Deaf association files human rights complaint against St. John Ambulance

The Okanagan Valley Association of the Deaf has filed a human rights complaint against St. John Ambulance, saying the organization is refusing to accommodate the needs of deaf students in first aid courses.

Okanagan Valley Association of the Deaf wants sign language interpreters in first aid courses

Hands show the American Sign Language sign for "interpretation." The Okanagan Valley Association of the Deaf has filed a human rights complaint against St. John Ambulance, saying the organization refuses to provide interpreters for deaf students. (Shutterstock/Matt Antonino)

The Okanagan Valley Association of the Deaf has filed a human rights complaint against St. John Ambulance, saying the organization refuses to provide interpreters for its first aid courses.

"This is something that organizations serving deaf communities in B.C. have been hearing complaints about for years," said Kate Feeney, the lawyer representing the group.

"Finally, the Okanagan Valley Association of the Deaf (OVAD) pretty much said enough is enough."

Feeney said St. John Ambulance — one of the country's leading providers of first aid training — has "a longstanding policy or practice of not providing sign language interpretation where it's needed to accommodate a deaf student in the class."

OVAD filed the complaint Wednesday "on behalf of all Deaf British Columbians who have experienced harm from this absence of accommodation."

"Deaf people need first aid skills just like everyone else. This could be a matter of life or death in an emergency situation," said Gordon Rattray, OVAD treasurer. 

St. John Ambulance has yet to comment

Feeney said the association believes sign language interpretation should be provided to any deaf student who requires it when they take first aid training.

She argues that, as a nationally-recognized organization, St. John Ambulance would have the revenue required to provide such a service.

"This case is important because it's reminding service providers that whether you're a government, business or a non-profit or a charity, you're all bound by the human rights code," she said.

CBC has made multiple requests to St. John Ambulance for comment, but the organization has not responded to requests for an interview.

Feeney said the organization has yet to file a formal response.

She hopes a settlement can be reached before the case goes to a hearing before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

"We're obviously hoping that we can reach a quick resolution through agreement," Feeney said.

With files from CBC's Daybreak South and Chris Walker.

About the Author

Jaimie Kehler

Jaimie Kehler is a web writer, producer and broadcaster based in Kelowna, B.C. She has also worked for CBC News in Toronto and Ottawa. To contact her with a story, email jaimie.kehler@cbc.ca.