On May 26, 2017, the Quebec Superior Court authorized a class action suit initiated by RAPLIQ, an organization that promotes and defends the rights of people with disabilities. The class action, estimated to include 20,000 people with disabilities, alleges discrimination and denial of equal access to public transit vehicles and services against the Montreal Transit Authority (STM), the Montreal Metropolitan Transport Agency (AMT), and the City of Montreal. The lawsuit seeks $75,000 moral and punitive damages for each member, and a court order for full accessibility of all public transit facilities and services within ten years.
When a court decides whether a class action suit should be authorized, it assumes all of the facts alleged by the plaintiff to be true. Its purpose is to eliminate frivolous, unsustainable or unfounded claims. The court determined that the plaintiff met the four criteria required and authorized the class action suit:
(1) The claims of the class members raised identical, similar or related issues of law or fact.
The proposed membership for the class action included:
any person residing in Quebec, who, in order to mitigate a physical disability, uses a wheelchair (motorized or not), a walker, or a cane for the blind, and who, after April 15, 2012, was prevented or impeded from using STM (regular bus, paratransit, or subway) or AMT (commuter train) in full equality due to inaccessibility or recurring obstacles in accessibility. (Translated from French).
The court determined that these members shared common issues that could be resolved in a class action suit, such as whether the inaccessibility infringed upon the members’ Charter rights, and if so, whether the members were entitled to monetary and equitable remedies. Since the answers to these questions, among many, would benefit all members of the suit, the court found that the first criterion was satisfied.
(2) The facts alleged appear to justify the conclusions sought.
Holding the plaintiff’s facts alleged facts as true, the court found that a class action suit was justified. In alleging inaccessibility and inequality, the plaintiff pointed to only 11 of 68 subway stations having elevators and therefore being accessible to wheelchairs; only 9 of 71 suburban commuter train stations being accessible to wheelchairs; and many of the buses adapted for people with disabilities remaining inaccessible due to recurring defects.
The plaintiff argued that, as public institutions, the defendants were subject to the Canadian and Quebec Charters, which entitle every person to equal rights and freedoms without discrimination. The plaintiff argued that the defendants violated the Charters by failing to ensure equal access to public transportation, and failed in their duty “to take concrete steps to ensure that the members of a disadvantaged group benefit equally from the services offered to the general public.” The plaintiff further argued that the defendants infringed upon Quebec Charter rights, including the right to security and integrity of the person in Article 1; the right to dignity and honor in Article 4; the right to privacy in Article 5; the right to services offered to the public in section 15; and the right cessation of the infringement, reparation and punitive damages, in Article 49. When their rights and freedoms are infringed upon, victims have the right to demand cessation of the infringement and reparations of moral, material or punitive damages.
The defendants argued that they fulfilled their duty to prevent discrimination, as they had already designed and implemented concrete policies and plans to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. However, the court reiterated that all of the facts alleged by the plaintiff were assumed to be true, and the question of whether the defendants actually discharged their duty would be decided during the suit itself.
(3) The composition of the class made it difficult or impracticable to apply the rules for mandates to take part in judicial proceedings on behalf of others or for consolidation of proceedings.
The court determined that large number of class members made individual suits impractical. It was clear to the court that Ms. Gauthier, the appointed representative plaintiff for the action, was not alone in her situation. Based on the definition of the group membership, 20,000 members were estimated to take part. This number was corroborated in two hearings held by the court, where there was a tremendous turnout of other potential members.
(4) The class member appointed as representative plaintiff is in a position to properly represent the class members.
Finally, the court found that the plaintiff, Ms. Gauthier, was properly representative of the class members, as all three criteria for representation were satisfied. Ms. Gauthier, a resident of Montreal, has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair with the help of a guide dog. She has used or attempted to use public transport services, including regular bus, paratransport (minibus, minivan), metro, and train.
Based on the satisfaction of the four criteria, the court authorized the class action lawsuit against the STM, AMT, and the City of Montreal for failing to provide equal access to public transit facilities and services for people with disabilities. Considering the size of the class, an estimated 20,000 members, and the scope of the remedies, $75,000 per member and an order requiring equal accessibility within ten years, this class action lawsuit could be a significant step towards ending systemic discrimination against people with disabilities.
This blog post was written by a CCLA RightsWatch Summer Student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA.
 Charte canadienne des droits et libertés, Loi constitutionnelle de 1982, Annexe B de la Loi de 1982 sur le Canada (R-U), 1982, c. 11 (Charte canadienne); Charte des droits et libertés de la personne, RLRQ c. C-12 (Charte québécoise).
 Section 10 of the Quebec Charter reads, “[e]veryone has the right to full and equal recognition and enjoyment of the rights and freedoms of the individual without distinction, exclusion or preference based on… disability or the use of a means to overcome this handicap. …Discrimination occurs when such a distinction, exclusion or preference has the effect of destroying or impairing that right.” Further, Section 15 (1) of the Canadian Charter reads, “all persons are entitled to the same protection and equal benefit of the law, without discrimination, including discrimination based on…mental or physical disability.”
 The criteria for representation rests on three factors, (1) the interests of the plaintiff, (2) the jurisdiction of the court and (3) the absence of any conflicts of interest.