Man with cerebral palsy accuses Passport Canada of not accommodating him

"They need to look at accessibility from all sides," says a Toronto man with cerebral palsy who accuses Passport Canada of failing to accommodate him, after an attendant refused to help him fill in his renewal form.

'Who am I going to ask? A stranger in the passport office?' Andrew Gurza said to himself when denied help

Andrew Gurza, who has cerebral palsy, is angry and feels he was discriminated against by Service Canada because an agent did not accommodate him while trying to renew a passport. 5:07

A Toronto man with cerebral palsy is accusing Passport Canada of failing to accommodate him after an attendant refused to help him fill in his renewal form.

Andrew Gurza, a disability awareness consultant and wheelchair user, said he asked an agent Wednesday at the passport office on Victoria Street to assist him with the form.

Gurza said he cannot write on his own and doesn't own a printer because he lacks the physical ability to use one, so he booked a 45-minute Wheel-Trans ride to the downtown office.

"I assumed that an agent there would assist me … When it came to my turn, I rolled up and just said, 'Hi, I'd like to renew my passport and I'm going to need some assistance with doing that,'" said Gurza.

That's when he learned Passport Canada staff don't provide that kind of service.

"He goes, 'Well you're going to need to find someone to help you.' And I looked around and I thought, 'Who am I going to ask? A stranger in the passport office?'"

Gurza said he was handed a paper form and took it home — another 45-minute ride.

Passport Canada did not respond to CBC Toronto's inquiries about Gurza's story.

His case comes just weeks after another Ontario resident's experience at the passport office counter made headlines.

Policy bars staff from filling out forms for others with no exemptions

Rebecca Blaevoet, who is blind, filed an official complaint after she told The Canadian Press that staff at a Windsor, Ont., passport office failed to accommodate her due to what a supervisor said was a fear of "leading the applicant" to provide inaccurate answers.

In Blaevoet's case, staff offered up a braille form only to find there were none left in stock, and asked if her husband could assist her. Blaevoet said that option failed to consider people with disabilities who may be seeking services on their own.

Rebecca Blaevoet filed an official complaint about her experience with Passport Canada earlier this month, saying the policy represents a failure to accommodate people with disabilities. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

At the time, Passport Canada said that a rule barring staff from filling in forms on behalf of others is applied across the country. There is no exemption in place for Canadians with disabilities, The Canadian Press said.

"Generally, any addition, modification or deletion of information on an application form must be completed by the applicant and initialled," a statement from Service Canada, the agency that oversees the administration of passports, said at the time.

"Although the policy in place speaks to amendments to the application form and does not reference providing assistance to visually impaired applicants, it is understood that any annotations on the application form should be completed by the applicant themselves, when possible."

Service Canada does offer an online form, and said in its statement earlier this month that visually impaired Canadians can designate a friend or family member to complete the form for them.

Need to balance security with person's rights

Toronto lawyer Ian Hurley, who specializes in employment-related disability matters, said the argument that staff filling out a person's form for them could pose security concerns is a legitimate one.

"But I think that objective would need to be balanced against the right of the individual who is requesting accommodation for their disability," said Hurley.

Ian Hurley, an employment and disability lawyer, says he can see how having staff fill out forms for people could pose a security risk, and that more alternatives need to be explored. (CBC)

"Any time you institute a blanket policy — 'No, we will not under any circumstances consider assisting this individual with the written form' — I think you run a danger under the legislation."

Hurley pointed out, however, that under federal law, the accommodation that is offered doesn't necessarily have to be the individual's preferred accommodation. Instead, it just needs to meet the person's need.

'It's a cop-out, really'

"I don't think that flies," said Gurza. "I honestly just think it's a cop-out, really."

"They need to look at accessibility from all sides. I physically could enter the building so, yes, it was physically accessible but … I was denied service as a Canadian."

Gurza managed to fill in the form with the help of a personal attendant at home, but said he has lodged a complaint both by phone with an agent and in writing on Passport Canada's website.

"Someone comes in and says they can't, and is disclosing that to you, which is not an easy thing to do. It's sometimes embarrassing," said Gurza.

"The fact that I was denied and told, 'Here's a paper form,' which I just told you I can't use — I'd just like to see them have some compassion."

With files from Nicole Martin