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Using specially adapted equipment in the dormitory room she shares with fellow student or helper Liz Kettles, Barbara tackles her homework. (Ron Bull, 1989, Toronto Star Photo Archives)

Barbara Turnbull et al. v. Famous Players Inc

In 1983, 18-year-old Barbara Turnbull survived a gunshot to the neck during a robbery at the Mississauga convenience store in which she worked, leaving her paraplegic. Following the incident she became an advocate, activist and symbol of hope for Canadians with physical disabilities by highlighting their stories in her Toronto Star newspaper column and through her research into spinal cord injury.

Between 1993 to 1997, Turnbull and four other individuals launched human rights complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of disability against movie theatre company Famous Players. The primary issues brought forward in the complaints were lack of wheelchair accessibility in some Famous Players theatres, the company’s policy of banning wheelchair users from its inaccessible theatres, and the alleged treatment of the complaints by Famous Players’ management and staff.

In preliminary proceedings, Famous Players admitted that it did not lack the resources to pay for renovations and instead raised an ‘improvident use of resources’ defense. The company argued that, since 1994, it had been engaged in a billion-dollar expansion that included the construction of state-of-the-art accessible multiplexes. It did not want to spend the money, during the expansion, to make its non-multiplex theatres accessible to persons who use wheelchairs. The Board rejected this argument.

While Famous Players had moved toward compliance it had not done so quickly enough for the Board. It was only following Ms. Turnbull’s human rights complaint and the subsequent media attention that Famous Players undertook an accessibility review.

Barbara Turnbull - Advocate For Disabled Individuals Tells Her Inspiring Story

ideacity, "Barbara Turnbull - Advocate For Disabled Individuals," YouTube. Added September 11, 2018

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Shattered beer bottles on the side of the road. Photo was changed from colour to black and white for illustrative purposes only. (Photo by spDuchamp on Flickr)

Tranchemontagne et al. v. ODSP

In 1998 and 1999, respectively, Robert Tranchemontagne and Norman Werbeski applied for income support through the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) as they were unable to work due to their alcohol dependencies. If unsuccessful, their other option would be to apply for the appreciably lower level of assistance offered by Ontario Works (OW).

The director of the ODSP determined that Tranchemontagne and Werbeski were not entitled to benefits under the Ontario Disability Support Program Act (ODSPA) despite both satisfying the criteria for disability. The two separately filed for an internal review of the director’s decision but their appeals were dismissed based on section 5(2) of the ODSPA, which disqualifies those disabled solely due to substance dependence from receiving support.

The appellants argued that section 5(2) was inapplicable by virtue of the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC), according to which refusing their ODSP applications would constitute discrimination. The Code also takes primacy over other legislation. Finally, in April 2009 the Social Benefits Tribunal of Ontario determined that Tranchemontagne and Werbeski had established a prima facie case demonstrating that the denial of income support based on section 5(2) of the ODSPA violated their right to equal treatment as set out by the OHRC. Their request for reimbursement was granted and because they did not seek money in their initial case none was awarded. The appeal was allowed.

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