Canada

Tribunal finds Air Canada discriminated against disabled man

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled Monday that Air Canada discriminated against a deaf and partially blind man by saying he could only fly with an attendant when he wanted to fly alone.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled Monday that Air Canada discriminated against a deaf and partially blind man by saying he could only fly with an attendant when he wanted to fly alone.

The tribunal ordered the airline to pay Eddie Morten $10,000 plus interest for pain and suffering stemming from the August 2004 incident.

"Mr. Morten's complaint is substantiated," the tribunal said in a 42-page ruling released Monday.

But the tribunal did not order Air Canada to automatically allow Morten to fly unaccompanied. The airline should assess his abilities before making any decision on whether he can travel on his own, the tribunal said.

The discrimination came in denying Morten the right to have his level of self-reliance assessed in a fair manner, the tribunal said.

"It is impossible to say with sufficient certainty that if he were assessed properly, his communications and mobility capabilities would be sufficient to put him on a par with the risk profiles of other passengers whom Air Canada currently allows to fly unaccompanied," the tribunal said.

In August 2004, Morten asked his travel agent to book him a flight to San Francisco from Vancouver. But the agent was told by the airline reservations agent that Morten would need to fly with an attendant because of his disability.

Morten, who is deaf, blind in his left eye and has limited vision in his right one, travels independently with his guide dog, Harmony.

The man, who is in his mid-40s, uses public transit, takes taxis and is raising two young sons in Vancouver, the tribunal said.

Morten testified that Air Canada's decision was very disempowering.

"It was very destructive to his independence and what he has achieved in his life," the tribunal wrote. "It affected him deeply and very emotionally.

"He believes that he is capable and able to manage his life independently. He is very proud of having achieved this. The decision of Air Canada that he needs an attendant to travel negatively affected his sense of self and his pride."

In the United States, deaf and blind passengers are permitted to travel alone as long as they have some means of communicating with attendants "adequate to permit transmission of the pre-takeoff safety briefing," the tribunal said.

It cited a decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation that found deaf and blind passengers don't need to be able to hear commands, such as "brace" or "this way out" in order to comply with them.

The tribunal also said Air Canada has four months to develop an attendant policy for assessing the safety risk of disabled passengers.

With files from the Canadian Press