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January 2, 2016

Typhoid Gus

Rule #1
Never shake hands with a guy in a wheelchair.

Senator Thom Tillis from the Seldom-if-Ever Great State of North Carolina has this to say about food hygiene:

Tillis' breathtaking lack of common sense makes you wonder about the party that he represents.

The controversy his remarks stirred up have drawn attention to the virtue of hand washing.  The Center for Disease Control says:
"Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water."
In the interest of self-preservation, restaurant customers should pay attention.

You don't want to know where my hands have been.  I've been wheeling around Halifax where the slush on the sidewalk is a toxic mix of snow, salt, mud, dog excrement, E. coli, at least three kinds of Staphylococcus,  the odd thread from Lord Cornwallis's blankets, cat hair, seagull droppings and so on.  Check the CDC's 292 page Bad Bug Book for an exhaustive list.

The pushrims on my wheelchair are less than an inch from the ground,  so they pick up dirty snow and are submerged at the puddle which is found at every curb cut.  In essence, people with wheelchairs walk with their hands.

Constant exposure gives me a great immune system.  Like Typhoid Mary,  I'm fine.  I have antibodies unknown to science.  But my pushrims are a reliable source of stuff that will kill you.  When I meet you for lunch, my handwashing habits should interest you.

Which brings me to the topic at hand, the Regulations under the Food Safety Act, which clearly and unambiguously state:
Washroom facilities
20 (1) A food establishment must have washroom facilities for staff and washroom facilities for the public available in a convenient location, unless exempted by the Administrator.
I had quite a nice phone call with Barry McGregor, Nova Scotia's Director of Food Protection, who has been enforcing those regulations for 33 years.   He's extremely nice.  I believe he interprets that section as if it says:

20 (1) A food establishment must have separate washroom facilities for staff.

Meaning that food handlers should not share facilities with the general public. This is a good idea because (and you never know) some wheelchair user may track in some pathogen and start the salmonella outbreak. 

I doubt Mr. McGregor reads the regulations very often, but 20 (1) is an exceptionally clear declarative sentence.  Any restaurant that has me as a customer has to have a convenient washroom.  We agreed that he would ask the department's solicitor to examine the wording of the regulation more closely.

Now the washrooms at Epicurious Morsels are doubly inaccessible.  Because of the step, I can't get in anyway, so I graciously concede that the washroom rule doesn't apply.  But at restaurants like Effendy and Le Coq and The Five Fishermen, made profitable and accessible by outside patios, regulation 20(1) must surely apply.  I can be a customer, so there has to be a convenient washroom.

Thanks to Halifax By-law S-1000, Respecting Sidewalk Cafes, those charming outdoor dining venues are available to me.
  • Schedule “A” Design Standards 
    • The following design standards shall be met to safeguard public health and safety: 
      • Part I: General 
        • 5. Sidewalk cafés shall comply with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Accessible Design for the Built Environment, CSA Standard B651, as amended from time to time. 
Here is a TripAdvisor.ca review of Le Coq, a Risley-owned restaurant with a sidewalk cafe on Argyle Street, Halifax:
The one huge drawback to this establishment is that it is absolutely inaccessible to anyone with any physical disability. Wheelchair users, those with vision or hearing problems, indeed anyone with modest mobility issues, should avoid this restaurant. The restaurant is dark, and has different levels separated by short flights of stairs. The layout is very hard to negotiate. And the restrooms are down a set of stairs in the basement. In this day and age this is totally unacceptable.
When I am parked on the wheelchair-accessible patio at Le Coq and I look down to see the pigeon product on my wheel, what does the Center for Disease Control advise?
  • Head for the washroom downstairs?
  • Reach for another french fry?
  • Offer to share with the next table?
Well, at this duly licensed and inspected establishment, the first and obvious choice is not an option for me and my wheelchair.  So I will politely take the proffered oyster from your fork, sample the wine from your glass and split  the gâteau au chocolat fondant with pistachio & chartreuse ice cream (2 forks please).  Rules of sanitation evidently don't apply to people with disabilities, so you're safe. 

Under 20(1), Le Coq doesn't meet the convenient washroom requirement, so it cannot be licensed.  Or be on a roster of exemptions, which doesn't exist.

Rule #2
It only gets worse.

The Food Safety Regulations can be added to a list of circumstances where the government conveniently allows separate and unequal treatment of people with disabilities.  They include
  • Municipal
    • Poor building code enforcement
    • Discriminatory encroachment policies
    • Lack of standards for pedestrian infrastructure
    • Separate and inferior public transportation
    • Vague workplace diversity policy
  • Provincial
    • Minimum wage legislation
    • Food Safety
    • Vague workplace diversity policy
Coincidentally, here's a photo taken last week, showing the winter enclosure of the steps at Le Coq.  

We all acknowledge that Robert Risley, owner of Le Coq, is a person of the haughtiest particularity who should not have to soil his boots upon exiting.  Nevertheless, by-law E-200, Respecting Encroachments, would require Risley to have a permit for his canopy.  

The inspector who licenses such encroachments seems unfamiliar with the purpose of sidewalks. Pedestrian traffic grinds to a halt at this bottleneck, as attested to by the lady impatiently waiting for the wheelchair to pass.

Unfortunately, the paved space is much too narrow for any wheelchair, meaning muddy wheels.  The lie is given to the frequent invocation of "wheelchair interference" in denying business permits for ramps. 

The benighted inspection team at HRM, and all their supervisors and political bosses have an unerring instinct for ignoring the concerns of people with disabilities while simultaneously claiming that the policy is for Halifax to be "a healthy and livable community" where access is a priority outcome.

But when that priority meets Risley's footwear, pedestrians and wheelchair users lose.  It's too much of a pattern to be anything else.  Wheelchairs are a damned nuisance.

Ultimately HRM City Council has to decide if the Annual Sidewalk Café License Fee of $1000 is a fair price for betraying their oath to "advance the common good."  The Food Safety Division must decide whether the regulations mean what they say. or are just an inconvenience.  Is "public health" a worthy goal, or just an empty phrase?

Just once, I'd like to hear some righteous Nova Scotian say "Why Mr. Reed, you're right! The regulations do require a public washroom.  We'll be revoking the patio permit for Le Coq"

Magical thinking.

- Gus Reed

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