Disabled DDO woman says her tempo gives her freedom. The city says it must come down

Charlotte Gibson is fighting more than $13,000 in fines and wants an exemption from the city so she can keep her car sheltered beneath the tempo.

Mayor says city tries to accommodate people with disabilities

Couple in a Tempo.
Charlotte Gibson, right, is fighting more than $13,000 in fines and wants an exemption from the city so she can keep her car sheltered beneath the tempo. (Ainslie MacLellan/CBC)

A Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que., woman with a disability is contesting more than $13,000 in fines she has received from the city for erecting a tempo car shelter over her driveway. 

Charlotte Gibson, who has been disabled since she broke her leg and ankle slipping on ice eight years ago, has trouble walking and is not able to clear snow off her car. She also has difficulty getting up if she falls and has a service dog to help her.

She says her tempo, a tent-like structure used by many Quebecers to protect their cars and driveways from inclement winter weather, has allowed her to maintain her independence. 

"I've always thought that when one door closes a window will open," Gibson said. "A tempo was my window. But unfortunately, Dollard has slammed the window on my fingers."

Woman and dog under structure.
Charlotte Gibson and her service dog Onyx stand beneath Gibson's tempo. The structures are banned in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que. (Ainslie MacLellan/CBC)

Tempos are banned in Dollard-des-Ormeaux (DDO). Gibson first asked the city for an exemption to the ban in 2018, but she was denied. Then, after being trapped in her parked car outside her home one day, unable to walk across her icy driveway, she decided to put one up anyway.

The city has since told her to take down the tempo and has issued her about 25 fines since late 2019 — one a month — most of them for $646. 

But Gibson isn't backing down. She and her husband have filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission and will contest the fines in court, where they intend to argue the city should make exceptions for people with disabilities. 

For Gibson, she says it is a matter of independence. She doesn't want to have to wait for someone else to clear snow off her car or out of her driveway if she has to leave for an emergency.

"Losing your independence, until it happens to you, you don't understand," she said. "Waiting for someone else's timeline, someone else's agenda to be able to do anything — until you live it, you don't understand it."

Gibson's neighbour Caroline Speirs launched an online petition on Gibson's behalf, to try to take the pulse of how the community feels about the ban.

While Speirs believes most tempos are "ugly," she thinks there should be accommodations for those who need them.

 "My displeasure at seeing … a plastic and steel structure, how does that weigh against somebody spending two hours a day getting out of their house? Their inconvenience is more important," she said.

But DDO Mayor Alex Bottausci says the ban has nothing to do with aesthetic concerns.

Bottausci says it's because tempos can interfere with snow clearing and can impede access to a person's front door in case of an emergency. He says the city estimates those issues would cost DDO between $300,000 and $500,000 a year, if the tempo ban were lifted.

He says most citizens in DDO have garages and don't need tempos. 

A woman in a garage.
Charlotte Gibson says she can't park her car in her garage because it is needed for storing food, tools, her husband's motorcycle and a golf cart she needs to get around a campsite the family attends in the summer, due to her disability. (Ainslie MacLellan/CBC)

Gibson says she cannot park her car in the family's garage, in part because they also store two other vehicles there: a golf cart Gibson uses to get around the campsite the family visits in summer, due to her disability, and her husband's motorcycle. 

Bottausci says the city has gone "above and beyond" to accommodate Gibson but, because the case is before the courts, he would not say what the city had proposed as accommodation. 

"You need to explore all possibilities," he said. "Before you bend a rule, a city rule, you would explore all other possibilities."

Gibson submitted a note from a doctor to the city outlining why she needs a tempo structure, but the city rejected it. She says a second note from a different doctor was also not accepted.

"I've never heard of a doctor prescribing a tempo," Bottausci said. "I've never heard of that."

'We want to enjoy life'

Steven Laperrière, the general director of RAPLIQ, a Quebec accessibility rights group, said a city has to provide an accommodation if a person with a disability cannot benefit from a service that other citizens are able to enjoy, such as when a business or a municipal facility doesn't have a wheelchair ramp.

In this case, however, since tempos are banned for everyone, Laperrière said, in his view, it wouldn't be considered discriminatory.

"But at the same time, as I say that, it's obvious that they need to have some type of accommodation," he said. "And there, the city councillors must come into play and look at what are the other options."

Gibson isn't the only person who wants the city to allow exceptions to the tempo ban. Michael Benjoar, a legally blind DDO resident, installed one of the shelters in his backyard so he could more easily access his swim spa year-round. 

A man showing his spa.
Michael Benjoar, a legally blind DDO resident, installed a tempo in his backyard so he could more easily access his swim spa year-round.  (Ainslie MacLellan/CBC)

But the city has sent him two letters telling him to take it down. 

"The city doesn't understand," he said. "I try to negotiate with them. I try to talk with them, like, it makes no sense. Yeah, they have to understand that when you have a physical handicap, you know, we're citizens like everybody. We want to enjoy life. So I'm not bothering anybody, I'm in my backyard."

Buchanan and Gibson say if they have to pay the fines, they'll be dipping into their retirement savings. They figure between the tickets and fees paid to their lawyer, they may have to shell out $30,000 dollars.

For several years, Dollard-des-Ormeaux resident Charlotte Gibson has been using a temporary car shelter to help her access her car, due to a disability. But she's facing thousands of dollars in fines because the structures are banned in DDO. Daybreak's Ainslie MacLellan brings us the story.


Ainslie MacLellan is a journalist at CBC Montreal. Follow her on Twitter: @CBCAinslie.


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