Voting officials in London, Ontario lost use of a polling station. With little time before the election, they called on Chabad to help. Chabad agreed. But there is a significant problem – one of access:
Fourteen years after Parliament required federal voting stations to be accessible to all people, some Londoners must go to a civic polling station where 16 steps stand between them and the voting booths.
More than 1,100 Londoners in Ward 6 have been assigned to vote at the Chabad House on Richmond Street, where four steps lead to a covered landing and 12 steps go down a dark staircase leading to polling booths.
"Everyone I’ve talked to is shocked," said Richard Yake, who lives in the ward and has long been an advocate for the disabled — he successfully convinced city hall to modify its elevators to better accommodate the blind and those in wheelchairs.
The many steps at Chabad House will be a barrier to anyone in a wheelchair or using a walker, as well as those suffering from illness or recuperating from injury.
Disabled people tend to vote in high numbers because they depend on government services, but Yake worries those assigned to Chabad House will stay home when Londoners vote Nov. 13.
"We’re always concerned about voter turnout . . . and yet we’re putting roadblocks in their way. That’s hardly fair," Yake said.
It was London city clerk Kevin Bain who selected the location and he says he did so with regret.
"We would have preferred to have an accessible location," Bain said.
The city wanted to use an accessible location used in 2003, Robinson Memorial United Church, but it wasn’t available, according to Ward 6 candidate Stephen Turner, who had called city hall to voice concerns.
City staff learned they had to find a new site after sending a letter Sept. 7, said Bain, who added that the church was not at all at fault.
With little time left to mail out voter notification cards, city staff had to find a substitute quickly and Chabad House was the only place available, he said.
Chabad House is the only one of 207 city polling stations that isn’t accessible, Bain said.…
This is a common problem in Orthodox synagogues and Chabad Houses worldwide. It should not be so. But it is, largely because the Orthodox Jewish community just doesn’t give a damn. The same can be said of the Israeli government on national and local levels. Ever watch a disabled Israeli veteran try to get around in Jerusalem? I have. Have we no shame?