Saskatoon

Elderly man using walker begs for access to washroom, but gas station refuses

Last week, an elderly man with a walker begged employees at a Saskatoon Co-op gas station to use the building's washroom. He was denied access.

Access denial problematic for people with disabilities, says Crohn's and Colitis Canada

A Saskatoon Co-op gas station doesn't allow public access to the building's washrooms. (CBC)

Scouting out a public washroom can be tough, especially when you need it most.

Last week, Jenneffer Albert witnessed an elderly man with a walker begging employees at a Saskatoon Co-op gas station to use the building's washroom. He was denied access.

"He had to pee really bad. He was like, 'Please, I'm going to pee my pants.' And they still denied him and that's when I was like, 'No, I'm leaving. You had a choice to either help an old man or not and you chose not to,'" explained Albert.

She took to social media, writing about the situation on Facebook. It has since gone viral.

A few weeks earlier, Jessica Green was also told she was unable to use the washroom at the same gas station.

"I know for a fact that there were washrooms — two of them — and I thought it was pretty ignorant that they can't make an exception," Green said. 

In her line of work as a driver, she said she gets limited time for bathroom breaks.

Too many dangerous situations

Grant Wicks, general manager for Saskatoon Co-op, told CBC News that the company tried a number of options to keep the washrooms open, but constant health and safety issues caused the gas station to shut down public use.

Prior to closing the washrooms, he said employees had to deal with too many dangerous situations which involved syringes, bodily fluids and drunk and disorderly people.

According to Wicks, making any exceptions to the rule now would be problematic.

The Saskatoon Co-op posted this to their Facebook page earlier this week to explain their decision to cut off public access to the gas station's washrooms:

Saskatoon Co-op posted an explanation as to why their bathrooms are closed to the public on their Facebook page. (Saskatoon Co-op/Facebook)

Washroom access widespread issue

Aida Fernandes, vice president of research and patient programs with Crohn's and Colitis Canada, said access to public washrooms is a widespread issue across the country.

Fernandes said there are some cities that have bylaws requiring businesses to provide public access to washrooms but there is no broad-scale legislation in Canada that demands that.

In many cases, people experience social isolation. They don't go places. They don't leave their homes for fear of not having access to that washroom.- Aida Fernandes, Crohn's and Colitis Canada

She noted it was worrisome and problematic for individuals living with disabilities such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, or even for pregnant women, seniors or children. 

"People that have Crohn's and Colitis, in a flare, could be needing a washroom 15 to 20 times a day. Having access to a washroom controls their life," Fernandes said.

"In many cases, people experience social isolation. They don't go places. They don't leave their homes for fear of not having access to that washroom."

She said access to washrooms is a huge barrier on a person's quality of life, work schedule, career choices, and leisure time and travel.

"All of that impacts on if you're really trying to plan out your life on getting to the nearest washroom," she added.

GoHere campaign

About a year ago, Crohn's and Colitis Canada launched the GoHere Washroom Access Initiative.

The program works to help ease the anxiety of finding public washrooms by proactively identifying open facilities with a GoHere decal sticker on storefront windows.

"This is a really important issue. And for people with Crohn's and Colitis, you can imagine the level of embarrassment if they had an accident in public, and so it's just the right thing to do," said Fernandes.

About the Author

Victoria Dinh

CBC Saskatoon reporter

Victoria Dinh is a journalist with CBC Saskatoon. She is also a co-host, writer and producer of the CBC investigative podcast, The Pit. Get in touch with Victoria by emailing victoria.dinh@cbc.ca

With files from CBC's Riley Laychuk and CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning