Town councillor in wheelchair stranded by cuts to paratransit near Thetford Mines

·3 min read
Councillor André Cloutier seen in his home in Saint-Joseph-de-Cloutier, Que., a town just south of Thetford Mines. (Marc-Antoine Lavoie/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Councillor André Cloutier seen in his home in Saint-Joseph-de-Cloutier, Que., a town just south of Thetford Mines. (Marc-Antoine Lavoie/Radio-Canada - image credit)

An elected official in a town near Thetford Mines fears he may not be able to fulfil his council role when the cold settles in.

André Cloutier, a quadriplegic councillor for Saint-Joseph-de-Coleraine, Que., who uses a wheelchair to get around, does not have access to paratransit in the evening when his council meetings end.

"It's a one-kilometre trip back home from town hall," said Cloutier. "I take one side of the street, but it gets dark early and it is dangerous."

An agreement last January shifted the responsibility of public transit in the region from a private company to neighbouring Thetford Mines. That is when it was decided that paratransit services would no longer be offered after 6 p.m.

The change was not an issue for Cloutier in the summer, when in-person council meetings returned. However in the fall, when the weather changed, the councillor noticed the trips was getting harder, even with the help of his neighbour.

"This past fall, I had a meeting on a couple occasions and when my neighbour and I would come back, it would be wet or snowing," he said. "It's not pleasant and shouldn't be like this."

The same trip twice a month in colder and snowy circumstances will be impossible, he said.


Not much of a choice

Thetford Mines says that the changes are the result of a unanimous decision by all 19 municipalities in the region. It came as a result of recommendations from a working committee whose objectives were to make public transit more efficient and equitable.

Although the decision was unanimous, mayor of Saint-Joseph-de-Coleraine, Gaston Nadeau, says the municipalities had no choice but to accept.

"The new agreement was a consensus, but, if we didn't accept, transportation services for all our constituents would be cut," said Nadeau. "The current conditions don't work for us because one of our council members depends on paratransit after 6 p.m."

Non-profit organization Moelle épinière et motricité Québec (MÉMO), who advocate for a better quality of life for individuals with physical and neurological limitations, said the issue extends beyond Cloutier and is about respecting the rights of people with disabilities.

Laws governing the rights of people with disabilities were put in place to promote the social and professional integration of people with disabilities, MÉMO's communications officer Aline Vancompernolle told Quebec AM in an interview.

"They have the right to go school, to work, but also to participate in social life — and social life does not end at 6 p.m."

Up for re-election, but no paratransit to bring him to polls

André Cloutier was re-elected on Nov. 7 in the municipal elections for his second term as a councillor. However, because it was a Sunday — there is no paratransit on Sundays — he had trouble casting his own vote.

The councillor had to ask a friend who lives about 20 kilometres away, in Stratford, Que., to bring him to the polling station in his adapted van.

"He picked me up, drove my partner and me to the voting station, waited for me, and drove me back home without asking for a dime," he said. "It's generous of him, but this should not have to happen."

Cloutier does not know what his options will be when winter settles in. Remote work may be a possibility, but he wants the opportunity to fulfil his council responsibilities to the best of his abilities.

"There is no way I am going to abandon my role as a councillor and stay home," he said. "For me, this is my job — I like it and I do it well."

"I was re-elected by the people of Saint-Joseph-de-Coleraine and I plan on remaining a councillor."

The councillor submitted a complaint to the Office des personnes handicapées du Québec and to the Commission des droits de la personnes et de la jeunesse.

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