Founded in 1983 - United for Diversity and Racial Equality


Montreal, February 2, 2017 — For failing to make any reasonable effort to meet its duty to accommodate, the Université de Montréal has been ordered by the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission to pay $10,000 to a disabled young Arab professional who could not access adapted washrooms at the university.

In August 2014, Mr. Omar Lachheb visited the Clinique universitaire de la vision at the Université de Montréal, located at 3744 Jean-Brillant, for an eye exam. Mr. Lachheb, of Moroccan origin and 36 years old at the time, uses a wheelchair since adolescence due to a swimming accident.

At the clinic, Mr. Lachheb looked for a men's washroom at ground level, to relieve himself. The first washroom he found did not work. A sign on the door said to use the second floor washrooms. When he got to the second floor, he noticed that these washrooms were not adapted for wheelchair use. Still, he went in despite having preliminary difficulties opening the washroom door. Once inside, he found out there were only two toilet stalls, neither of which were accessible to people with disabilities.

He then asked a receptionist in the library on the second floor for an accessible men's washroom. She phoned the superintendent who did not respond. As he urgently needed to relieve himself, he searched for an adapted washroom on the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th floor, without any success. He then went to the lobby and headed to the Institut Nazareth, near the clinic, where a female staff person suggested the adapted women's washroom.

Afraid to cause negative reactions had he used a women's washroom, he decided to go to the McDonald's at the corner of Côte-des-Neiges and Jean Brillant. Once he got there, he realized that he had wet his pants. He then had to spend time in the McDonald's washroom to clean his pants. When he took a taxi afterwards, he had to apologize with much embarrassment for his state.

“It's no longer acceptable in this day and age to have universities, or any major public or even private institution, without washrooms adapted to the needs of people with disabilities like me,” said Mr. Lachheb. “It is a fundamental matter of respect for the law, for users and customers, and for common sense.”

For this reason, he mandated CRARR to file a complaint of discrimination with the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission.

In its explanations to the Commission, the Université pointed to repairs in the pavillion at the time of the incident that rendered the adapted men's washroom unusable, and to the fact that it did offer accommodation through access to an adapted women's washroom.

“Imagine an Arab man going to a women's washroom, even when he is on a wheelchair, and take off his pants to urinate. I could have created a scandal and be accused of gross indecency,” Mr. Lachheb noted.

In a decision forwarded to the parties last week, the Human Rights Commission rules in his favor and claimed from the Université, $7,500 in moral damages and $2,500 in punitive damages. It also requires the Université to ensure that all its washrooms are accessible to people with disabilities.

“It is indeed a very clear warning from the Human Right Commission to all educational and other institutions in Quebec, ” stressed CRARR's Executive Director Fo Niemi. “One must not only have a comprehensive policy on access and accommodation for people with disabilities, but one must also ensure its effective implementation in order to ensure full and fair access to everyone.”

The Université de Montréal will have until Friday, February 3rd, to comply with the Commission's decision, failing which the case will be brought before the Human Rights Tribunal.