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National summit today after passengers with disabilities mistreated by Canadian airlines

Federal ministers are holding a National Air Accessibility Summit in Ottawa Thursday in response to high-profile cases of passengers living with disabilities being mistreated while flying with Canadian carriers.

Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez and Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Minister Kamal Khera announced the summit in March and will host the Shaw Centre event.

CBC.ca will livestream the event beginning at 9 am. ET.

The summit will hear from airline representatives and the disability community. A government release said the discussions will address the effectiveness of regulations meant to ensure accessibility.

“All Canadians expect airlines to do a lot better in the way that they treat persons with disabilities,” Khera said Wednesday on her way into Parliament.

Airlines have taken heat in recent months over reports of passengers with disabilities being left to deplane without assistance, and of airlines misplacing vital equipment, such as wheelchairs.

Rodriguez told CBC News airlines are coming to the summit “in good faith to have those honest conversations.” He said he’s looking for concrete solutions to a situation he called “not acceptable.”

Asked how he will ensure airlines fulfil their responsibilities, Rodriguez said Wednesday that “there could be penalties, it could be serious consequences. All of that will be decided after this summit.” 

The CEOs of Canada’s major airlines were called to appear before a parliamentary committee probing the state of accessible transportation.

The House of Commons transport committee held four meetings on the subject and will be delivering a draft report in the coming months.

WestJet chief executive officer Alexis von Hoensbroech apologized for the incidents in February, saying he hoped to improve travel accessibility.

“To our guests who didn’t have a good travel experience with us, we are sincerely sorry and we are committed [to] doing better,” von Hoensbroech said during an appearance before the transport committee.

A white man in a suit speaks into several microphones from news agencies.
Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau: ‘We do make mistakes.’ (Bloomberg)

Air Canada’s CEO Michael Rousseau also faced tough questions at the committee over reports of passenger mistreatment during the past year.

“We do make mistakes,” Rousseau told the committee. He pointed to an expedited accessibility scheme announced in November, along with new measures to improve the travel experience passengers living with a disability.

The parliamentary hearings followed several CBC News stories reporting incidents of mistreatment.

In one case, the federal government’s chief accessibility officer, Stephanie Cadieux, flew from Toronto to Vancouver in October on an Air Canada flight only to discover that her wheelchair had been left behind.

Cadieux said that while her chair was safely returned to her by the airline the following morning, airlines that do not provide appropriate care and attention to essential equipment like wheelchairs leave travellers vulnerable.

“I want everyone to understand that when a person’s wheelchair is lost, so is their independence, safety, mobility and dignity,” she said.

“Airlines have to take responsibility and they have to do better.”

WATCH: Man forced to drag himself off Air Canada flight vows to keep fighting  

national summit today after passengers with disabilities mistreated by canadian airlines 1

Man forced to drag himself off Air Canada flight vows to keep fighting for people with disabilities

6 months ago

Duration 1:40

Air Canada has apologized to a B.C. man after staff told him he would need to get to the front of the plane without any assistance. The airline has also admitted it violated Canadian disability legislation. Rodney Hodgins hopes the situation will lead to systemic change.

Rodney and Deanna Hodgins flew from Vancouver to Las Vegas in late August to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. Rodney has spastic cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair.

They say he was forced to drag himself off an Air Canada flight in Las Vegas after the airline failed to provide the assistance he needed to safely exit the plane. Deanna called the experience “dehumanizing.”

“You are watching this man grab the back of a chair and then struggle and fight while I’m on the ground, crawling on the ground moving his legs, and we’re trying to get him to the front of the plane. I’m fighting his spasms trying to lift up his legs,” she said.

Ryan Lachance, a White Rock-based stand-up comedian who has quad spastic cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair, said that in May 2023, he was dropped and injured while attempting to exit an Air Canada flight after the airline’s crew failed to bring the equipment he needed.

“It was a massive struggle to get me out of the seat. I travel with a sling underneath me to make it easier for people to pick me up. They kept pulling that and it was hurting my body, bruising my back and my hip really bad,” he said.

Emma Proulx, Lachance’s care assistant, was travelling with him at the time. She said “it was painful to watch and it was painful for Ryan to experience.”

According to an itinerary distributed to the media, Rodriguez and Khera will make opening remarks at the summit before hosting two discussion panels.

Participants in the first panel include representatives from the CNIB, the Autism Alliance of Canada, Procne Navigation, Spinal Cord Injury Canada, Wavefront Centre for Communication Accessibility and the Vancouver International Airport.

The second panel features representatives from airlines and airports, including the National Airlines Council of Canada, the Canadian Airports Council, the Northern Air Transport Association, Air Canada, WestJet, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Canadian Labour Congress, UNIFOR and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.

This article is from from cbc.ca (CBC NEWS CANADA)

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