Former lawyers file human rights complaints over barriers in Manitoba court buildings
WINNIPEG -- Two former lawyers say they have taken their concerns about accessibility issues at court buildings across the province to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.
Both Mike Reimer and Peter Tonge, who filed the complaints, live with a disability, and use a wheelchair.
Reimer was called to the Bar of Manitoba in Jun. 2018 and worked as a criminal defence lawyer until Dec. 2019. Tonge graduated from Robson Hall at the University of Manitoba in 2006 and worked as a lawyer for Legal Aid Manitoba until he retired in 2018.
In a news release, the former lawyers detailed significant barriers accessing court facilities across Manitoba.
“In summer 2019, I took over a case that was based in Emerson, Manitoba. I was informed that the courthouse in Emerson was not wheelchair accessible, as it required the navigation of a set of stairs to enter the courthouse,” Reimer said in the release. “I met with a Provincial Court judge where I outlined my concern and indicated that I would be amenable to having sheriffs carry me up the stairs to enter the courthouse in order for me to represent my client.”
“The judge indicated that this was not an option as it was not part of the job description for the sheriffs and would be a potential liability for Manitoba Justice.”
Reimer said the case was ultimately adjourned and moved to an accessible courthouse in Altona, Man.
He said in a separate case in Amaranth in Oct. 2019, the court building in that community didn’t have an accessible washroom. Reimer said that meant he had to leave the building without addressing his matters to use the washroom at the Amaranth RCMP station. He noted an accessible washroom has since been added to the court.
Tonge said Legal Aid Manitoba agreed he would not do circuit court outside the city for these reasons, but he said the Law Courts building in Winnipeg remains inaccessible.
“The Manitoba Courts did undertake a renovation project several years ago,” Tonge said in the release. “I was asked to attend a meeting and I told the group that my access priorities were the outside doors and a modernization of the washrooms on the working floors. I was told that those items were not being considered.
“Main washrooms are not accessible. Door openers were added but not on the most frequently used courtrooms.
CTV News has reached out to the Court of Queen’s Bench and Provincial Court for comment.
The Manitoba Human Rights Commission told CTV News it does not comment on active complaints until they have been referred to a public hearing.
Once a complaint’s been registered, it’s served to the organizations the complaint is being made against and the organizations are given a chance to respond.
The Manitoba Human Rights Commission will then conduct an investigation to determine whether a public hearing should be held on the matter.
A provincial spokesperson told CTV News work is ongoing to “improve existing spaces and address any deficiencies if/when they arise.”
They said the Winnipeg Law Courts building is currently receiving upgrades, which among other things includes door openers in all courtroom doors, public access to a universal design toilet room on the main floor, power door openers on staff washrooms on the main floor, barrier-free public service counters.
They said renovations and upgrades for accessibility at the courthouses in Thompson and Dauphin are also underway.