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Housing discrimination weighed

Disabilities not accommodated: resident; human rights panel hears complaint

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When Dorothy Englot decided to move to a life-lease condo from the North Kildonan bungalow she'd lived in for 50 years, she did so only with the expectation that some basic requests be made to accommodate her specific disabilities.

But the 85-year-old testified at a Manitoba Human Rights Commission hearing on Tuesday despite the requests she and her daughter, Dianne Brockmeyer, made to Cornerstone Housing Corp., the developers of the seniors housing development in North Kildonan, they were met with nothing but frustration and heartbreak.

She was unable to use the toilet and bathtub in her own ensuite bathroom for a year until she and her daughter undertook more than $10,000 of renovations on their own.

When commission lawyer Isha Kahn asked her how she went to the bathroom, Englot broke down in tears.

"This is embarrassing," she said. "I had to use a nice green pail, standing up."

The hearing in front of commission-appointed adjudicator, Peter Sim, a Winnipeg lawyer, is to determine if Cornerstone discriminated against Englot by failing to reasonably accommodate her specific needs based on her disability.

MHRC adjudication hearings are rare events. When a complaint is made based on the Manitoba Human Rights Code, a thorough investigation is undertaken by the commission staff to determine whether the complaint is valid. If the evidence suggests the complaint has merit, efforts are made to resolve the dispute through mediation.

In 2012, there were 358 formal complaints and files opened. All but 12 were settled and only seven adjudication hearings took place.

Cornerstone's lawyer, Charles Huband, was to cross-examine Englot Tuesday.

In his opening remarks, Huband said Cornerstone believes it was in total compliance.

"We did reasonably accommodate each request made. It may not have been as timely as the complainant might have requested," he said. "It was acknowledged there was a disability. The intention of Cornerstone was always to make reasonable accommodation for various disabilities. In our evidence, we will show that Cornerstone made those reasonable accommodations."

Englot's disability relates to what she said was a routine operation that went horribly wrong in 2004. Her right leg is without a kneecap and she has a 27-inch-long, half-inch-thick titanium rod that keeps her leg together.

She is unable to bend that leg at all and requires scooters and special walkers to get around and a specific toilet attachment along with grab bars to be able to use the toilet and bathtub as well as a number of other alterations.

Otherwise, she said she is able to live independently.

She also requested an extra-large parking space with enough room to get in and out of her daughter's specially designed van.

She said the specific needs, especially for the grab bars and special raised toilet, were made clear to the leasing agent at Cornerstone before signing the lease. She said she and her daughter were told at the time by the leasing agent that he "can't see any reason for there to be a problem."

But she said as construction of the building progressed, rather than assurance the requests would be granted, she was repeatedly told they would be best addressed after construction was completed.

In her opening remarks, Kahn said "over the course of a year, responses to those requests were not timely nor were they specific nor was there ever an exchange of information. Rather, requests were pushed aside to be dealt with by Ms. Brockmeyer and her mother after she moved into the unit."

"But unfortunately after the move-in was too late," Kahn said. "The simple modification could no longer be made once the walls were closed up. And her equipment was incompatible with what was provided in one of the most important areas of her new home -- the ensuite bathroom."

Englot said the fact the building has steel studs meant the grab bars could not easily be installed.

In his opening remarks, Huband said, "The complainants are not free from the allegation of unreasonable conduct on their part. That will become evident as we proceed."

The hearing continues today and Thursday.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 29, 2014 B1

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