
"If one elevator isn't working the other one should be working, even if it's during repairs," said Slimmon.
Slimmon said if nothing else, he should be reimbursed for his living expenses.
The City of Winnipeg said that passenger elevators are considered a convenience feature in buildings.
Charach said he wasn't sure if the human rights complaint will set a precedent, but did point to Ontario, where human rights complaints have led to decisions requiring owners to make changes to their buildings to accommodate people with disabilities.
In 2009, a disabled Burlington, Ont., man won a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario case requiring his condo corporation to pay for a wheelchair ramp to his front door and awarded him $12,000 in compensation for the loss of the right to be free from discrimination.
Another decision in 2010 saw an Ontario woman who was in a wheelchair and living in an apartment that was not accessible awarded more than $12,000 in compensation. The decision also required the building's owner to modify entrances and walkways, move the complainant to the building's main floor as soon as a suite became available, and reduce the complainant's rent until she could be moved to the main floor.
Charach said the Winnipeg rental market is filled with properties that were built before 1990, when expectations of accessibility weren't as high as they are for newly built properties.
He said for now, it is reasonable for owners to prove to tenants that they are doing everything they can to fix problems as quickly as possible, and that any changes to the concept of what reasonable accommodation means could drastically hurt property owners.
"If there were a decision … say, for the sake of argument, that you must, if you only have one elevator, ensure that it's never broken for more than two hours — that could bankrupt companies, because we might have to stock hundreds of thousands of dollars of parts in our building just in case we need one."
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