A Montreal borough objects to a man with multiple sclerosis installing wheelchair lift


MONTREAL -- When Claude Varin wants to leave his first-floor apartment on Christophe-Colomb Ave. in Montreal, each and every step requires a lot of strength.

He suffers from multiple sclerosis, a degenerative illness for which there is no cure.

He needs a lift for his wheelchair to get to street level to leave his home and access adapted transport.

"The future looked simple," said Varin. “I was eligible for a grant that would have allowed me to have a mechanical lift in front of the building."

However, the Rosemont-Petite-Patrie borough objected, saying it is a heritage neighbourhood, and the outdoor mechanical lift would not fit in.

The building he lives in belongs to his sister-in-law, and was built in the 1950s.

"This isn't heritage," he said. "The buildings have no architectural value and they're all from different eras."

He pointed to a variety of old and recent constructions next to a gas station on Rosemont Blvd.

The borough told Varin he could have his lift at the back of the building, which he said was an impraticable solution.

"I would have roughly 140 metres of ice and snow on an uneven surface," he said, noting that the alley behind the building isn’t cleared as well as the street and sidewalks in front of his house.

The city’s adapted transport buses also do not pick up or drop off clients.

"Out front, adapted transport picks me up right at my door," he said.

Varin said he tried mediation with outgoing mayor François-William Croteau, but it failed, as the city would only offer him financial compensation and stick to the alley option.

He eventually took his case to the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal, but his case was rejected because he waited too long before filing his demand.

The tribunal did note in its judgment that the borough did not handle the file particularly well.

Through a spokesperson, the borough mayor declined a CTV request for an interview.

Mobility advocates say Varin is clearly facing discrimination.

"It seems we're talking about some kind of heritage building?" asked Steven Laperriere, from the disabilities advocacy group RAPLIQ. "What is exactly the definition of a heritage building that should prevail over one person with disability rights?”

Currently, Varin depends on his partner to get around, but realizes that once he can't walk anymore, she won't be able to carry him up and down the stairs.

"I'm already exhausted by all of this," said Manon Verhelst. "I have no energy left for myself."

Varin says he won't move.

All he sees now is a time when he'll be a prisoner in his own home, on top of being a prisoner of his own body.