Armina Ligaya | Aug 7, 2012 6:57 PM ET | Last Updated: Aug 7, 2012 8:52 PM ET
A human rights tribunal has dismissed a disabled man’s application to have his town remove snow pushed into his driveway by its snowploughs, because it would cost the municipality a steep $75 an hour to do it.
Ivan Williams of Iroquois Falls, Ont., said he previously paid a private contractor $15 to clear his whole driveway, and the town is ‘‘exaggerating’’ the cost.
“I think they’re stretching it,” he said. ‘‘I should not have to pay for clearing the mess they create.’’
Mr. Williams says the pile of snow at the end of his driveway created by snowplows — called a “windrow” — creates a barrier, and requested the town remove it.
But Iroquois Falls, which is about an hour northeast of Timmins, Ont., argued it would need to hire two people — one to work the machine and the other to act as a flagperson — at a cost of $47 per hour, including benefits. Also, factoring in the cost of the snow-removal machine, Iroquois Falls argued it would cost a total of $75 per hour.
After extending the service to the estimated number of disabled residents in the town, multiplied by the average number of snowfalls, the town said it would cost roughly $175,875 per winter.
“The cost of providing windrow removal for residents with disabilities would impose undue hardship on the Town of Iroquois Falls,” adjudicator Mark Hart of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario wrote in his July 30 decision. ‘‘However sympathetic I may be to the applicant’s financial circumstances, they do not provide a proper basis which I can find discrimination.”
Mr. Williams, 54, said the ruling was “totally unfair.”
“They should have had enough sense to push the snow forward and then use the plough to push it along the roadway,” said Mr. Williams, who uses a wheelchair. “They were giving me a lot of bureaucratic excuses why they can’t do that.”
Windrows are a familiar nuisance for many Canadians during the winter season. In recent years, at least 15 municipalities across Canada have adopted windrow-removal programs for the elderly and disabled, many of which are free or for a small fee, if the applicant meets financial assistance criteria. Municipalities with these programs include Mississauga, Ont., Fernie, B.C., and Clarington, Ont.
Gilles Forget, the mayor of Iroquois Falls, said other municipalities have the budget to launch such programs.
“You would hard-pressed to find one in Northern Ontario, where we get as much snow as we get. And also, as mentioned in decision, our tax base is dwindling, creating a big hardship as it is.”
Mr. Williams said the windrows are at times thigh-high, and he has been hiring a private contractor to clear his driveway at a cost of $15 each time. He is unable to work, and uses the Ontario Disability Support Program, and he has little money to spare on snow cleanup. During the tribunal hearing, he asked the town to cover the $15 fee.
“They said it wasn’t feasible,” he said.
The town could not use a private contractor to do the job because it would have “no control” over its practices, said Michel Morrissette, the town’s chief administrative officer.
The municipality could not do the job for less than $75 per hour, he added.
“We do have the extra burden on payroll,” Mr. Morrissette said. “We have benefits, pension funds, we have a whole array of things the private contractor doesn’t have to pay. The private contractor can do it cheaper for sure.”
Using the existing fleet of snowploughs would take a very long time, and drive up costs, he added.
Hiring one employee was not an option, said Mr. Forget.
“You need someone to watch the roadway… for liability,” he said.
For Mr. Williams to pay to clear his driveway, excluding the windrow, it would still cost $15.
Mr. Williams said his complaint is not simply about his own situation.
“It’s for everybody who is affected by it, all the seniors, disabled, and those who are visually impaired,” he said. “It’s for them as well.”