Businesses struggle to balance public access to toilets with drug use, cleanliness
Public washroom access in spotlight after elderly man refused access at Saskatoon gas station
Businesses west of downtown Saskatoon say they've run into significant costs in allowing public access to washrooms.
The issue of public toilets recently came to light when a Co-op gas bar at 402 22nd Street W. would not allow an elderly man using a walker to use a bathroom. Up until recently, customers were allowed to use the toilets at the gas bar.
In a statement released on its Facebook page, Saskatoon Co-op said it closed the washrooms "after a series of extremely dangerous incidents," which included drunk, disorderly people, along with bodily fluids and syringes being found in the toilet area.
Co-op's general manager, Grant Wicks, said the gas bar tried a number of times to control bathroom access unsuccessfully, before making the decision to close the washrooms "as the safety of Co-op employees and customers cannot be reasonably assured."
Security, upkeep of public washrooms a concern
A number of businesses along nearby 20th Street W. have posted signs indicating "no public washrooms" in their front windows, after running into similar problems.
Randy Pshebylo said he sympathizes with those who need bathrooms urgently. He's the executive director of the Riversdale Business Improvement District, which has considered installing porta-potties, or public toilets in the area.
He noted a number of merchants direct people who need washrooms to nearby ministries and soup kitchens including the Friendship Inn. However, he acknowledged those restrooms are only available during certain hours of the day.
'This city's got to start dealing with it'
A number of people have expressed anger at the way the elderly man was treated by gas station attendants.
Stratton said finding syringes or bodily fluids in a gas station washroom would concern her. But she said that should not be used as an excuse to outright ban the public from using washrooms.
Saskatoon currently prohibits public spitting, urination and defecation in public places and on private property. There is no city bylaw requiring businesses to allow public access to toilets, although provincial health regulations stipulate public eating establishments with seating must allow their customers access to clean washrooms.
"This city's got to start dealing with it somehow," said Stratton.
Province, municipalities do not enforce public bathroom access
Officials at Saskatchewan's Ministry of Health said retail establishments, including gas bars, are regulated by national building standards, which only mandate public washroom access for retailers larger than 600 square metres or 6,458 square feet.
Public health officials in Saskatoon noted that restaurants and public eateries with seating for the public must also offer washroom access.
Some cities, including Toronto, have passed bylaws requiring all retailers to offer their customers washroom access. Others, such as Vancouver and Calgary, have installed self-cleaning public washrooms.
City officials in Saskatoon said they've received no direction from Saskatoon's current council in terms of installing more public-access toilets. However, they said that may be a possibility for busy thoroughfares, including 22nd Street W., when more bus rapid transit stations are installed.