Businesses struggle to balance public access to toilets with drug use, cleanliness

The Riversdale Business Improvement District has considered offering public toilets, but concerns over the cost of its maintenance and upkeep have led to limited access to public washrooms in the area west of downtown Saskatoon.

Public washroom access in spotlight after elderly man refused access at Saskatoon gas station

A number of businesses in Saskatoon have stopped allowing public access to their on-site washrooms, citing concerns over cleanliness and illegal drug use. (CBC)

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. 

"A lot of it has to do with security, maintenance and upkeep," said Randy Pshebylo, executive director of the Riversdale Business Improvement District. (CBC)
"Where do you put them?" asked Pshebylo. "You know they get cleaned at eight in the morning and someone comes in at 10 and totally makes a mess of the inside, now it stays that way until the next morning. What good is it if it's not usable?"

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.

"I just don't like it," said Meghan Stratton, who said gas station staff could have quietly made an exception for the man. "It's disrespectful to old people and it's just not cool."
Meghan Stratton said it's "disrespectful" of businesses not to allow elderly people and very young children to use their toilets. (CBC)

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.