Montreal-area Tim Hortons to install diaper changing table in men's washroom after Twitter outrage

Father of two Chris Webb is celebrating getting an apology — and a commitment to install a diaper changing table in the men's washroom of his local Tim Hortons — after sending a thread of irate tweets to the restaurant chain.

Father of 2 routinely told to use women's washrooms to change diapers, tweets frustration

Chris Webb said a woman was too uncomfortable to use the bathroom when he was changing his son Owen's diaper in the stall next to her last Friday. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Father of two Chris Webb is celebrating getting an apology — and a commitment to install a diaper changing table in the men's washroom of his local Tim Hortons — after sending a thread of irate tweets to the restaurant chain.

Around noon last Friday, Webb was at the Tim Hortons on Don Quichotte Boulevard in the off-island Montreal suburb of Île-Perrot​ with his 14-month-old son Owen while his wife was getting her hair cut.

When his son needed a diaper change, he went into the men's washroom but there wasn't a changing table.

"It's 2018. Dads change diapers," he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

Tim Hortons sent CBC a statement Monday affirming that diaper changing stations in men's washrooms are part of its new layout.

"Obviously as a family brand, we need to make accessible changing tables available for all of our guests. This is now standard in our new restaurant design that is rolling out across Canada," the statement says.

Later in the afternoon, Tim Hortons reached out to Webb to apologize, commit to installing a diaper-changing table in the men's washroom at his local coffee shop, and listening to his suggestions on what would make the restaurant more accommodating to fathers.

"Constructive conversation with Tim Hortons this afternoon," Webb tweeted. "All restaurants across Canada are being refurbished and change tables are being installed where possible."

'She clearly felt awkward'

Webb, who is originally from England and has been living in Pincourt, Que., for six years, has encountered the diaper dilemma many times before.

He said friends have advised him to just use the tables in the dining room if a restaurant doesn't accommodate fathers who need to change diapers.

A supervisor at the Tim Hortons told him last Friday what is typically suggested — to use the women's washroom.

"She told me, 'Oh the women don't mind,'" he said.

He asked if a female employee could check that there weren't any women in there first.

To try to ease the awkwardness of the situation, Webb decided to prop open the stall door with the stroller as he changed the diaper.

Webb said the stall in the men's washroom at the Don-Quichotte Boulevard Tim Hortons on L'île-Perrot is larger than the women's, pictured, and would be able to accommodate a changing table. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

A woman walked in and was startled to see him there, he said. She asked if she had accidentally gone into the men's washroom.

When he explained, she acted nonchalant and went into a stall.

"Then she turned around and left. She clearly felt awkward," Webb said.

"As we left, the lady was outside. I apologized. She said, 'It's OK, I have children too.'"

Webb stressed that what happened in the Tim Hortons wasn't a unique situation, just one's he's fed up with facing.

"I would like to go out with my child and have somewhere to change them," he said.

His tweets to Tim Hortons received a wave of support from parents. 

By Monday afternoon, Tim Hortons had contacted Webb, said the franchise has ordered a changing table for its men's washroom, and said he and his family would be invited back for a meal once it is installed.

The representative told him existing franchises across Canada will be refurbished in the next few years to include changing tables in men's washrooms, when space allows.

He asked what would happen in the meantime, and she didn't have an answer, Webb said.

He suggested to her that Tim Hortons train staff on how to manage the situation in the interim.

Webb told her they could escort a father to the women's washroom to make sure no one's inside, or have a sign for the door informing women when there's a man using the changing table.

He said the Tim Hortons representative seemed receptive, but was unable to commit to any of his suggestions. 

Shifting perceptions on child care

Something as innocuous as a diaper changing table in the men's washroom can help shift perceptions on child care, said Francesca Scala, an associate professor in political science at Montreal's Concordia University. 

"These are also symbolic — having changing tables showing that this is a father's duty," Scala said. 

Along with colleague Stephanie Paterson, she researches gender in public policy. The two will be part of a roundtable on gender mainstreaming hosted by Status of Women Canada in the fall. 

Paterson said it's important to normalize fathering in a public space.

When her six-year-old son was younger, the lack of changing tables in men's washrooms meant the chore fell to her by default. 

Webb said he wants to make sure his wife isn't the default diaper-changer. 

"My wife changes diapers all day. It's nice when we go out for her not to have to," he said.

Webb said he's tired of facing poor access to change tables when he's out with this toddler. 'It's 2018; dads change diapers,' he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Paterson added that slight changes in government policy can go a long way to equalize parenting duties.

"In Quebec, since the implementation of paternity leave policy, there's been an uptick in fathers taking leave, and participating in unpaid work in the home," she said.

However, Scala said that in cases like this one, it will be hard for the provincial government to tell existing businesses to install changing tables in both washrooms, since some are too small to accommodate one.

"It's hard to do for, say, small restaurants in the Plateau area," she said.

She said it's something the government could demand of new constructions. 

"This wasn't never necessarily about Tim Hortons, the wider issue is that, wherever you go, wherever there's a publicly accessible washroom, it should have changing facilities in it," Webb said.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak and Jaela Bernstien