Manufacturer of donation bin where woman became trapped and died halts production

The manufacturer of a clothing donation bin that became the site of a tragedy in Toronto Tuesday when a homeless woman became trapped inside and died says it is halting production of the bins.

Rangeview Fabricating urging its charity partners to remove anti-theft bars and is adding warning labels

How one manufacturer is trying to make bins safer

4 years ago
Duration 0:32
A Hamilton, Ont., manufacturer is making its clothing donation bins safer by removing the anti-theft bars.

The manufacturer of a clothing donation bin that became the site of a tragedy in Toronto — when a homeless woman became trapped inside one and died on Tuesday — says it is halting production of the bins.

Less than 48 hours after the body of a woman believed to be in her 30s and identified only by her first name, Crystal, was discovered, Rangeview Fabricating said it was halting production of the specific model of bin involved and will only fill remaining orders for the bins with modifications. 

Those bins will be built without the anti-theft bars that could make it easier for someone to get stuck inside.

The company, which is based in Hamilton, Ont., also sent a video tutorial to its charity partners explaining how to disconnect the bars, which are on the side of the handle that opens the bin.

That leaves an untethered weather flap to keep out the elements. 

"We're going to disconnect the linkage so this flap just hangs there," said Rangeview owner John Luison.

"So now what happens is you can go in and out… you can steal, but you can't get stuck there," 

'Safety is more important'

"We felt that that will eliminate the danger while new designs are being tested and proven," Luison said. "This is going to leave the bin vulnerable... but that's something we're going to have to live with because safety is more important."

The manufacturer is also adding a warning label to the bins. 

"We went 20 years without an incident, right, so you think everything's great," Luison said. 

"And you don't have a reason to suspect that there's a potential for injury or anything like that. And all of a sudden, you wake up one day and something happens that causes you to go back and say, 'We have to look at everything again.'"

Luison estimates there are at least 5,000 bins of the type involved in the fatality in use across Canada. The company says it manufactures 30 per cent of clothing donation boxes in use across Canada. 

Increased scrutiny

Donation bins have come under increased scrutiny after several incidents in which people became stuck inside and died, prompting one B.C. advocate to call them "death traps."

Last week, The Canadian Press reported at least seven Canadians had died after getting stuck in clothing donation bins. Late last month, West Vancouver closed all of its bins after a 34-year-old man died after become trapped inside one of them. 

The Children's Wish Foundation told CBC Toronto it is in the process of dismantling the anti-theft bars on its bins.

Luison said he hopes that other manufacturers will follow suit and rethink their bin designs, too.

"The goals and aims and the hearts of the industry is to help other people in the first place, so you'd be hypocritical if you didn't," he said.

But advocates with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty say the focus on design takes away from the larger issue of inadequate shelter space in cities such as Toronto.

"On the night that Crystal died, women's shelters across the city were full," the organization said in a press release Wednesday.

"The sub-standard back-up respite centres were also packed, and the two 24/7 drop-in centres for women and trans people, which function as under-resourced de-facto shelters, were overcapacity."

A vigil organized by anti-poverty groups in the city is planned for Thursday evening at 6 p.m. at the site of the bin in which Crystal was found.

'How does somebody die from that?'

On Tuesday, two women who knew Crystal suggested she was likely trying to find some warm clothing when she became trapped inside the bin on Dovercourt Road near Bloor Street.

"How does somebody die from that? How?" said Maria Ventura.

Maria Ventura said the woman who became trapped in a clothing bin and died often struggled to find a place to stay at night. Another friend said it's not uncommon for homeless people to search through donation bins to find warm clothes. (CBC)

She said she remembered Crystal from the charity-run women's shelter Sistering in the city's west end, where she'd stayed in the past. Crystal, she said, was always keen to share a hug.

In the hours after Crystal's death, Toronto Mayor John Tory announced he was requesting a review of Toronto's donation bin system, including their location, design and whether they are, in fact, the best way to collect clothing.

Crowded shelters

The death comes just weeks after housing advocates with the Shelter and Housing Justice Network called for the city to declare a state of emergency. Shelters were operating at over 90 per cent capacity, they said, and nearly, 1,000 people were forced into the overflow system, having to seek shelter at respite centres, which often don't have adequate bathroom facilities and provide only mats on the floor to sleep on.

A spokesperson for Tory said last month that the mayor has repeatedly expressed his support for adding additional capacity to the shelter system and opening more 24-hour respite sites.

"The mayor and city council have made investments in the shelter system and continue to call on both the provincial and federal governments to invest more in supportive housing and mental health initiatives," Don Peat said.

But OCAP says implementation has been slow. For example, the opening of a 56-bed shelter originally slated for December has been delayed to some time this month. 

The organization is now calling for 2,000 emergency shelter beds in 2019 and assurances that the shelter occupancy will never surpass the 90 per cent mark mandated by Toronto's city council. It is also calling for overdose prevention services and accessible housing. 

With files from Andrea Janus