While riding her bike through Toronto one recent afternoon, Dawn Russell realized she needed to urinate urgently. Six months into her pregnancy, she knew that every trip from her home would mean looking for a bathroom, but the promise of car free city streets It turned out to be too great a temptation.
“The pandemic has made the world so small and has taken away so much. Losing the ability to take a real ride was simply a freedom I was not willing to give up, ”said Russell, whose name was changed for privacy reasons. “I’d rather risk peeing my pants than being homebound.”
Unfortunately, when the time came, there were no public toilets in sight and she was finally forced to relieve herself under a tree.
As the world’s major cities begin to reopen, Toronto’s shortage of accessible public toilets has become a source of discontent. Residents who venture outside have to rely on a patchwork of restrooms, some closed, some poorly maintained, some with erratic hours, raising accusations that the city is not creating accessible spaces for everyone.
Major urban centers in Europe and Asia have long enjoyed extensive public toilet systems, often staffed by attendants and charging a small fee. But in North America, restaurants, cafes and hotels function as de facto public toilets, for those who can use them without fear of discrimination.
Throughout the pandemic, most of those facilities have remained closed in Canada’s largest city, leaving residents desperately searching for an alternative.
“Toronto is a wealthy ‘world-class’ city where citizens have to beg to go to the bathroom with their young children,” said Shawn Micallef, author and co-founder of Spacing magazine. “It is unacceptable in normal times, but during a pandemic, it is a health risk when we know that the safest place to be is outside.”
Micallef recently tweeted a photo of hundreds of residents enjoying a sunset in one of the city’s parks, noting that nearby public toilets were locked.
“I know it’s weird to rant about public toilets on Twitter, but none of my niche speeches have resonated like this,” he said. “Everyone has had to leave when there is no bathroom around. Because people are more out there, they are really seeing how this affects certain groups in a much more profound way. “
People with disabilities, the homeless, pregnant women, children and the elderly are disproportionately affected by the lack of toilets.
Councilors have previously said it would cost millions to winterize existing bathrooms and add new ones. But at the end of last year the city said it would double the number of public restrooms during the winter to help people stay outside.
However, as warm temperatures and public health advice have pushed people outside, many public restrooms remain closed. Others have different hours of operation, sometimes closing before sunset.
Micallef says the city’s failures to react to the needs of residents during the pandemic have left him cynical. He points to the recent refusal by the city council to allow residents to drink alcohol in public parks, despite public health advice to the contrary. “But there are a lot of angry voters and a lot of councilors who might be afraid of being on the wrong side of this,” he said. “We are divided by so many things. But we are united by our need to go. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism