South Shore father claims son with autism was humiliated by bus driver for not wearing mask

A Longueuil father claims his nine-year-old son, who has autism spectrum disorder and is non-verbal, was almost prevented from boarding an RTL bus because he was not wearing a mask.

Longueuil transit agency says it was an isolated incident

Abu Abbasi was on his way to an appointment when he says a Longueil bus driver did not want to allow his nine-year-old son, who has an autism spectrum disorder, to board because he was not wearing a mask. (Josh Grant/CBC)

Abu Abbasi waited with his nine-year-old son, Samir, at a Longueuil bus stop on their way to an appointment last week. But when the bus pulled up, Abbasi says the doors did not open for them. 

Abbasi and his son had been waiting at the corner of Marie and Taschereau Boulevards when, according to Abbasi, the bus driver refused to open the door. 

Abbasi says the driver repeatedly pointed to his own face and then to Samir, pointing out that the child was not wearing a mask. 

But Abbasi says Samir is unable to wear one because he is non-verbal and has autism spectrum disorder, and does not understand what it means to wear one. 

Whenever Abbasi has tried to put a mask on his son, Samir, who is non-verbal, removes it immediately. 

"I'm yelling through the door, you know, 'he has exceptional needs, he has special needs, I have a note from the doctor' and he didn't open the door for at least 45 seconds to a minute," said Abbasi. 

According to provincial guidelines, people with autism spectrum disorders and cognitive impairment are exempt from wearing a mask in indoor public spaces. 

The government regulations also state that wearing a mask on public transit is only mandatory for those aged 10 and up, though it is recommended for those between the ages of two and nine. 

According to Abbasi, the driver eventually gave in and opened the doors for them but continued to tell Abbasi that his son is required to wear a mask and that it is company policy for him not to allow them to board. 

The driver then repeatedly refused to look at the medical note and continued to argue with them until they arrived at the Metro station, Abbasi says. 

"The bus driver was unprofessional, condescending and it was extremely humiliating," said Abbasi. 

Abbasi filed a complaint with the Réseau de transport de Longueuil (RTL) shortly after the incident, and says he was told the mask guidelines would be clarified for drivers. Still, he says having to go through this more than a year into the pandemic is unacceptable. 

Abu Abbasi says his son, Samir (right), is unable to wear a mask. (Submitted by Abu Abbasi )

In a statement to CBC News, the RTL says this was an isolated incident, and that it sent out a notice reminding staff of mask exemptions as a result of it. 

"The RTL would like to apologize for any situation where a client who was respecting all government regulations and guidelines was not permitted to board our buses," the statement said. 

Alison Bissonnette, a program lead at Little Red Playhouse, who works with children on the autism spectrum, says the mandatory mask regulations have been a struggle for many children with disabilities. 

"I think everyone's hypervigilant these days in trying to protect themselves and the community as best they can and so there's judgments that are perhaps being made too quickly," said Bissonnette. 

While some children on the autism spectrum are able to wear a mask, others are not, Bissonnette explained, and people need to be patient and understand that. 

"I think that there's a level of understanding that's lacking," said Bissonnette. "If the person isn't wearing a mask, especially in this context, there's probably a valid reason for it."

Based on a report by Josh Grant