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April 12, 2016



Readers may remember the Hat Lady of Lunenburg, who wanted to conduct her small business at her home, but ran afoul of requirements for all kinds of expensive improvements.  I wrote Anna at the time:

"I'm always concerned that the penalty from this kind of dispute will ultimately be paid by Nova Scotians with disabilities, who just want to live and work in their communities.  It's too easy to put a finger on one aspect of a complex problem; to blame the wheelchair ramp and the grab bars."

I urged flexibility in Anna's case and a revision of the Building Code.

I guess I got my wish, though not exactly what I anticipated.  I was thinking sole proprietorships, but the changes include home-based businesses with employees

Proposed amendments to the Building code make any home-based business, defined as:

  • secondary to the residential occupancy use of the dwelling unit, 
  • at least 1 full-time resident of the dwelling unit operates the business or service 
  • the business or service use is not a hazardous industrial occupancy 
  • has a floor area of less than 50 m2
  • uses less than 25% of the floor area of the dwelling unit. 

exempt from

  • having additional water closets
  • barrier-free design requirements
Seldom seen in Nova Scotia

What's wrong is that home based businesses could discriminate against employees with disabilities.  A lawyer's office could never have a receptionist that uses a wheelchair.  A massage therapist, a bookkeeper, an architect, a financial adviser, a caterer, a photographer - all could have employees without having to observe section 5 of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act:

  • No person shall in respect of 
    • (a) the provision of or access to services or facilities; 
    • (d) employment; 
  • discriminate against an individual or class of individuals on account of 
    • (o) physical disability or mental disability; 
We already disregard the Human Rights Act by grandfathering a ton of older businesses. Restaurants, shops, professional services - there are hundreds of places in Nova Scotia that never will accommodate people with disabilities.  Do we need more?

Of course not, and that's why we can't accept this version of code revisions.  At the very least, sole proprietorship home businesses should have a ramp.  Forget the fireproof bathroom and the 36" door.  Make the gesture!  And when you have employees, be barrier-free.


This is the same building code that Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Strang sees as the solution to the problem of food safety posed by accessible restaurants without accessible washrooms.  Such restaurants usually are a result of the addition of accessible sidewalk patios to otherwise inaccessible premises.  Le Coq and The Five Fishermen are examples.  

The fundamental difficulty is that wheelchair users have their hands in constant proximity to their wheels, which, in turn, are inevitably in contact with the filth and corruption of Halifax streets and sidewalks.  Poodles and Shih-Tzus numbering in the thousands provide an inexhaustible source of nutrients for all manner of Parasites and Pathogens.  You need to wash them off before eating a Donair.

Dr. Strang refuses to acknowledge that section 20 of the food safety regulations means what it says:

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.

Often seen in Nova Scotia
He says: "I do not see Food Safety regulations as the vehicle to push for such change as lack of accessible washrooms for patrons."  I say public means public.

In his patronizing way, he assumes I want accessible washrooms.  I don't.  I want to make it inconvenient for restaurants without them.  I want him to do his job and close or exempt accessible restaurants without accessible public washrooms as the regulations compel him to do.  I may never go to Le Coq, but I want Dr. Strang to close it or put it on a list of places with irregular public health compliance.  When the list is compiled according to the law, I will make sure it is well-advertised.  Then wheelchair users will have the information needed to make up their own minds.  No more surprises.

It is offensive that there is no such list, in particular because it trivializes the legitimate health concerns of wheelchair users.  Wheelchair users are so far down the list of priorities that the provincial government won't even bother to record health issues affecting them.  Dr. Strang is not doing what he's paid to do. In Nova Scotia, we should not accept that you can go to a nice restaurant in 2016 only to discover that basic sanitary needs are unmet.  

And PS a recent restaurant closure was attributed to a cruise ship visitor.


These two things are the same: small issues whose poor resolution leads to outsize consequences for people with disabilities.  Dr. Strang and whoever did the home business exemption don't understand that people with disabilities are entitled to the same treatment as everyone else.  This is not just an option or a nicety, it's a guarantee and a requirement.

It all goes back to the marginalization of people with disabilities.  There are zero people with disabilities on the Ivany Commission, zero in Engage NS, zero in One NS, zero in the Halifax Partnership.  

If you have never met a person with a disability, how can you imagine their circumstances?


Don't you think that Human Rights and Public Health are more important than the Building Code?  How does it happen that someone in Municipal Affairs thinks they can change the Building Code without reference to any other considerations?  Why does an imperfect Building Code make it okay to have unsanitary conditions?  Is everyone asleep at the switch?  I hope the checks and balances in the new accessibility act mean a sharper focus on rulemaking, so that people with disabilities aren't simply ignored.

Gus Reed

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're right. Human Rights are 'quasi constitutional'. Human Rights override your municipal bylaws, building codes etc. File a human rights complaint against the city for these infractions. They are breaking the law. The law that is in place to protect the rights of humans.

If more people realized their rights and knew how to realize them, we'd be a lot farther ahead. I believe with the restorative justice model you have in NS for Human Rights complaints makes bringing systemic complaints such as yours much easier.