Montreal·Video

Montreal's new self-cleaning public toilets will soon be open for business

The City of Montreal says it is preparing to unveil the first three of a planned 12 high-tech, self-cleaning, free-to-use public bathrooms.

City will invest $3 million in 12 free-standing bathrooms sprinkled throughout downtown

A worker puts the finishing touches on a new public toilet in Montreal, one of the of a planned 12 high-tech, self-cleaning, free-to-use public bathrooms. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

After months of delays, the City of Montreal is expected to unveil the first three self-cleaning, free-to-use public toilets in the coming weeks.

It will cost a total of $3 million to install the 12 planned toilet facilities, which include weight sensors and an automated seat and floor-washing system.

While free-standing single stalls are common in Europe, advocates say most Canadian cities lag behind, with three in Toronto and 11 in Vancouver.

The City of Montreal once boasted an impressive fleet of 20 or so art deco-inspired public toilets, built in the 1930s to improve hygiene and create work during the Great Depression.

But by the 1970s, most of the octagon-shaped structures had fallen into disrepair and were demolished, leaving Montrealers with no city-run facilities.

At least one of the sites slated for construction is drawing ire from the neighbours — Sun Yat Sen Park in Chinatown.

There will be 12 new self-cleaning toilets around downtown Montreal. Here's how they work. 0:24

Local merchants say the park, located at the corner of De La Gauchetière and Clark streets, is used daily by people in the community and that there was no consultation before the city chose this site.

Many fear construction will go on well into July and disrupt planned events in the spring and early summer.

A group of merchants is expected to make a statement later Sunday morning.

Toilets as a social issue

On the other hand, some people are applauding the move, saying that cities should be doing more to meet this universal human need.

Lezlie Lowe, who is the author of an upcoming book about public toilets, said the installation could make a big difference for people who have barriers to toilet access, like homeless or trans people.

When she began researching this topic over a decade ago, Lowe said she started to realize that not everyone enjoyed the same access she'd always taken for granted as a white, middle-class and healthy person.

"I can go into a Starbucks and I seem well put together and confident, and I can either go up or ask to use the bathroom.... Or, if I'm pressed on it, I have enough money to buy a coffee,'' she said in a phone interview.

"But if somebody is street-involved or homeless, they can't really count on that privilege.''

With files from The Canadian Press

now