Sanctions unlikely for Montreal Jazz Fest after refusing to accommodate deaf music fan

The Montreal International Jazz Festival is unlikely to face repercussions for refusing to provide a sign-language interpreter for a deaf concert-goer last year, according to correspondence from Quebec's Human Rights Commission.

"I missed the concert and wound up in a giant ball, crying," said deaf concert-goer

Natasha Luttrell, who is deaf, reached out to the Montreal International Jazz Festival ahead of a June concert by Ontario band Walk Off The Earth. She wanted them to supply an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. (CBC)

The Montreal International Jazz Festival should not face repercussions for refusing to provide a sign-language interpreter for a deaf concert-goer last year, according to a recommendation received by Quebec's Human Rights Commission.

Natasha Luttrell, who is deaf, reached out to the jazz festival ahead of a June concert by Ontario band Walk Off The Earth.

She wanted them to supply an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, as well as a designated space so deaf audience members could see the interpreter.  

The jazz festival told her that sign language interpretation was not a service they offered, so the band ended up providing one at their own expense.

Ontario band Walk Off The Earth ended up providing an interpreter at their own expense. They're pictured here playing the CBC Music Festival.

But without a designated space, Luttrell said she wasn't able to fully appreciate the show because she couldn't see the interpreter.

"The whole experience was terrible," Luttrell said in an email. "I missed the concert and wound up in a giant ball, crying because I did not have a view of the stage and was unable to communicate with anyone."

A question of access

She filed a complaint afterward with the Human Rights Commission. "The problem is that deaf individuals have physical access to many places, but lack language access," Luttrell said.

"I can go to a town hall [meeting] and have no idea what the elected official is saying. Is that democracy?"

But in a recent letter to Luttrell, the evaluation advisor in charge of her file said: "Nothing indicates that you could not get the services offered by the Jazz Festival."

The advisor added that she intended to recommend that the commission close Luttrell'​s file. 

Luttrell said she was "extremely upset and alarmed" upon receiving the news.

The festival responds

In a statement to CBC News, the Montreal International Jazz Festival said it would be happy to accommodate all artists who want to hire sign-language interpreters. 

"We will make a point of helping them in the process so that the experience would be beneficial for all festival-goers," said Isabelle Lavigne, a festival spokesperson. 

But she also said that it would be too costly for the festival to offer interpretation services for all its 300 outdoor concerts.

Luttrell sent another letter to the commission last month, outlining a number reasons she believes her original complaint should be reviewed. She has yet to receive a response.